Grade 1-5 Music Theory Terminology | The Complete List

Grade 1 to 5 Music Theory Terminology

Below is a list of all the words you are expected to understand when you sit your Grade 5 Music Theory exam (including the words from grades 1-4). For ease of understanding, they are grouped in the following areas, which each have their own free flashcard study set.

  • Dynamics: words that relate to volume
  • Tempo: anything concerning speed of the pulse
  • Mood & Expression
  • Performance Technique and Articulation
  • Instruction: practical instructions on what to do, e.g. ‘go straight on…’
  • Misc: Other words that don’t fit into the categories above

Although they are grouped in these headings for study purposes, bear in mind that often a word can imply a change in more than one area. For example;

Smorzando = dying away in tone and speed. (this concerns dynamics and tempo)
Lebhaft = lively. (could mean lively in tempo, dynamics and articulation)
Allargando = broadening (could mean tempo and dynamics)
Affettuoso = tenderly (could mean both mood and dynamics)

  • Italian terms are in black text
  • German words are denoted in blue writing.
  • French words are denoted in green writing.

Dynamics

  • Crescendo, cresc. = gradually getting louder
  • Decrescendo and diminuendo = gradually getting quieter
  • ff (fortissimo) = very loud
  • f (forte) = loud
  • mf (mezzo forte) = medium loud
  • mp (mezzo piano) = medium quiet
  • p (piano) = quiet
  • pp (pianissimo) = very quiet
  • fp (forte piano) = loud and then immediately soft
  • sfz (sforzando, sforzato) = forced and accented
  • Deciso = delicate
  • Calando = getting softer, dying away (and slowing down)
  • Morendo = dying away
  • Perdendosi = dying away
  • Sotto voce = in an undertone
  • Estino = as soft as possible, lifeless
  • Smorzando = dying away in tone and speed

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Tempo

  • Accelerando, accel = gradually getting quicker
  • Adagio = slow
  • Allegretto = fairly quick
  • Allegro quick
  • Andante = at a medium walking speed
  • Lento = slow
  • Moderato = moderately
  • Rallentando, rall. and ritardando, rit. = gradually getting slower
  • Ritenuto = held back
  • Tempo = speed, time
  • A tempo = in speed, in time
  • Allargando = broadening (getting slower and louder)
  • Andantino = slightly faster than andante
  • Grave = very slow, solemn
  • Larghetto = rather slow
  • Largo = very slow and stately
  • Mosso, moto = movement (e.g. con moto = with movement)
  • Presto = fast
  • Vivace, vivo = lively, quick
  • Adagietto = rather slow
  • Ad libitum, ad lib. = at choice, played freely
  • Alla breve = with a minim beat which will mean the music is faster than the note values might suggest
  • Animato = animated
  • Con brio = with vigour
  • Comodo = at a comfortable speed
  • Energico = energetic
  • Largamente = broadly
  • Rubato = with some freedom of time
  • Stringendo = gradually getting faster
  • Affrettando = hurrying
  • Tempo giusto = exact time
  • L’istesso tempo = at the same speed
  • Presto possibile = as fast as possible
  • Veloce = swift
  • Doppio movimento = twice as fast
  • Incalzando = getting quicker
  • Lunga = long
  • Lunga pausa = long pause
  • Misura = measure (a bar)
  • Alla misura = in strict time
  • Senza misura = in free time
  • Smorzando = dying away in tone and speed
  • Tosto = swift and rapid
  • Volante = flying, fast
  • Bewegt = with movement, agitated
  • Langsam = slow
  • Lebhaft = lively
  • Mässig = at a moderate speed
  • Schnell = fast
  • Cédez = yield, relax the speed
  • Lent = slow
  • Modéré = at a moderate speed
  • Presser = hurry
  • Ralentir = slow down
  • Retenu = held back
  • Vif = lively
  • Vite = quick

