Note relationships

Music-tie.svg Tie
Indicates that the two (or more) notes joined together are to be played as one note with the time values added together. To be a tie, the notes must be identical – that is, they must be on the same line or the same space. Otherwise, it is a slur (see below).
Music-slur.svg
Music-legato.svg
Slur
Indicates to play two or more notes in one physical stroke, one uninterrupted breath, or (on instruments with neither breath nor bow) connected into a phrase as if played in a single breath. In certain contexts, a slur may only indicate to play the notes legato. In this case, rearticulation is permitted.

Slurs and ties are similar in appearance. A tie is distinguishable because it always joins two immediately adjacent notes of the same pitch, whereas a slur may join any number of notes of varying pitches. In vocal music a slur normally indicates that notes grouped together by the slur should be sung to a single syllable.

A phrase mark (or less commonly, ligature) is a mark that is visually identical to a slur, but connects a passage of music over several measures. A phrase mark indicates a musical phrase and may not necessarily require that the music be slurred.

Music-glissando.svg Glissando or Portamento
A continuous, unbroken glide from one note to the next that includes the pitches between. Some instruments, such as the trombone, timpani, non-fretted string instruments, electronic instruments, and the human voice can make this glide continuously (portamento), while other instruments such as the piano or mallet instruments blur the discrete pitches between the start and end notes to mimic a continuous slide (glissando).
Music-triplet.png Tuplet
A number of notes of irregular duration are performed within the duration of a given number of notes of regular time value; e.g., five notes played in the normal duration of four notes; seven notes played in the normal duration of two; three notes played in the normal duration of four. Tuplets are named according to the number of irregular notes; e.g., duplets, triplets, quadruplets, etc.
Music-triad.svg Chord
Several notes sounded simultaneously (“solid” or “block”), or in succession (“broken”). Two-note chords are called dyad; three-note chords are called triads. A chord may contain any number of notes.
Music-arpeggio.svg Arpeggiated chord
A chord with notes played in rapid succession, usually ascending, each note being sustained as the others are played. It is also called a “broken chord”.
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Dynamics

Dynamics are indicators of the relative intensity or volume of a musical line.

120px-Music_dynamic_pianississimo.svg Pianississimo1
Extremely soft. Very infrequently does one see softer dynamics than this, which are specified with additional ps.
Music dynamic pianissimo.svg Pianissimo
Very soft. Usually the softest indication in a piece of music, though softer dynamics are often specified with additional ps.
Music dynamic piano.svg Piano
Soft; louder than pianissimo.
Music dynamic mezzo piano.svg Mezzo piano
Moderately soft; louder than piano.
Music dynamic mezzo forte.svg Mezzo forte
Moderately loud; softer than forte. If no dynamic appears, mezzo-forte is assumed to be the prevailing dynamic level.
Music dynamic forte.svg Forte
Loud. Used as often as piano to indicate contrast.
Music dynamic fortissimo.svg Fortissimo
Very loud. Usually the loudest indication in a piece, though louder dynamics are often specified with additional fs (such as fortississimo – seen below).
Music dynamic fortississimo.svg Fortississimo1
Extremely loud. Very infrequently does one see louder dynamics than this, which are specified with additional fs.
Music expression sforzando sfz.svg Sforzando
Literally “forced”, denotes an abrupt, fierce accent on a single sound or chord. When written out in full, it applies to the sequence of sounds or chords under or over which it is placed.
Music-crescendo.svg Crescendo
A gradual increase in volume.
Can be extended under many notes to indicate that the volume steadily increases during the passage.
Music-diminuendo.svg Diminuendo
Also decrescendo
A gradual decrease in volume. Can be extended in the same manner as crescendo.

Key Signatures

Key signatures define the prevailing key of the music that follows, thus avoiding the use of accidentals for many notes. If no key signature appears, the key is assumed to be C major/A minor, but can also signify a neutral key, employing individual accidentals as required for each note. The key signature examples shown here are described as they would appear on a treble staff.

