Literacy in Music

How literacy is used in music:

  • Subject specific key vocabulary
  • Understand exam question terminology ie. compare & contrast
  • Essay writing skills
  • Lyric writing
  • Deciphering signs and symbols
  • Summarising wide topics concisely for short answer exam questions
  • Knowledge of different languages

Key Terms

Key Stage 3

Call and response - in which a soloist sings a phrase to which a group of singers respond

Conjunct - a style of melodic writing in which each note is a stepwise

Consonant - harmonies which sound pleasing, opposite of dissonant

Disjunct - many leaps between notes in a melody

Dissonance - a combination of notes producing clashing sound when played together

Duration - the length of sounds

Dynamics - the volume of sound

Pitch - high or low sounds

Ostinato - a rhythmic, melodic or harmonic pattern repeated many times

Rhythm - a pattern of beats

Riff - a short catchy melodic or rhythmic idea repeated throughout a song

Stave - the 5 lines that music is notated on

Syncopation - when accented notes are sounded off the beat or on weak beats

Tempo - the speed of the music

Texture - layers of sounds

Triad - a chord of three pitches, the 1st, 3rd and 5th notes of the scale

Key Stage 4

A cappella - unaccompanied singing

Acciaccatura - grace note

Anacrusis - pick up or upbeat

Antiphony - a texture where groups of musicians play alternately

Appoggiatura - a melodic ornament where an adjacent note sounds dissonant then resolves

Arco - playing string instruments with the bow

Arpeggio - the notes of a triad played one after another

Articulation - how smoothly the notes are played

Augmentation - when an interval, chord or rhythm is expanded

Baritone - a male voice with a range midway between tenor and bass

Binary form - musical structure of two sections each of which is repeated

Broken chord - a chord in which all the notes are sounded individually

Cadence - a pair of chords which mark the end of a musical statement

Chromatic - notes that don’t belong to the current key; opposite of diatonic

Compound time - a metre in which the main beat can be sub-divided into three

Contrapuntal - a texture where two or more melodic lines are played simultaneously

Diatonic - music using just the notes of the home key

Diminution - when an interval, chord or rhythm is reduced

Enharmonic - two keys or notes which sound the same but are written differently

Homophonic - a musical texture in which all parts move in similar rhythm

Imitation - where the melody in one part is copied a few notes later in a different part

Interval - the distance between two pitches

Inversion (melody) - the pitch moves in the opposite direction

Melisma - A series of melodic notes sung to the syllable

Mode - an alternative scale to the diatonic major and minor

Modulation - the process of changing key midway through a piece

Monophonic - music consisting of a single, unaccompanied melody line

Passing note - a non-harmony note placed between two harmony notes a third apart

Pedal note - a sustained note, usually heard in the bass, while the harmony above it changes

Pizzicato - string players plucking the string instead of bowing

Polyphonic - a musical texture where two or more parts move independently

Portamento - a performing technique of sliding form one pitch to another

Rallentando - slowing down

Rubato - where some flexibility of rhythm is used to create expressive affect

Scalic - Melodies based on segments of scales

Sforzando - strongly accented note, indicated with the sign sf

Shuffle - similar to swing rhythm, but with a much stronger triplet feel

Simple time - a metre in which the main beat can be subdivided into two

Swing - in jazz or blues style, the first quaver will be played longer than the second

Ternary form - a musical structure of three sections, ABA, also called arch form

Tremolando - a musical effect created by the rapid repetition of a single note

Triadic - a melody based on the notes of the triad

Key Stage 5


Additive rhythm - where the bar is divided into beats of unequal length

Antecedent & consequent - question & answer phrasing

Auxiliary note - a non-harmony note one step away from the chord onto which it resolves

Bitonal - music which is in two keys simultaneously

Cadential 6/4 - a second inversion chord resolving to the dominant (1c-V)

Circle of 5ths - a series of chords whose roots are each a perfect 5th lower than the previous

Cluster chord - a chord of at least three adjacent notes

Compound interval - intervals which are greater than an octave

Contour - description of the shape of a melody

Counter melody - an independent melody sounding against another melody

Counterpoint - the simultaneous combination of two or more melodies with independent rhythms

Da capo - repeat from the beginning

Diminished chord - a triad made up of two minor 3rds

Dominant 7th - dominant chord when the 7th note is included

Echappée note - an unaccented, dissonant melodic decoration note, that is one step away from the essential note

Extended chord - a triad with notes added to it such as a 7th, 9th, 11th or 13th

False relation - a simultaneous or adjacent occurrence in different parts of a note in its natural form and its flattened or sharpened form

Harmonic rhythm - rate at which the harmony changes in a piece of music

Harmonic series - the notes which naturally occur on an instrument

Motor rhythm - an insistently repeating short rhythmic pattern

Non-functional harmony - where the chord progressions do not follow the needs of standard harmony

Non-harmony note - a note outside the harmony with which it is sounding, so usually sounds dissonant

Note of anticipation - a non-harmony note stays the same as the harmony changes for the following note

Parallel 3rds - a melodic line is simultaneously played a 3rd higher or lower

Parallel harmony - the parallel movement of two or more lines

Periodic phrasing - where the melodic phrase is structured in pairs of 2 bar phrases, making pairs of 4-bar phrases and so on

Resolution - the harmony moves from a discord to a concord

Retrograde - an extract of music played backwards

Secondary dominant 7th - a dominant triad which resolves to a chord that is not the tonic

Secondary triads - chords ii, iii, vi and vii in any key

Sequence (melody) - repetition of a motif in the same part but at a different pitch

Stringendo - tempo direction for getting faster

Substitution chord - a complex chord which functions in the same way as the simple chord it replaces

Suspension - a note for the previous chord carried over to the following chord, creating dissonance, before resolving

Tenuto - from Italian ‘to hold’, hold the note slightly longer than written

Tessitura - the average range of a piece

Walking bass - a bass part with a regular rhythm throughout a piece

Whole tone scale - a scale where there is a whole tone between all the notes

Reading List and Sample Assessment Materials

Key Stage 5 Exam Style Questions