Glossary

Form: Musical form refers to the structure of a composition, the way that the various components are arranged to produce an overall pattern. One of the simplest and most common forms, for example, is the ABA structure, in which the initial section is repeated after a contrasting middle section.

Genre: As with literature and the other arts, a musical genre is a conventional category that denotes a particular type of music. The categories may be broad (e.g. religious music, pop music, jazz) or much more precise (e.g. motet, madrigal, requiem; hip-hop, funk, trance). The actual criteria used to define genres can vary, but may include a particular form or rhythm, or refer only to a general style.

Harmony: Harmony is a perception of consonance between notes or chords, which is used to provide the vertical (or paradigmatic) dimension of musical composition (as opposed to melody, which is horizontal). It has its origins in the mathematical proportions between frequencies of vibrations produced when a column is struck or a string plucked, as first noted by Pythagoras – although this acoustically pure natural harmony has since been overlain, in Western music, by a more rational system (‘equal temperament’) that guarantees regularity and precision.

Intersemiotic translation: This is the transfer of information between different sign systems, a process analogous to conventional interlingual translation. The term was first defined by Roman Jakobson (1959) as the “interpretation of verbal signs by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems”, but today it is used more broadly to include transfers between any sign system, not necessarily including the verbal.

Melody: Melody is a linear succession of notes which the listener perceives as a tune. As such it represents the horizontal (syntagmatic) dimension of music, which, like a narrative, unfolds through time. Also like a narrative, it conventionally (in Western tonal music) moves out of a state of equilibrium in the Tonic to disruption in some other chord or key and then back again to the equilibrium of the Tonic to signify termination and rest.

Pitch: Pitch is the position of a sound in the entire range of sounds, in accordance with the frequency of vibration of the soundwaves (a high frequency is perceived as a high-pitched sound and a low frequency as a low-pitched sound). Different instruments, like human voices, are pitched differently, with basses occupying the lower end of the spectrum and sopranos/trebles the top end. Musical pitch is closely related to intonation in language.

Rhythm: Rhythm is a pattern made in time. It may be regular, irregular, smooth, jerky, etc, and has analogies in human speech and movement. It is thus an important component not only of the performing arts, like dance and mime, but also of visual ones, like painting and architecture, where it is interpreted spatially.

Semiotic systems: A semiotic system is a system of signs used for the transmission of information. Conventional verbal language is one such semiotic system but it is not the only one. Others include: semaphore, morse code, smoke signals, gesture and facial expression (as in sign language for the deaf), mime, dance, music, painting, sculpture, architecture or photography. In all cases, the meaning will be negotiated between the producer and the receiver/interpreter, within a specific cultural context.  

Tempo: Tempo is the speed or pace at which the music is played.

Timbre: Timbre is the quality of the sound, which is often exploited in music to produce different effects. Different instruments have different timbres, which enables them to be distinguished from each other even when they are playing the same note.

Tonality: Tonality is the structure underpinning most Western music and upon which most melodies and harmonies are constructed – analogous to the grammar of a language. The tonal system is based around an eight-note scale (Do- Re- Mi- Fa- Sol- La- Ti- Do / C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C), any of which can become the centre around which the composition revolves (the tonic). This system developed in around the 17th century and is arguably still dominant today, although art music composers have been experimenting with other systems (e.g. atonality, modal music) since the beginning of the 20th century.

Tonic: The tonic is the first note in the scale, which serves as the harmonic centre in tonal music, the note to which all the other notes in the scale are hierarchically subordinated. Return to the tonic will usually signal closure and resolution. 

Volume: Volume refers to the loudness or intensity of the sound. 

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