C-flat-major a-flat-minor.svg Flat key signature
Lowers by a semitone the pitch of notes on the corresponding line or space, and all octaves thereof, thus defining the prevailing major or minor key. Different keys are defined by the number of flats in the key signature, starting with the leftmost, i.e., B, and proceeding to the right; for example, if only the first two flats are used, the key is B major/G minor, and all B’s and E’s are “flatted” (US) or “flattened” (UK), i.e., lowered to B and E.
C-sharp-major a-sharp-minor.svg Sharp key signature
Raises by a semitone the pitch of notes on the corresponding line or space, and all octaves thereof, thus defining the prevailing major or minor key. Different keys are defined by the number of sharps in the key signature, also proceeding from left to right; for example, if only the first four sharps are used, the key is E major/C minor, and the corresponding pitches are raised.

Music Symbols

Articulation marks

Articulations (or accents) specify how to perform individual notes within a phrase or passage. They can be fine-tuned by combining more than one such symbol over or under a note. They may also appear in conjunction with phrasing marks listed above.

Music-staccato.svg Staccato
This indicates the musician should play the note shorter than notated, usually half the value, the rest of the metric value is then silent. Staccato marks may appear on notes of any value, shortening their performed duration without speeding the music itself.
Music-staccatissimo.svg Staccatissimo or Spiccato
Indicates a longer silence after the note (as described above), making the note very short. Usually applied to quarter notes or shorter. (In the past, this marking’s meaning was more ambiguous: it sometimes was used interchangeably with staccato, and sometimes indicated an accent and not staccato. These usages are now almost defunct, but still appear in some scores.) In string instruments this indicates a bowing technique in which the bow bounces lightly upon the string.
Music-marcato.png Accent
Play the note louder, or with a harder attack than surrounding unaccented notes. May appear on notes of any duration.
Music-tenuto.svg Tenuto
This symbol indicates play the note at its full value, or slightly longer. It can also indicate a slight dynamic emphasis or be combined with a staccato dot to indicate a slight detachment (portato or mezzo staccato).
Music-strong-marcato.svg Marcato
Play the note somewhat louder or more forcefully than a note with a regular accent mark (open horizontal wedge). In organ notation, this means play a pedal note with the toe. Above the note, use the right foot; below the note, use the left foot.
Music-pizzicato.svg Left-hand pizzicato or Stopped note
A note on a stringed instrument where the string is plucked with the left hand (the hand that usually stops the strings) rather than bowed. On the horn, this accent indicates a “stopped note” (a note played with the stopping hand shoved further into the bell of the horn). In percussion this notation denotes, among many other specific uses, to close the hi-hat by pressing the pedal, or that an instrument is to be “choked” (muted with the hand).
Music-snappizzicato.svg Snap pizzicato
On a stringed instrument, a note played by stretching a string away from the frame of the instrument and letting it go, making it “snap” against the frame. Also known as a Bartók pizzicato.
Music-harmonic.svg Natural harmonic or Open note
On a stringed instrument, means to play a natural harmonic (also called flageolet). On a valved brass instrument, means play the note”open” (without lowering any valve, or without mute). In organ notation, this means play a pedal note with the heel (above the note, use the right foot; below the note, use the left foot). In percussion notation this denotes, among many other specific uses, to open the hi-hat by releasing the pedal, or allow an instrument to ring.
Music-fermata.svg Fermata (Pause)
A note, chord, or rest sustained longer than its customary value. Usually appears over all parts at the same metrical location in a piece, to show a halt in tempo. It can be placed above or below the note. The fermata is held for as long as the performer or conductor desires.
Music-upbow.svg Up bow or Sull’arco
On a bowed string instrument, the note is played while drawing the bow upward. On a plucked string instrument played with a plectrum or pick (such as a guitar played pickstyle or a mandolin), the note is played with an upstroke.
Music-downbow.svg Down bow or Giù arco
Like sull’arco, except the bow is drawn downward. On a plucked string instrument played with a plectrum or pick (such as a guitar played pickstyle or a mandolin), the note is played with a downstroke.

Ornaments

Ornaments modify the pitch pattern of individual notes.

