Music glossary - R to Z

Quasi  Quasi means "as if," "almost," or "nearly." It is often used to modify terms e.g. allegretto quasi andantino, meaning an allegretto tempo almost at an andantino tempo.• Rallentando.  Rallentando means gradually becoming slower. It also is abbreviated as rall.

Recitative.  A speechlike, declamatory form of singing used in vocal works such as operas, oratorios, and cantatas. Recitatives are often characterized by rhythmic freedom.

Religioso.  Play in a devotional or religious style.

Repeat Signs. A double bar with two dots is a repeat marking, and indicates the music in between the repeat signs should be repeated. If there is only one repeat sign with the dots facing to the left, go back to the beginning and play the entire section of music again (for more repeat sign variations, see Da capo, da segno, D.C. al Fine, D.C. al Coda, and first and second endings).

Requiem.  A Requiem Mass is a Mass for the dead.

Ricochet.  Ricochet is a bow stroke where the bow is dropped on the string and rebounds (bounces) on the string for several notes in the same bow direction.

Riff. A riff is a short, repeated melodic pattern, and is often used in jazz.

Risoluto.  Resolutely; play in a resolute and decisive manner.

Ritardando.  Gradually become slower and slower (the same meaning as rallentando). Ritardando is often abbreviated as rit.

Rondeau.  A French musical term used during the Baroque era to describe a musical composition with a main section or theme which alternates with subsidiary sections or themes. This musical form was later expanded during the Classical era to become the musical form Rondo.

Rubato.  Rubato means "robbed." It refers to a temporary robbing of time by either slowing or speeding the tempo or rhythmic value of notes in a passage of music.

Sautillé.  Sautillé is a fast, bouncing or springing stroke in which the bow naturally bounces off of the string, producing a lighter, more rapid, and less percussive sound than spiccato.

Scale.  An ascending or descending arrangement of pitches.

Scherzo.  The term scherzo literally means "joke." In music, it is used to either describe an instrumental piece with a light, humorous character, or the second or third movement of a symphony or quartet (in place of the minuet). Scherzos often have a quick triple meter, a vigorous rhythm and a sharply contrasting harmony.

Scordatura.  Scordatura means abnormal tuning, and indicates one or more strings should be tuned higher or lower than usual (specific tuning directions for the new pitches are generally provided).

Semplice.  Simply. Semplice means to perform in a simple, unadorned, natural manner.

Sforzando.  Sforzando means forced or accented, and is usually attached to a single note or chord. It generally indicates the note should be played loudly with a sudden, accented emphasis, and is indicated by the marking: sfz

Simile.  In a similar manner. Simile is often used to indicate a passage of music should be performed in the same manner as a preceding section.

Slur.  A slur is a curved line grouping notes together, and means the notes included in the slur should be played in the same bow             . Unless otherwise indicated, notes in the slur should be played legato (smoothly). When slurs are used with dots over or under the notes, this indicates a slight separation should be used between the notes (the terms slurred staccato or dotted slurs are often used to describe this technique). When a slur is placed between two notes with the same pitch, this is called a "tie" and the two notes are played in one bow for the duration of both notes.

Sonata.  The word sonata comes from the Italian word “sonore”, meaning "to be played" (as opposed to cantata, a vocal work which means "to be sung"). A sonata is an instrumental form of music, and describes a multi-movement work for an instrument, often with accompaniment. The term has had varied meanings during different music eras, and during the Baroque period, the trio sonata was one of the most popular forms of sonata (often for two violins and continuo). During the Classical period, sonata came to mean a multi-movement work for a solo instrument with piano accompaniment, or piano alone.

Sonata form.  Sonata form is often used in the first movement in multi-movement works such as symphonies. It consists of an exposition section, followed by a development section, and concludes with a recapitulation.

Spiccato.  Spiccato is an off-the-string, controlled bouncing bow stroke which produces a crisp sound and very short notes. It is the slowest of the bouncing strokes. Dots above or under the notes may be used to indicate “spiccato”.

Staccato.  Staccato indicates the bow should remain on the string to play shortened and detached notes, distinctly separate from successive notes. Staccato is sometimes used with slurs (slurred staccato) for a series of short, stopped notes played in the same up or down bow (many violinists perform slurred staccato as a series of slurred martelé strokes).

String Quartet.  String quartet is a composition for four stringed instruments: two violins, a viola and a cello. String quartet music generally is composed in a multi-movement form. The term string quartet is also used to describe a performance group comprised of four stringed instruments.

Suite.  A suite may be described as a collection of pieces, put together in an ordered manner. During the Baroque era, pieces in a suite were often dance forms such as: prelude, allemande, courante, saraband, gigue, bourre, gavotte, and minuet. After the Baroque era, suites were generally pieces extracted from a larger work such as The Nutcracker Suite, a compilation of pieces taken from the ballet The Nutcracker. 

