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Music definitions

  • Accidental - A sign that affects the pitch of the note e.g., sharp or flat.
  • Active tone - A tone that has a strong tendency to resolve in a specific direction, e.g., the leading tone.
  • Altered chord - A chord that contains one or more tones which are foreign to the prevailing tonality. Most altered chords fall into four classes: secondary dominants, borrowed chords, chromatic mediants, and augmented sixth chords.
  • Altered dominants - Dominant triads or seventh chords with heightened activity due to chromatic alteration of the fifth.
  • Altered nonharmonic tone - A nonharmonic tone that is inflected so as to be foreign to the prevailing tonality.
  • Altered tone - A tone that is not included in the prevailing tonality.
  • Alto - A low female voice. The next to the highest voice of the four part chorus.
  • Atonality - The absence of a tonal center
  • Augmented fourth - An interval that is a half step larger than a perfect fourth.
  • Augmented major seventh chord - A seventh chord consisting of an augmented triad plus a major seventh.
  • Augmented sixth - An interval that is a half step larger than a major sixth.
  • Augmented sixth chords - A group of chords, all sixth or diminished third. See French sixth chord, German sixth chord, and Italian sixth chord.
  • Augmented triad - A chord consisting of two major thirds.
  • Authentic cadence - A closing harmonic progression consisting of the dominant chord sometimes the leading tone followed by the tonic chord.
  • Bass - A low male voice. The lowest voice of the four part chorus.
  • Borrowed chords - Chords that normally belong in one key but are used in a parallel key.
  • Cadence - A melodic-harmonic formula that brings a phrase to a more or less definite close.
  • Cadential six-four chord - A second inversion chord that is part of a cadence formula most frequently the tonic chord in second inversion followed by the dominant.
  • Change of mode - A change from major to minor or the reverse with the same tonal center retained.
  • Chord seventh - The chord member that is a seventh above the root.
  • Chord symbol - A figure composed of a Roman numeral and sometimes various figured bass symbols. Chord symbols identify the root of the chord in relation to the key center, as well as the quality.
  • Chord tone - One of the tones that constitute a chord.
  • Chromatic - 1. Melodic movement by half steps. 2. Music that incorporates many tones and chords foreign to the prevailing tonality.
  • Chromatic harmony - Harmony that features many altered chords and frequent modulations to foreign keys.
  • Chromatic mediants - Chords whose roots are related by the interval of a third and that contain one of more tones foreign to a single diatonic scale.
  • Chromatic modulation - 1. Modulation in which not all voices move diatonically. 2. Modulation to a foreign key. 3. Modulation in which the common chord is an altered chord in one or both of the keys involved.
  • Chromatic movement - Half step movement that involves only one basic note.
  • Chromatic scale - A scale consisting entirely of half steps.
  • Closely related keys - Keys whose signatures differ by not more than one sharp or flat.
  • Common chord - A chord that functions in two or more keys.
  • Common chord modulation - A modulation that involves a common chord.
  • Common tone - A tone that occurs in two or more chords.
  • Deceptive resolution - An unexpected resolution of a chord. Typically, the resolution of the dominant chord to the Submediant, rather than to the tonic.
  • Development section - In sonata form, the section following the exposition. Previously stated themes undergo various types of variation, and there is usually frequent modulation.
  • Diatonic - Literally by step having to do with scale tones, tonal material derived from a scale.
  • Diatonic modulation - A modulation that involves diatonic melodic movement, and in which the common chord is a diatonic chord in both keys.
  • Diatonic scale - A scale limited to the half and whole steps.
  • Diatonic seventh chords - Seventh chords that are limited to tones of a diatonic scale.
  • Diminished fifth - An interval that is half step smaller than a perfect fifth.
  • Diminished minor seventh chord - A seventh chord consisting of a diminished triad plus a minor seventh.
  • Diminished seventh chord - A seventh chord consisting of a diminished triad plus a diminished seventh.
  • Diminished third - An interval that is a half step smaller than a minor third.
  • Diminished triad - A chord consisting of two diminished thirds.
  • Dissonance - Auditory tension produced by two or more tones when sounding intervals of the major or minor second, major or minor seventh, or tritone.
  • Dissonant elements - A chord member or a nonharmonic tone that creates a dissonance, e.g., the chord seventh.
  • Distant keys - See Foreign keys.
  • Dominant - The fifth degree of the scale, or the chord built thereupon.
  • Dominant eleventh chord - A chord of six tones built in thirds on the fifth scale degree.
  • Dominant function - A chord that relates to the following chord as a dominant or leading tone triad, seventh, ninth, etc.