Music-trill.svg Trill
A rapid alternation between the specified note and the next higher note (according to key signature) within its duration. Also called a “shake.” When followed by a wavy horizontal line, this symbol indicates an extended, or running, trill. Trills can begin on either the specified root note or the upper auxiliary note, though the latter is more prevalent in modern performances. In percussion notation, a trill is sometimes used to indicate a tremolo (q.v.).
Music-mordent.svg Mordent
Rapidly play the principal note, the next higher note (according to key signature) then return to the principal note for the remaining duration. In most music, the mordent begins on the auxiliary note, and the alternation between the two notes may be extended. In handbells, this symbol is a “shake” and indicates the rapid shaking of the bells for the duration of the note.
Music-inverted mordent.png Mordent (inverted)
Rapidly play the principal note, the note below it, then return to the principal note for the remaining duration. In much music, the mordent begins on the auxiliary note, and the alternation between the two notes may be extended.
Music-turn-2.svgMusic-turn (principal first).pngMusic-inverted turn.png Turn
When placed directly above the note, the turn (also known as a gruppetto) indicates a sequence of upper auxiliary note, principal note, lower auxiliary note, and a return to the principal note. When placed to the right of the note, the principal note is played first, followed by the above pattern. Placing a vertical line through the turn symbol or inverting it, it indicates an inverted turn, in which the order of the auxiliary notes is reversed.
Music-appoggiatura.svg Appoggiatura
The first half of the principal note’s duration has the pitch of the grace note (the first two-thirds if the principal note is a dotted note).
Music-acciaccatura.svg Acciaccatura
The acciaccatura is of very brief duration, as though brushed on the way to the principal note, which receives virtually all of its notated duration. In percussion notation, the acciaccatura symbol denotes the flam rudiment, the miniature note still positioned behind the main note but on the same line or space of the staff. The flam note is usually played just before the natural durational subdivision the main note is played on, with the timing and duration of the main note remaining unchanged. Also known by the English translation of the Italian term, crushed note, and in German as Zusammenschlag (simultaneous stroke).

Time Signatures

Time signatures define the meter of the music. Music is “marked off” in uniform sections called bars or measures, and time signatures establish the number of beats in each. This does not necessarily indicate which beats to emphasize, however. A time signature that conveys information about the way the piece actually sounds is thus chosen. Time signatures tend to suggest, but only suggest, prevailing groupings of beats or pulses.

Music-timesig.svg Specific time – simple time signatures
The bottom number represents the note value of the basic pulse of the music (in this case the 4 represents the crotchet or quarter-note). The top number indicates how many of these note values appear in each measure. This example announces that each measure is the equivalent length of three crotchets (quarter-notes). You would pronounce this as “Three Four Time”, and was referred to as a “perfect” time.
Compound duple drum pattern.png Specific time – compound time signatures
The bottom number represents the note value of the subdivisions of the basic pulse of the music (in this case the 8 represents the quaver or eighth-note). The top number indicates how many of these subdivisions appear in each measure. Usually each beat is composed of three subdivisions. To derive the unit of the basic pulse in compound meters, double this value and add a dot, and divide the top number by 3 to determine how many of these pulses there are each measure. This example announces that each measure is the equivalent length of two dotted crotchets (dotted quarter-notes). You would pronounce this as “Six Eight Time.”
Music-commontime.svg Common time
This symbol is a throwback to fourteenth century rhythmic notation, when it represented 2/4, or “imperfect time”. Today it represents 4/4.
Music-cuttime.svg Alla breve or Cut time
This symbol represents 2/2 time, indicating two minim (or half-note) beats per measure. Here, a crotchet (or quarter note) would get half a beat.
Music-metronome.svg Metronome mark
Written at the start of a score, and at any significant change of tempo, this symbol precisely defines the tempo of the music by assigning absolute duration to all note values within the score. In this particular example, the performer is told that 120 crotchets, or quarter notes, fit into one minute of time. Many publishers precede the marking with letters “M.M.“, referring to Maelzel’s Metronome.