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Musical Terms

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Music Term


  chord Two or more (usually 3 or more) tones sounding at the same time. Traditional chords are formed by stacking every other note in the scale. Modern contemporary chords may be formed by stack notes at different intervals.
  major chord A chord that has a minor third (4 half-steps) between the first and second chord tones. Example: an A major chord is made up of the notes a, c#, and e.
  minor chord A chord that has a major third (3 half-step) between the first and second chord tones. Example: an a minor chord is made up of the notes a, c, and e.
  diminished chord A chord that has a minor third (3 half-steps) between the first and second chord tones and a dminished 5th between the first and third chord tones. A diminished 5th is made up of 6 half-steps. Example: A diminished would be: a, c, and e-flat.
  perfect fifth The distance between two tones such that the distance is 7 half-steps. Example: B to the F# above it is a perfect fifth. See movie on finding a perfect fifth on the keyboard.
  half-step and whole-step A half-step is the distance from one tone in the chromatic scale. On a piano keyboard, it is the distance from one key to the very next key on the keyboard (whether black or white). Exampe: c to c#, b to c, e to f, or f to f#. On the guitar, each fret raises a pitch by one half-step. A whole step is the distance produced by moving up two tones in the chromatic scale. You can also think of a while step as being made up of two half-steps. c to d is an example of a whole step.
  key signature A group of sharps (or flats) placed at the beginning of piece of music to show which key the music is written in. For example, a group of 4 sharps placed at the beginning shows that the music is either in A major or F# minor. (There are exceptions to this rule, though, as when the music is in a mode other than major or minor.) A key signature always appears at the beginning of a piece of music, but it may also appear before a new section of music.
  major third The distance between two tones such that the distance is 4 half-steps. Example: C to the E is major third. Do to Mi is also a major third..
  key center The key center is a tone that usually sounds first in the bass part. It serves as a sort of foundation for a piece of music. This tone may also appear as the first note of the melody. If not, then the first note of the melody will be a major third or perfect fifth above the key center.
  solfege (movable and fix do systems) Solfege is a system for sight-singing and ear training music where each tone of the scale is given a syllable that is easy to sing. The tones of the major scale are do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. In America, the moveable "do system" is used such that the first tone of the scale is always "do" no matter the key center is. In some other countries a "fixed do" system is used, where the tone "C" is always do. The moveable do system stresses relative pitch. The idea is that, for example, a series of tones like so-mi-re-do-re-do-la-so-mi ("My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean") sounds the same no matter what the key center is. By singing a lot of different melodies, but always using solfege syllabes, you can develop a sense for what various solfege syllabes sound like.
  parallel minor A minor key (or scale) which has the same letter name as the major key (or scale). C minor is the parallel minor of C major. A minor is the parallel minor of A major.
  relative minor A minor key that has the same key signature as major key. The key of A minor has no sharps or flats, neither does C major. So A minor is the relative minor of C major. The relative minor is always built on the 6th scale step of the major key. Think: do re mi fa so la. The relative minor always starts with "la" (American movable do system.)
  accidental A sharp or flat that appears in front of a note to alter its pitch from the normal pitch in the key. A sharp (#) raises a pitch by a half-step. A flat (which looks like the letter "b") lowers the pitch by a half-step.
  pentatonic scale A five tone scale made up of these steps of the major scale: 1,2,3,5,6 or do-re-mi-so-la. The black keys of the piano form a pentatonic scale. Many folk tunes are made up largely of tones taken from the pentatonic scale. The pentatonic scale avoids the harsh interval of the tritone and the strong, leading half-step interval. That's why if you improvise using only black keys, the music will be restful and rather pleasing. The Indian love flute is tuned to the pentatonic scale, so when you improve with this flute (no matter what you play) your music sounds restful and rather good!