  • Dominant ninth chord - A chord of five tones built in thirds on the fifth scale degree.
  • Dominant relation - The relation between a dominant chord and its tonic.
  • Dominant seventh chord - A chord of four tones built in thirds on the fifth scale degree, a major minor seventh chord.
  • Dominant seventh chord with lowered fifth - Equivalent to the French sixth chord built on the lowered second scale degree.
  • Dominant thirteenth chord - A chord of seven tones built in thirds on the fifth scale degree.
  • Doubling - The assignment of the same chord member to two or more voices.
  • Doubly augmented six four three chord - A German sixth chord with the perfect fifth above the sounding root spelled enharmonically as a doubly augmented fourth.
  • Dynamic indications - Signs that indicate varying degrees of loudness.
  • Eleventh chord - A chord of six tones built in thirds.
  • Enharmonic change - Alternate notation of the same pitch, e.g., C sharp changed to D flat.
  • Enharmonic modulation - Modulation in which there is an enharmonic change of one or more notes.
  • Enharmonic spelling - A single pitch spelled differently, e.g., G sharp/A flat.
  • Equal temperament - Tuning of the tones contained with an octave so that all half steps are of equal size.
  • Escape tone - A nonharmonic tone that is approached by step and left by leap, usually with a change of direction.
  • Essential dissonance - Dissonance that is part of the harmony.
  • Expanded tertian sonorities - Chords constructed by adding thirds above the triad, seventh, ninth, eleventh, and thirteenth chord.
  • False relation - Chromaticism that occurs between two different voices.
  • Fifteenth - The interval of a double octave.
  • Figured bass - A shorthand notation widely used during the baroque era.
  • First inversion - A chord that employs the third in the lowest voice.
  • Foreign keys - Keys whose signatures differ by more than one sharp or flat.
  • Four part writing - Music set in four parts.
  • Free tone - A nonharmonic tone that is approached and left by leap.
  • French sixth chord - An augmented sixth chord consisting of a major third, augmented fourth, and augmented sixth above a given note. The French sixth chord is sometimes called an augmented six four three chord.
  • Functional harmony - The employment of chords and root progressions that serve to establish a tonality.
  • German sixth chord - An augmented sixth chord consisting of a major third, perfect fifth, and augmented sixth above a given note. The German sixth chord is sometimes called an augmented six five chord.
  • Half Cadence - A non final cadence, usually terminating with the dominant chord.
  • Half step - The smallest interval in the tempered scale, equivalent to a minor second.
  • Harmonic function - The movement of chords to one another defines tonal space and delineates form. Harmonic function basically is either structural or embellishing.
  • Harmonic minor scale - A scale that consists of the following half and whole step pattern: W H W W H W + H H.
  • Harmonic sequence - The successive repetition of a harmonic pattern at a different pitch.
  • Harmonic tension - Tension created by the use of relatively dissonant chords.
  • Harmonization - The technique of selecting chords to accompany a melody.
  • Harmony - The element of music concerning chords and their relation to one another.
  • Impressionist music - Music that utilizes techniques developed by impressionist composers, particularly Debussy and Ravel. Features of this music include liberal use of expanded tertian sonorities, unresolved dissonance, parallelism, the whole tone and pentatonic scales, and flexible rhythms. 
  • Inactive tones - Tones of the tonic triad are relatively inactive unless part of a dissonant sonority.
  • Inversion - 1. Altering an interval so that the higher note becomes the lower. This is usually done by moving the upper note an octave lower, or vice versa. 2. Placing a chord member other than the root in the bass.
  • Irregular doubling - The exigencies of  part writing sometimes make it necessary to employ an alternate doubling to avoid a more serious weakness.
  • Italian sixth chord - An augmented sixth chord consisting of a major third and augmented sixth above a given note. The Italian sixth chord is sometimes called and augmented sixth three chord.
  • Key signature - A group of sharps or flats that produce the desired half and whole step pattern of a given scale.
  • Leading tone - The seventh scale degree a half step lower than the tonic, or the chord built thereupon.
  • Leading tone relation - A chord that relates to the following chord as a leading tone triad, seventh chord, etc.
  • Leading tone seventh chord - A chord of four tones built in thirds on the seventh scale degree a half step below the tonic.
  • Major key - The tonality formed by a major scale.
  • Major minor major ninth chord - A ninth chord consisting of a major triad, minor seventh, and major ninth, a dominant ninth chord in a major key.
  • Major minor seventh chord - A seventh chord consisting of a major triad plus a minor seventh, the dominant seventh chord.
  • Major ninth chord - Equivalent to a dominant ninth chord in a major key.
  • Major scale - A scale that consists of the following half and whole step pattern: W W H W W W H.
