Music glossary - M to P

Largamente  Play with a large, broad and sustained tone.

Larghetto  Slightly faster than largo, larghetto is a similarly broad, large and stately tempo and style.

Largo  A broad, slow tempo that is dignified and stately in style. Largo is the slowest of tempo markings.

Legato  Legato indicates the notes should be smoothly connected, played either in one or several bows. Slurs are often used to indicate legato.

Lento  Lento means slow in Italian (lent in French). Lento and lent are both slow tempos in between largo and andante.

Louré  Louré strokes are a short series of gently pulsed legato notes executed in one bow stroke (it is also known as portato).

Madrigal  A madrigal is an Italian song form, often with Italian text. It is a short work in one movement, sung by a small group of vocalists. Madrigal texts were often set to music using word painting (where the melody would follow the line of the text, e.g. waterfall would have music in the contour of falling water).

Maestoso  Majestic and dignified.

Marcato  An Italian term which means marked or accentuated.

Martelé  Martelé is a French term meaning hammered. Each note is percussive, and commences with a sharp accent or "pinch" at the beginning of the note, followed by a quick release. Martelé may be notated in more than one way: with dots, hammer heads or accents.

Mass  The Mass is the principal act of worship of the Catholic Church. As a vocal form, the Mass has been used in almost all periods of music history. It has two basic parts—the Proper and the Ordinary.  Sections of the Mass that vary from day to day in each musical service are called the Proper. The Ordinary of the Mass consists of sections that are constant for every Mass. The fixed order of the Ordinary of the Mass is 1) Kyrie, 2) Gloria, 3) Credo, 4) Sanctus, and 5) Agnus Dei. The text of the Mass is given either as a Low Mass or High Mass. A Low Mass involves

spoken text, while a High Mass is sung.

Meno  Meno means less. It often is used with other terms such as meno mosso (less rapid or less motion).

Meter  The grouping of beats in stressed and unstressed patterns.

Mezzo forte  Moderately loud. Mezzo forte is indicated by the marking: mf

Mezzo piano  Moderately soft. Mezzo piano is indicated by the marking: mp

• Mode  Modes are often used to structure the melody or tonality of a piece, and are comprised of notes arranged in a specific scale or pattern of intervals.

Moderato  Moderato means to play at a moderate tempo or speed. This term sometimes modifies others such as Allegro moderato, which means moderately fast.

Modo ordinario  Modo means "manner" or "style" and ordinario means ordinary. Modo ordinario means play in the ordinary way (often used after an unusual way of playing such as col legno). 

Monophony  Monophony is a musical texture for a single melodic line without any accompaniment or other melodic lines.

Mosso  Mosso means moved. When used alone as a tempo term, the meaning of mosso is similar to con moto: with motion. Mosso is sometimes used with other qualifying terms such as piu mosso, meaning a little faster (more motion).

Motet  Motet generally means a vocal piece with sacred text, musically composed in the style of the period. During the 13th-15th centuries, motets were sacred, unaccompanied choral works, often based on a pre-existing melody and text. New melodies were then added to the preexisting melody, usually in counterpoint. Beginning in the 16th century, the pre-existing melody frequently was secular.

Motive  A short melodic or rhythmic idea that recurs throughout a musical composition.

Moto  Moto means motion. It is often used with other terms such as con moto (with motion).

Multiple stops  Multiple stops describe chords played on a stringed instruments. For example, double stops describe playing notes simultaneously on two strings, and triple stops mean playing notes simultaneously on three strings.

Muted  A direction for the musician to play with a mute. For string players, mutes are small clamps of wood, metal, rubber, leather or plastic, which fit onto the bridge and result in a softer, muted sound with a veiled quality. To mute something is also indicated by the Italian term con sordino or the German term mit dampfer. The terms arco (bow), via sordini (take off mute) and senza sordino (without mute) are used to indicate when the muted section ends and the musician should resume playing with a bow.

Notation  The writing down of musical notes and symbols to represent pitch, rhythm, and melodies.

Office  The regular round of prayer and worship in monastic communities.

• Opera  A musical form of drama, originating in Italy, set to music. In an opera, most or all of the text is sung, using musical forms such as arias, songs, recitatives, duets, and choruses, with instrumental accompaniment. A few of the various subcategories of opera include heroic or grand opera, comedy opera and comic opera.

• Oral tradition  Oral tradition means that music is passed down from one musician to another orally, instead of through notated music.

Oratorio  An oratorio is a large musical work, generally based on a sacred text or religious topic, with soloists, chorus and orchestra. Although many musical elements of an oratorio are similar to opera, no costumes, sets or acting are used, and oratorios are usually performed as a concert.

Ordinario  Ordinario or ord. means ordinary, and is used to indicate a return to ordinary playing after playing a special effect such as col legno or sul ponticello.

Ostinato  Ostinato means "obstinate" in Italian. An ostinato is a short musical pattern, e.g. a melodic, rhythmic or harmonic figure, persistently repeated throughout a composition. A melodic pattern set in the bass is called basso ostinato (and is also known as ground bass).

Patronage  A system of employment for musicians whereby a composer agreed to exclusive employment under the auspices of a patron. Patrons often were wealthy aristocrats or the church.

Phrase  A musical idea or passage of music that is short, continuous and unbroken; similar to a musical sentence.

Pianissimo  Very soft. Pianissimo is indicated by the marking: pp

Pianississimo  As soft as possible. Pianississimo is indicated by the marking: ppp

Piano  Soft. Piano is indicated by the marking: p

Pitch  Pitch is the relative "highness" or "lowness" of a sound when compared with other notes. It can also indicate an absolute fixed position in a range of musical notes (e.g. the pitch "middle C").

Piu  More.

Pizzicato  Pizzicato (pizz.) is a term that means the string is plucked with the finger instead of being bowed.

Plainchant  Also known as plainsong, chant or Gregorian Chant. Plainchant is a single melody, sung in unison by a soloist or choir, often using Latin words and a liturgical text.

Poco  Poco means "little" or slightly. A poco a poco means little by little or gradually. Poco modifies other terms when added to them such as poco diminuendo, meaning to become slightly softer.

Polyphony  Polyphony is a form of musical texture with several interdependent, overlapping melodic lines.

Portamento  Portamento is an expressive device, and is a slide from one pitch to another.

Prelude  A prelude is a piece which often serves as a musical introduction or prelude to a larger musical work (it sometimes is a short, independent instrumental piece in one movement).

Presto  A fast, rapid and lively tempo, faster than allegro.

Program music  Instrumental music which represents extra-musical concepts such as emotions, scenes or events through the music, not through words. It is also sometimes called descriptive music.

Punta d’arco  Punta d’arco is a bowing direction to bow at the point or tip of the bow (punta means point, and arco means bow).