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Choral - Choir terms
Category: Music and Sound > Choirs
Date & country: 24/10/2013, UK
Words: 32


Accidental
Accidentals are sharps, flats, and/or naturals that aren't in the key signature. They aren't in the music 'accidentally,' but it's easy to make mistakes if you don't notice them!

Bar line
You can think of bar lines in music like spaces in written language. Bar lines break up the rhythm into readable sections.

Baritone
Baritones' ranges are roughly equivalent to mezzo-sopranos (but about an octave lower). About 80% of men are baritones. Baritone voices are typically darker than tenor voices are, and are also lower.

Bass
The bass voice is the lowest male voice type. Often, the lowest line in a piece of music is called the bass line, whether or not it's being sung by a bass.

Bass Clef
The bass clef is also called an F clef because it shows the performer where the first F below Middle C is. If you were to draw horizontal lines from the main part of the clef out to the two dots, the bass clef would look a little like an F.

Beat
The beat is the 'time,' or the 'pulse' of music. The beat does not change; it is always steady. You can speed up or slow down, yes, but the beat will remain steady.

Breathy tone
The inverse of strident tone, breathy tone is typically a result of a singer not using enough of the air that he or she is sending. As young voices mature, some breathiness is natural, so it is important that you keep this in mind and don't develop a bad habit by trying to correct something that isn't a problem.

C Clef
This clef (used mostly by violas) tells the performer that Middle C is the middle line. C clefs are movable; whatever line is between the bumps, that's Middle C. Cellos and trombones sometimes read a C clef called the tenor clef.

Clef
The word 'clef' is French for 'key,' and a clef is very much a key to how you read the notes on the staff! It is a symbol that appears at the start of every line of music to give the person reading the music a sense of the range of the notes.

Dark tone
Dark tone, again in singers' terms, is tone that resonates farther back in your mouth and head. A viola typically sounds darker than a violin...but remember, tone is different than range. A viola plays in a lower range than a violin does, but the tone of the viola is distinct from that of a violin, even when they are playing the exact same notes! It might be hard to hear the difference at first, but with practice, you can learn to quickly tell the difference. Dark vowels include [a], [o], and [u].

Decrescendo
Decrescendo means to gradually get softer. Dynamic markings like this were also not common before the time of Beethoven (1770-1827). Supposedly he handed an orchestra a copy of a symphony that they were to play and it had crescendi and decrescendi (plural forms of crescendo and decrescendo, respectively) in it and the orchestra players thought he was crazy for asking them to play like that!

Diaphragm
Your diaphragm is a muscle in your respiratory system. It is under your lungs and is kind of like an upside-down bowl. Your diaphragm moves down when you inhale, which causes your lungs to fill with air. When you exhale, your diaphragm moves up, pushing air out of your lungs.

Double Flat
A double flat lowers a pitch by two half steps. These do not appear in key signatures and are typically used only when a composer needs to lower a pitch that has already been flatted by the key signature.

Double Sharp
A double sharp does exactly what it sounds like it does: It raises the note it precedes by two half steps. Double sharps do not appear in key signatures. They usually appear only when a composer wishes to raise again a note that has already been sharped by the key signature.

Flat
Flats are the opposite of sharps. They lower a pitch by a half step. If a flat is in the key signature, it is just like a sharp; it lasts for the whole piece. If the flat is just in a measure, it only lasts for that measure.

Key Signature
The key signature of a piece of music tells the performer where the tonic, or 'home base,' is. Each key has its own key signature. (Check out the Links page to find sites where you can practice recognizing key signatures.)

Larynx
Your larynx, also known as your voicebox, houses your vocal folds. It is made of cartilage. The linked image shows a larynx viewed from the front. The hyoid bone is hidden away underneath your tongue, and it is the only bone in your body that is not connected to any other bones.

Measure
A measure is the amount of time in between two bar lines. Sometimes, a measure can be called a bar.

Mezza di voce
Mezza di voce is am advanced skill. A singer must take a note all the way through the dynamic range up to fortissimo and bring it back, seamlessly, to pianissimo.

Natural
Naturals cancel out both sharps and flats. They are not found in key signatures. When a piece of music changes key signature, you will probably see a natural to remind you of what pitches are changing away from being sharp or flat, but you won't find them at the beginning of a piece.

Phrasing
If a phrase of music is a short passage, melodic line, or idea, phrasing is the art of giving some sort of dynamic shape to that line. Good phrasing serves to enhance the meaning of the music.

Rhythm
A rhythm is a way of dividing beats. Rhythm is the element of music that changes. While the beat stays the same, the rhythms change and make a piece exciting. Rhythm can be simple or very complicated.

Sharp
Sharps raise the pitch of the note they are in front of by one half step. If the sharp is in the key signature, it raises every single one of that particular pitch in the entire piece by a half step (so if there is an F sharp in the key signature, every F in the piece is played or sung as an F sharp.)

Soprano
A soprano is the highest voice category. Instruments having a high range (like a soprano singer's range) are sometimes called soprano as well, like soprano saxophones or soprano recorders.

Straight tone
Straight tone is the opposite of vibrato. Sometimes it is appropriate to perform music without vibrato, like if you are singing a piece from the Renaissance (from the 14th to 17th centuries, or the 1300s-1600s). Straight tone when you don't want straight tone is usually the result of tension somewhere in your vocal tract, but sometimes a person's voice hasn't matured yet and doesn't have that facet to it quite yet.

Strident tone
Strident tone is harsh and unpleasant. It can sound forced or tense, and can usually be corrected by sending more air through your instrument when you sing. If a singer sings with improper support for too long, he or she can develop calluses on his or her vocal folds (these are called vocal nodes). Nodes are painful and require either months of complete vocal rest (no talking at all) or surgery to remove.

Tempo
Tempo is word for the speed of music. In music with a fast tempo, the beat is fast. In music with a slow tempo, the beat is slow.

Terraced dynamics
When you purposefully perform without crescendi or decrescendi (meaning that each passage or section of the music maintains the same dynamic level), you are using terraced dynamics. Music written during the Baroque and Classical periods of Western European music history is usually performed with terraced dynamics because, at that time, composers did not ask for gradual dynamic changes in the music. Concepts like phrasing and accenting important notes were not alien to the performers of the Baroque. They just didn't start a section piano and end up forte two measures later. For example.

Time Signature
The time signature tells the musician how to make sense of the rhythm of a piece...how to keep the time. The top note lets you know how many beats are in a measure; the bottom note tells you how many of those beats a whole note gets. Some people also say (not incorrectly) that the bottom number tells you what kind of note gets one beat. See the Glossary's Musicianship page for more.

Tone
Tone is hard to define! If you think about all the things about the way a person communicates that aren't the pitch or loudness of their voice, those things are tone. Similarly, there are unique things about each voice and instrument that distinguish them from every other voice and instrument, regardless of what part of the range or dynamic spectrum the performer is playing or singing in.

Treble Clef
This clef tells the musician where the first G above Middle C is (the second line, where the curl wraps around). Because it shows where G is (and it kind of looks like one), a treble clef can also be called a G clef.

Vibrato
Vibrato is that rapid change in pitch that you hear when a singer is singing or an instrumental musician is playing. It is a natural part of good vocal production--if your technique is correct, you will have vibrato. Again, though, vibrato is something that comes with maturity, so don't try to force it into your voice. Your voice teacher can show you how to work on getting vibrato into your voice. Trying to copy someone else's sound--especially that of a mature singer--can cause you to develop bad habits that might take years to break.