  • Major seventh chord - A seventh chord consisting of a major triad plus a major seventh.
  • Major triad - A chord consisting of a major third and a superimposed minor third.
  • Mediant - The third scale degree, or the chord built thereupon.
  • Mediant relationship - Chords whose roots are the interval of a third apart are in mediant relationship with one another.
  • Mediant seventh chord - A seventh chord built on the third scale degree.
  • Melodic activity - Interest created by the melodic element of music.
  • Melodic contour - The shape defined by the rising and falling pitches of melody.
  • Melodic function - Performance of a linear, rather that a harmonic role.
  • Melodic line - See melodic contour.
  • Melodic minor scale - A scale that consists of two forms: 
    Ascending: W H W W W W H. 
    Descending: W W H W W H W
  • Melodic sequence - The successive repetition of a melodic unit at a different pitch.
  • Melody - A musical line produced by a series of song tones.
  • Minor major seventh chord - A seventh chord consisting of a minor triad plus a major seventh.
  • Minor ninth chord - Equivalent to a dominant ninth chord in a minor key.
  • Minor seventh chord - A seventh chord consisting of a minor triad plus a minor seventh chord.
  • Minor triad - A chord consisting of a minor third and a superimposed major third.
  • Modal mixture - The exchange of diatonic chords between parallel major and minor keys.
  • Modulating sequence - A melodic and or harmonic pattern stated successively at different pitch levels and in different keys.
  • Modulation - The act of establishing a new tonal center.
  • Natural minor scale - A minor scale that uses the same tones as its relative major scale. It consists of the following half and whole step pattern: W H W W H W W.
  • Neapolitan sixth chord - A major triad built on the lowered second scale degree, usually in the first inversion.
  • Neighboring tone - A nonharmonic tone that is approached and left by step with a change of direction.
  • New key - The tonal destination of a modulation.
  • Ninth chord - A chord of five tones built in thirds.
  • Nondominant seventh chord - Any seventh chord other that the dominant seventh.
  • Old key - The original tonality of a modulation.
  • Parallel keys - Two keys major and minor that employ the same tonic.
  • Parallel perfect fifths - Movement in perfect fifths between the same two voices. Such movement is generally avoided.
  • Passing chord - A chord that performs a nonharmonic function similar to a passing tone.
  • Passing tone - A nonharmonic tone that is approached and left by step in the same direction.
  • Passive resolution - The retention of an active tone, e.g., the chord seventh, in the same voice in the following chord.
  • Pedal - A nonharmonic tone that is sustained usually in the bass, against which other voices produce harmonies that are foreign to it.
  • Major Pentatonic - 5 note scale. Consists of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of the major scale.
  • Phrase - A basic unit in the formal organization of music, usually four measures in length, especially during the classical period.
  • Phrase modulation - A modulation that occurs at the beginning of a new phrase.
  • Picardy third - The raised third in the tonic chord of a minor key.
  • Pivot chord - See common chord.
  • Pivot tone - A single tone that is common to two keys and serves as a link from one to the other.
  • Pivot tone modulation - Modulation by means of a tone that is common to two keys.
  • Plagal cadence - A closing harmonic progression consisting of the subdominant chord followed by the tonic chord.
  • Polychord - Two or more chords sounding simultaneously.
  • Preparation- The initial note of the suspension figure. See Suspension.
  • Primary triads - The tonic, subdominant and dominant triads.
  • Progression - 1. The movement form on chord to another. 2. More specifically, harmonic movement that creates a sense of forward motion.
  • Pure minor scale - See natural minor scale.
  • Relative keys - Major and minor keys that have the same signature, but different tonics.
  • Remote keys - See foreign keys.
  • Resolution - 1. The movement from one chord to another, the term often denotes movement from an active chord to a less active one. 2. The final note of the suspension figure. See also Suspension.
  • Retrogression - A relatively weak harmonic movement. See progression.
  • Roman numerals- Symbols used to identify chords built on the various degrees of the scale.
  • Roman numeral analysis - The use of Roman numerals and other figures associated with chord symbols to indicate the quality of chords and their positioning relation to the key center.
  • Romantic era - The musical period from about 1800 to 1900 characterized by emphasis on emotional qualities, freedom of form, increased use of Chromaticism, and expanded tonality.
  • Root - The note on which a chord is built.
  • Root position - The arrangement of a chord so that the root is in the lowest voice.
  • Scale - A stepwise arrangement ascending and descending of the tones contained in an octave.
  • Scale degrees - The tones contained in an octave.
  • Second inversion - The arrangement of a chord so that the fifth is in the lowest voice.
