Quick Music Term Reference

May 14th, 2011

When you first pick up a guitar (especially if you bought one of those “starter/beginner packs”) it’s really easy to take the guitar out of the box, hook-up the amp and start playing.

However, somewhere between that point in time and the day when you become comfortable playing the guitar (likely a few months down the road) a lot of guitarists generally miss out on something that is fundamental to not only the guitar but music. What is it? An understanding of musical theory, philosophies and most importantly terms.

If you have played guitar for months or years you likely understand a lot of the terms below without actually knowing their name. However, it’s important to get the language down to truly consider yourself a musician.

Thankfully, we have put together a collection of commonly used, yet often confusing words that relate to music. Do your homework and your understanding of music will increase just that much more.

Chord: two or more notes played simultaneously.

Chord Tone: selected notes of a chord (i.e. G, B and D are all chord tones of a G major chord).

Fifth: an interval composed of seven half steps. The interval between the 1st and 5th step of the major scale is a fifth, or perfect fifth.

Flat: the musical symbol that indicates to lower the pitch of a note by one half step (reference half step).

Half Step: distance of one fret on fret board.

Interval: the distance between two pitches.

Key: tonal center or main pitch to which all others in a composition are related.

Major 3rd: an interval composed of four half steps (or four frets). The interval between the 1st and 3rd step of the major scale is a major third.

Major Chord: a chord consisting of root, major 3rd and perfect 5th.

Major Scale: the seven note scale to which all Western (American and European) music is compared. The major scale is: whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step OR symbolized by the “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do” saying. The G minor notes in order are G, A, B, C, D, E, F.

Minor Chord: a chord consisting of root, minor 3rd and perfect 5th.

Minor Scale: seven note scale with the following intervallic formula: whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, and whole step.

Minor Scale (Pentatonic): five note scale derived from the natural minor scale. The Pentatonic scale leaves out the 2nd and 6th steps of the natural minor scale, creating the following intervallic formula: minor 3rd, whole step, whole step, minor 3rd, whole step.

Minor 3rd: an interval composed of three half steps (or three frets).

Mute: to muffle or lightly muffle desired strings. Can be achieved by lightly touching the strings with the fingers of the fretting hand or with the heel of the picking hand.

Octave: an interval composed of 12 half steps.

Open string: when a string is played but not fretted.

Root: the lowest note of a chord in the fundamental position (i.e. G is the root of a G chord).

Scale: a series of tones that follow an intervallic formula within one octave.

Sharp: the musical symbol that indicates to raise the pitch of a note one half step.

Tonic: the key note of a scale (i.e. A is the tonic of the A minor pentatonic scale).

Vibrato: the sound achieved by wavering the pitch of a specific note.

Whole Step: distance of two half steps (or two frets).

Want more music theory? Visit 8notes.com or ZebraKeys.com. They are both phenomenal references for beginner music theory.

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