Sul.  Sul means "on the" or "near the." Sul is used in terms such as sul tasto (bow over or near the fingerboard), sul ponticello (bow near the bridge), or sul G (play on the G string and only the G string until otherwise indicated). In violin music, when only a specific string should be used for particular passages, sul is sometimes used with numerals such as sul IV to indicate only one string should be used (G, the fourth string, is indicated by the numeral IV, A is III, D is II and E is I).

Sul ponticello.  Sul ponticello is a bowing direction to play with the bow near the bridge. The result is a glassy, whispery sound.

Sul tasto.  Sul tasto is a bowing direction to bow over or near the fingerboard. The resulting sound is soft and flutelike (see flautando).

Syllabic.  In vocal music, syllabic, neumatic and melismatic are terms used to indicate whether the syllables of the text are sung to a single note (syllabic), several notes (neumatic), or many notes per syllable (melismatic).

Symphonic Poem.  A symphonic poem is a programmatic orchestral work, often in one movement. It is also known as a tone poem. In a symphonic poem, extra musical ideas such as emotions, scenes or events, are expressed through the music, not through words.

Symphony.  A symphony is an extended composition for orchestra and is often comprised of three to five movements.

Syncopation.  Rhythmic patterns with unexpected accents. Syncopation is generally achieved by shifting the musical accent from a strong beat to a weak one. This results in an irregular feel to the rhythm.

Tempo.  Tempo means the rate of speed or pace of the music. Tempo also may be used with other qualifying words such as "a tempo," meaning return to the original tempo or speed. Various tempo markings are used to indicate directions for the rate of speed such as andante (moderately slow) and allegro (fast). Metronome markings are another way to specify even more precisely the tempo of music e.g.        = 60 means each quarter note should be played at the speed of 60 quarter notes per minute.

Tempo di valse.  Play the music at the rate of speed or pace of a waltz.

Tenuto.  Tenuto means the note(s) should be played sustained or broadly, and held for its whole value. A line placed under or over the note is usually used to indicate tenuto: _.

Theme.  A theme is the main musical subject of a composition such as a melody, phrase or short motive.

Theme & variations.  A composition with a theme and variations of that theme.

Tie.  When a slur is placed between two notes with the same pitch, this is called a "tie" and the two notes are played in one bow for the duration of both notes.

Time Signature.  A sign or fraction placed at the beginning of a piece to show how many beats are in each measure. For example, a time signature of 3/4 indicates each measure contains three quarter notes.

Tremolo.  Tremolo means rapidly repeating a single note or chord (see bowing chart for more details).

Trill.  A  trill ornaments a note, and is a rapid alternation between two pitches, usually a major or minor second above the note. The letters tr and a wavy symbol             are used as trill markings. Accidentals are often used to indicate whether the trill is a major or minor trill.

Troppo.  Troppo means "too much." It is often used to modify other terms such as Adagio ma non troppo, meaning, slow but not too slow.

• Turn.  Turns are ornaments mainly used in 17th-19th century music, and generally indicate four notes should be played, encircling the notated note. The following symbol for a turn is placed above the note:  .

Twelve tone technique. The twelve tone technique refers to a system where the composer arranges the twelve notes of the chromatic scale in a fixed order. This ordered sequence of the twelve notes is called a twelve-tone row or series that forms a unique melody. Composers using this method generally would not repeat any note in the tone row until the entire series of twelve notes had been heard. Variations to the tone row include mathematical approaches such as retrograde, inverted and transposed versions of the tone row. The twelve-tone technique was later called serialism, and continues to be used by some composers today.

Up bow.  The sign for up-bow is              and indicates an upward stroke of the bow from the point (or tip) to the frog (or nut).

Vibrato.  Vibrato for stringed instruments is similar to vocal vibrato—it is a slight and rapid fluctuation in pitch, and is used to add warmth and expression to music. There are three types of vibrato: finger, hand, arm or a combination of all three. Many violinists use a combination of finger and hand vibrato. This type of vibrato is produced by a back and forth rolling motion of the finger and hand on the string, resulting in the pitch being lowered and raised. Variations in the width and speed of the vibrato can produce a wide range of expression.

Virtuoso.  Virtuoso means "exceptional performer" in Italian, and is used to describe a highly proficient, technically skilled performer. When the descriptive term virtuosic playing is used, it generally means the performer is playing difficult music in a highly skilled manner.
• Vivace.  Lively and brisk. As a tempo marking, vivace is often considered slightly faster than allegro.

Waltz.  A dance in triple meter which was very popular during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Whole Bow.  Initials are sometimes used in music to indicate what part of the bow should be used:
WB = Whole Bow; LH = Lower Half; UH = Upper Half; MB = Middle of the Bow.