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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 These terms arose in the 18th century, when the practice was no longer current outside the papal chapel in Rome.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’ (...





Geoffrey Chew

[ligato] (It.: ‘bound’; Fr. lié; Ger. gebunden)

Of successive notes in performance, connected without any intervening silence of articulation. In practice, the connection or separation of notes is relative, and achieved through the presence or absence of emphasis, Periodicals, and attack, as much as silences of articulation; degrees of connection and separation vary from legatissimo (representing the closest degree of connection), tenuto, portamento, legato, portato, non legato, mezzo-staccato, Staccato (the natural antonym of legato), to staccatissimo, and some of these terms have connotations going beyond simple degrees of connection or separation.

In 20th-century notation, legato is generally indicated by means of the Slur across a succession of notes; the beginnings and ends of slurs are now generally marked by articulations (of bowing or tonguing in string and wind instruments, and of phrasing in keyboard instruments). The slur often, however, had a vaguer general meaning of ‘legato’ in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Successions of notes in modern notation are seldom left without any indication of articulation, but if they are, the performer will normally presume that a legato style of playing is called for....



Owen Jander

[mean, mene] (from Old Fr. moien, or meien: ‘middle’)

English term referring originally to the middle part of a three-voice polyphonic texture. R. Brunne’s Chronical of Wace (c 1630) refers to ‘the clerkes that best couthe synge, wyth treble, mene & burdoun’. In discussions of discant, 15th-century theorists (Leonel Power, Pseudo-Chilston) applied ‘mene’ to the part sounding a 5th or a 3rd above the plainchant. In the Mulliner Book ten compositions by John Redford (d 1547) bear such titles as ‘Lux with a meane’; these are three-part keyboard works in which the middle part is ingeniously passed back and forth between the two hands, the notes being written in black to guide the eye. Morley (A Plaine and Easie Introduction, 1597) used ‘mean’ synonymously with ‘altus’, while Campion (A New Way of Making Fowre Parts in Counter-Point, c 1615) and Playford (A Breefe Introduction to the Skill of Musick, 1654...



David Fallows

(from Gk. metron: ‘a measure’ and nomos: ‘law’; Fr. métronome; Ger. Metronom, Taktmesser; It. metronomo)

An apparatus for establishing musical tempo. More specifically, it is the clockwork-driven double-pendulum device perhaps invented about 1812 by Diederich Nikolaus Winkel but refined and patented by Johann Nepomuk Maelzel in 1815. The name seems to have entered the English and French languages specifically on Maelzel’s patents filed in London and Paris; and there is no apparent evidence of its earlier use in any European language.

Traditionally the metronome has had two main purposes, which should be considered quite separately.

Nearly all the main developments have been driven by the need for composers and editors to fix the tempo they considered appropriate for a particular work (but see Tempo and expression marks, §4). This began to seem necessary for the first time in the late 17th century, when the music of different nationalities evolved markedly different styles and performance conventions but was internationally available. Thus Etienne Loulié (1696...




Margaret Bent and Alexander Silbiger

[musica falsa](Lat.: ‘false, feigned or contrived music’ synonymous with falsa mutatio, coniuncta )

These terms were used by theorists from the late 12th century to the 16th, at first in opposition to musica recta or musica vera, to designate ‘feigned’ extensions of the hexachord system contained in the so-called Guidonian hand. Most scholars accept that notated polyphony of this period required performers to interpret under-prescriptive notation in accordance with their training (by contrapuntal and melodic criteria about which scholars disagree), ensuring the perfection of consonances, and approaching cadences correctly. These requirements could often be met within the rectasystem, but musica ficta was used ‘where necessary’ – in modern terms only, by ‘adding accidentals’; in medieval terms, by ‘operating musica ficta’.

In modern usage, the term musica ficta is often loosely applied to all unnotated inflections inferred from the context, for editorial or ‘performers'’ accidentals rather than notated ones (whether properly recta or ficta). Editors usually place accidentals that they have supplied, on behalf of performers, above the affected note or in brackets or small type, to distinguish them from those having manuscript authority. (On the placing of editorial accidentals, see especially Anglès, ...



David Fuller

An ambiguous term in English, owing its existence to the fact that it is the literal equivalent of the Latin punctus organi or organicus punctus, the German Orgelpunkt, and the French point d'orgue. Although listed in all musical dictionaries, the English term is usually avoided in practical situations in favour of the more precise ‘pedal’ or Pedal point and Pause or Fermata . Organicus punctus is found as early as Franco of Cologne (Ars cantus mensurabilis, c 1260), who used it for the penultimate note of a tenor at which the regular measure is suspended. Tinctoris (Terminorum musicae diffinitorium, c 1472–3) applied it to the sign of the corona, which by that time was used in various situations where it was necessary for one part to pay attention to the other parts instead of to the beat: on final notes which must be prolonged and released together, in canons, where one part might have to prolong a final note until the other parts have caught up, and in passages of block chords where each note was to be prolonged for effect (e.g. Dufay's ...


Peter Williams

revised by Rosa Cafiero

(It.: ‘division’)

A term used fairly frequently in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to denote exercises in figured-bass playing, not so much as accompaniments to a solo instrument as self-contained pieces. Composers using this term were very often Neapolitan or Milanese, though the significance of this is unknown. The word may or may not refer to the 17th century practice of divisions, i.e. performing variations on a repeating (figured) bass; more likely it reflects the common Italian practice c 1700 of writing bass lines for keyboard players to work into fully-fledged pieces. The definition is attested to as early as 1634 by G.F. Cavalliere in Il scolaro principiante di musica (Naples). Examples are common in MSS, e.g. the ‘Arpeggi per cembalo’ exercises in GB-Lbl Add.14244 (?A. Scarlatti), the organ ‘Versetti … per rispondere al coro’ in Lbl Add.31501 (?B. Pasquini), and the complete solo and even duet figured-bass sonatas for harpsichord by Pasquini in ...