  • Secondary dominant - An altered chord that functions as a dominant a leading tone to a diatonic triad other than the tonic.
  • Secondary seventh chord - See Nondominant seventh chords.
  • Secondary triads - Triads that are built on the second, third, sixth, and seventh scale degrees.
  • Sequence - The successive statement of a melodic and or harmonic unit at a different pitch level.
  • Sequence modulation - Modulation caused by sequence units that move successively through different keys.
  • Sequential pattern - A melodic and or harmonic unit that is repeated successively at a different pitch.
  • Seventh - 1. An interval encompassing seven basic notes. 2. The highest note of a seventh chord when in root position.
  • Seventh chord - A chord consisting of four tones built in thirds.
  • Signature - See key signature.
  • Sonata form - A form consisting of three principal sections: exposition, development, and recapitulation. Sometimes called first movement form because of its us in most opening movements of the classical symphony, sonata, and concerto.
  • Soprano - A high female voice. The highest voice of the four part chorus.
  • Sounding root - The chord member of the Italian and German sixth chords that has the aural effect of the root, as opposed to the written root. See written root.
  • Structural tones - The first, fourth, and fifth tones of the scale are the roots of the three primary triads: tonic, subdominant and dominant.
  • Structure of tonality - The tonal pattern created by the three principal triads: the tonic , the dominant a perfect fifth above, and the subdominant a perfect fifth below.
  • Subdominant - The fourth scale degree, or the chord built thereupon.
  • Subdominant seventh chord - A seventh chord built on the fourth scale degree.
  • Submediant - The sixth scale degree, or the chord built thereupon.
  • Submediant seventh chord with raised root and third - A diminished seventh chord built on the raised sixth scale degree in major. resolution is usually to the dominant triad or seventh chord in first inversion.
  • Subtonic - The tone a whole step below the tonic, or the chord built thereupon
  • Supertonic - The second scale degree, or the chord built thereupon.
  • Supertonic seventh chord - A seventh chord built on the second scale degree.
  • Supertonic seventh chord with raised root and third - A diminished seventh chord built on the raised second scale degree in major. resolution is usually to the tonic chord in first inversion.
  • Suspended tonality - The effect produced by a series of nonfunctional chords or rapid modulations.
  • Suspension - A nonharmonic tone that is approached by the same note usually tied and left by step usually downward.
  • Symmetrical chords - Chords that incorporate some form of symmetry, e.g., the augmented triad and the diminished seventh chords that divide the octave into equal intervals.
  • Symmetrical relationship - Tones, chords or rhythms that bear some kind of equal relationship to one another, e.g., a passage of chords in which roots are related consistently by the interval of the third.
  • Tenor - A high male voice. the next to the lowest voice of the four part chorus.
  • Tension - See harmonic tension.
  • Third inversion - A chord that employs the seventh in the lowest voice.
  • Third relation - Tones or chords related by the interval of the third.
  • Thirteenth chord - a chord of seven tones built in thirds.
  • Timbre - The quality of sound determined by the number and relative intensity of it overtones.
  • Tonal center - The first degree of the scale, the tonic.
  • Tonal spectrum - The array of tones utilized n a given passage or composition.
  • Tonal vocabulary - The tonal resources available within a particular style.
  • Tonality - The organization of the tones and chords of a key with reference to the tonic.
  • Tone cluster - A relatively dissonant chord produced by sounding several tones close together.
  • Tonic - The first degree of the scale, or the chord built thereupon.
  • Tonic dominant axis - The tonality defining relationship governed by the tonic and dominant chords, whose roots are a perfect fifth apart.
  • Tonic eleventh chord - A chord of six tones built in thirds on the first degree.
  • Tonic seventh chord - A chord of four tones built in thirds on the first scale degree.
  • Tonicization - The emphasis of a particular diatonic chord by embellishing it with an altered chord that bears a dominant relationship to it.
  • Traditional music - Music that is based on tonal, harmonic, rhythmic, and formal practices of the so called common practice period the baroque, classical, and romantic eras.
  • Transient modulation - Modulation to a key that is passed through quickly on the way to anther key.
  • Triad - A chord of three tones. Most triads are built in thirds.
  • Tritone - Three whole steps. The interval of the augmented fourth or diminished fifth. The tritone divides the octave into two equal parts.
  • Western music - Music of Western Europe and music that has been derived there from.
  • Whole step - The major second, two half steps.
  • Written root - The lowest tone of a chord when arranged in thirds, as opposed to the sounding root in the case of the Italian and German sixth chords.

Harmonic Materials In Tonal Music
Paul O Harder.
Copyright 1980 by Allyn and Bacon, Inc.

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