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Clive Brown

Symbols appended to musical notation which indicate to the performer the manner in which particular notes and phrases should be played.

Until the late 18th century the only signs commonly used to indicate distinctions of articulation were the slur and the staccato mark (a dot, a vertical stroke, or a wedge) placed above or below the note head. In the 19th century composers became concerned to specify their requirements with ever greater precision, and other forms of articulation mark were introduced, though only a few of these were widely adopted. The principal meaning of the slur has remained relatively constant, though the manner of its employment has varied greatly over the centuries. Except where slurs are written over a succession of notes on the same pitch to indicate portato, they specify that notes of different pitches should be performed without separation, that is, legato. There is, strictly speaking, no greater or lesser degree of connectedness; terms such as ...


Patrizio Barbieri

(It.: ‘little clefs’)

Term for certain combinations of clefs used in 16th- and 17th-century polyphonic music, distinct from the chiavi naturali (the combination of soprano, alto, tenor and bass clefs); it is especially used for the combination of ‘high clefs’ (treble, mezzo-soprano, alto and baritone clefs). Some theorists stated that the chiavette implied transposition by a 4th or 5th into the register of the ‘normal’ clefs, whence the alternative term chiavi trasportate (transposing clefs). These terms arose in the 18th century, when the practice was no longer current outside the papal chapel in Rome. Some modern scholars see clef combinations as an important clue to the mode of particular compositions, especially ones from late 16th-century Italy.

To correspond with Clef, italic letters are used here to represent the pitches as named by Guido of Arezzo (see Pitch nomenclature); a figure after the letter-name of a clef denotes the staff line on which it stands, counting from the lowest (e.g. the modern treble clef, ...


The Fingering of keyboard music with figures 1 to 5 for each hand, 1 standing for the thumb, a system in general use throughout the world today. The term was used in Britain in the 19th century in contrast to so-called English fingering (not, however, exclusively English), which provided for four fingers (marked 1 to 4) and a thumb (marked +)....


James Tyler

[à corde avallée] (Fr.: ‘lowered strings’)

A term sometimes found in lute, guitar and mandore music to designate the alteration in tuning of at least one course of strings from the normal pattern. Such alterations afford players a greater compass of notes, more open strings for resonance and ease of playing. Because of the nature of the tablature notation for these instruments, it is as easy to read and play music in the altered tuning as it is in the normal one.

Apparently, the term appears first in the 16th-century printed sources for four-course guitar (G. Morlaye: Quatriesme Livre … de Guyterne, 1552 [‘corde avallée’], and Le Second Livre, 1553 [‘à corde avallée’]; A. Le Roy: Cinqiesme livre de guiterre, 2/1554, and Second livre de guiterre, 2/1555). Here the term indicates that the fourth (i.e. lowest) course is to be tuned a whole tone lower than usual.

The Spanish term for the normal guitar tuning is ...


Stephen E. Hefling

Rhythms in which long notes alternate with one or more short notes, so called because the long notes are usually written with the aid of the dot of addition (see Note values). Dotted rhythms are found in mensurally notated music of all periods; this article, however, deals mainly with music of the 17th and 18th centuries, in which it was customary to alter certain sorts of written rhythmic values in performance (see also Notes inégales; for notational meanings of the dot before 1600 see Notation, §III). The principal issue is the degree to which such rhythms sounded uneven, rather than the specific manner of their notation (e.g. the dot may be replaced by a rest or tie).

Dozens of contemporary theoretical and pedagogical sources indicate that the dot was ordinarily equal to one half the value of the note or rest preceding it, just as it is today. But the treatises also present various exceptions. The dot could stand for a tie (...


Matthias Thiemel

The intensity of volume with which notes and sounds are expressed. In the 20th century dynamics came to be seen as one of the fundamental parameters of composition which function interdependently to create musical meaning and structure.

Dynamic variation is so natural to the performance of almost all styles of music that its presence can normally be assumed even when indications for it are mainly or even entirely absent from the notation. That dynamic transitions occurred in the music of ancient Greece is suggested by Plutarch’s accounts, and it is likely that the monophonic hymns of the 1st century ce displayed nuances of volume illustrating their meaning or imitating the tone of speech. Medieval musicians had no word for ‘dynamics’ per se, but it is implicit in the concepts of structura and processus. By the early Renaissance period dynamic values were reflected in changes in the number of voices and their registers. In Josquin’s ...


The Fingering of keyboard music with figures 1 to 4 representing four fingers, and + the thumb, of each hand, a system used in England and elsewhere in the 19th century and now obsolete. The term contrasted with Continental fingering, which provides the figures 1 to 5 for each hand, 1 standing for the thumb, a system in general use throughout the world today....



David Fuller

(It.: ‘pause’)

The sign of the corona or point surmounted by a semicircle showing the end of a phrase or indicating the prolongation of a note or a rest beyond its usual value. ‘Fermata’ came into American usage during the 19th century; H.W. Pilkington, in A Musical Dictionary (Boston, 1812), still gave only ‘pause’, but both fermata and ...



Robert E. Seletsky

Ornamental notes written or printed smaller than the ‘main text’ and accorded an unmeasured duration which is not counted as part of the written bar length. Speed of execution depends on the nature of the ornament they represent and to some extent on the tempo of the music but, except in the case of appoggiaturas, grace notes are usually performed lightly and very quickly. The ornament most commonly expressed as a grace note is the simple acciaccatura, but Chopin, Liszt and others often used quite lengthy strings of grace notes for piano figuration that defied precise notation in rhythmic terms or that invited a certain freedom in performance.

Although the term ‘grace notes’ appears to be of 19th-century origin, it describes a phenomenon that can be traced back at least as far as the 17th century. ‘Graces’ were any ornaments added to a melody. These were sometimes notated with symbols or small notes as in 19th-century practice, but more generally their addition was improvisatory and based on the taste of the performer. The florid embellishments found in the 18th-century violin repertory (e.g. the sonatas of Corelli, Nardini, or Tartini) were also referred to as ‘graces’ (...