Learn some terminology

Terminology is simply language designed for a particular purpose. Over the years, music has acquired a vast amount of specialised terms. You don’t need to learn them all, but knowing a handful of the basics makes it easier for your director to, well, direct, and for you to understand what’s expected. So here are the basics. You’ll note that Italian is the language of music!


  • Piano – soft
  • Forte – loud
  • Mezzoforte – medium volume, where most of us tend to sing
  • Fortissimo – maximum volume, without yelling
  • Pianissimo – very soft, but not inaudible
  • Crescendo – getting gradually louder – but not always to full volume. Watch your director!
  • Decrescendo – getting gradually softer – but not always down to complete silence. Again, watch your director!


  • Legato – a flowing style, with the notes seeming to connect together – but without actually sliding from one to the next, much as a violin would play them
  • Staccato – short, sharp notes with actual breaks between them, much as a drum or xylophone would play them.
  • Pizzicato – literally, “plucked”, as a violinist plucks single strings. When singing, the notes and syllables are very short, but still sounded distinctly.

Tempo: (to get a feel for this, find a metronome or download a metronome app; here’s one. The settings are usually marked.)

  • Largo – extremely slow
  • Andante – pretty slow
  • Moderato – medium
  • Allegro – brisk
  • Allegretto – moving right along
  • Presto – very fast indeed
  • Prestissimo – insanely fast. This is Flight of the Bumblebee territory.
  • Accelerando (usually written accel.) – getting gradually faster – watch your director
  • Ritenudo (usually written rit.) – getting gradually slower – watch your director



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