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Mood & Expression

  • Cantabile = in a singing style
  • Dolce = sweet, soft
  • Espressivo, espress. espr. = expressive
  • Giocoso = playful
  • Grazioso = graceful
  • Maestoso = majestic
  • Agitato = agitated
  • Amore = love
  • Amoroso = loving
  • Anima = soul, spirit
  • Con anima = with feeling
  • Marziale = martial, solemn, fierce
  • Mesto = sad
  • Risoluto = bold, strong
  • Scherzando = playful, joking
  • Semplice = simple, plain
  • Tranquilo = calm
  • Triste, tristamente = sad, sorrowful
  • Affettuoso = tenderly
  • Amabile = pleasant, amiable
  • Appassionato = with passion
  • Cantando = singing
  • Fuoco = fire
  • Nobilmente = nobly
  • Dolente = sad, mournful
  • Dolore = grief
  • Doloroso = sorrowful
  • Lacrimoso = sad
  • Lusingando = coaxing, in a sweet style
  • Piacevole = pleasant
  • Piangevole = plaintive, lamenting
  • Rinforzando, rf, rfz = reinforcing
  • Teneramente, tenerezza = tenderly, tenderness
  • Ausdruck = expression
  • Breit = broad and expansive
  • Einfach = simple
  • Fröhlich = cheerful, joyful
  • Ruhig = peaceful
  • Süss = sweet
  • Traurig = sad
  • Zart = tender, delicate
  • Animé = animated, lively
  • Douce = sweet
  • En dehors = prominent
  • Légèrement = light

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Performance technique & articulation

  • Legato = smoothly
  • Staccato = detached
  • Sostenuto = sustained
  • Tenuto = held
  • Forza = force
  • Leggiero = light & nimble
  • Marcato, marc. = emphatic, accented
  • Pesante = heavy
  • Ritmico = rhythmically
  • Sonoro = resonant tone, sonorus
  • Pizzicato, pizz. = direction for string players to pluck the string rather than bow it
  • Arco = use the bow again (string players)
  • Con sordini, con sord. = use the mute (string players)
  • Sul G = only play on the G string (string players)
  • Sul ponticello = play near the bridge (string players)
  • Una corda = press the left pedal on the piano which makes the piano only play ‘one string’
  • Tre corda = release the left pedal (piano)
  • Mano sinistra, m.s. = left hand
  • Mano destra, m.d. = right hand

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Instruction

  • Da capo, D.C. = repeat from the beginning
  • Dal segno, D.S. = repeat from the sign
  • Fine = the end
  • Simile, sim. = in the same way
  • Sempre = always
  • Prima volta = first time
  • Seconda volta = second time
  • Attacca = go straight on to the next section of music
  • Loco = at the normal pitch after having used an 8va direction
  • Segue = go straight on
  • Wieder = again

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Misc

  • Mezzo = half
  • Poco = a little
  • A = at, to , by, fo, in, in the style of
  • Al, alla = to the,  in the manner of
  • Assai = very
  • Con, col = with
  • Ma = but
  • Meno = less
  • Molto = very, much
  • Non = not
  • Più = more
  • Senza = without
  • Ben = well
  • Prima, primo = first
  • Seconda, secondo = second
  • Subito = suddenly
  • Tanto = so much
  • Volta = time
  • Come = as, similar to
  • Come prima = as before
  • Come sopra = as above
  • Facile = easy
  • Giusto = exact
  • L’istesso = the same
  • Niente = nothing
  • Possibile = possible
  • Quasi = resembling
  • Sopra = above
  • Sotto below
  • Voce = voice
  • Ossia = alternate, or
  • Pochettino, poch = a little
  • Aber = but
  • Ein = a, one
  • Etwas = somewhat, rather
  • Immer = always
  • Mit = with
  • Nicht = not
  • Ohne = without
  • Sehr = very
  • Und = and
  • Voll = full
  • Wenig = little
  • Zu = to, too
  • Á = to, at
  • Assez = enough, sufficiently
  • Avec = with
  • Et = and
  • Mais = but
  • Moins = less
  • Non = not
  • Peu = little
  • Lus = more
  • Sans = without
  • Très = very
  • Un, une = one

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