A cappella - Singing by a
soloist or group without instrumental accompaniment.
Acid Rock - See Psychedelic Rock.
Album - A 12-inch circular piece of vinyl with a micro-groove
that plays at 33a
revolutions per minute.
Alternative - Alternative to
what? Mainstream? While the term has become something of
a buzzword beginning in the '90s, in general, it is an umbrella term
for styles including rap (gangsta rap of the mid '90s, New Jack
Swing, jazz rap), though primarily thought of as the styles of post-punk
hardcore, thrash metal and grunge.
Antiphonal choruses - Groups of singers or instrumentalists
that are separated by physical distance in performance, and sing or
play different material in response to one another.
A&R - "Artists and Repertoire" representative
from a recording company ... a talent scout.
AOR - Adult-oriented rock.
Arrangement - Preplanned music involving written-out parts
for instrumentalists and/or vocalists. (See Head chart.)
Art Rock - The simplest form used stringed instruments
normally associated with the symphony orchestra within the context
of rock instrumentation. A more complex style was created by
musicians who wrote multi-movement works common in classical
music. A third, more experimental, art-rock style was based on
ideas from the works of modern composers of avant-garde and
"A" Side - The side of the single recording that is
hoped to be the hit side; the side that is promoted.
Avant-garde - Very current, modern and experimental.
Backbeat - Beats two and four of a four-beat pattern, the
accenting of which creates rock's basic rhythm.
Barrelhouse - A bar, or honky tonk, originally with whiskey
barrels along the walls, or used as tables. The boogie-woogie-based
piano style was often heard in such places.
Bass riff - A low, short repeated bit of melody, often played
by the bass guitar, or by bass and lead guitar together.
Beats - (Also beatniks) American writers and poets of the
'50s and later whose works included social criticisms questioning
the lack of individual freedom in American society.
Bebop - A modern jazz style pioneered in the early '40s by
alto saxophonist Charlie Parker Bird), pianist Thelonius Monk,
trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and others. Bebop was more harmonically,
melodically and rhythmically complex than earlier jazz, and was
usually played by small combos of musicians who possessed a great
amount of technical facility; also called bop.
The Big Six - 1950s rockers Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee
Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.
Bluegrass - A complex country style that developed from the
early 20th-century string bands; it was first called bluegrass in
the mid '40s. A variety of instruments may be used to play the
music, but a five-string banjo and guitar are generally essential to
Blue notes - Notes that are lowered a half-step or
less. Early blues musicians lowered the 3rd and 7th scale
degrees, and bebop musicians lowered the 5th degree as well.
Blues harp - A harmonica used to play blues; a technique
called "cross harping" makes use of a harp played in a key
one step or a 5th below that of the song, in order to have blue
notes automatically available to the player.
Boogie-woogie - A rhythmic piano style that uses repeating
Bottleneck - A glass or metal tube that fits over a
guitarist's ring finger or little finger and stops the strings of
the guitar when it is slid up or down the instrument's
fingerboard. Originally, the glass tube was the neck of a
bottle that had been broken off and sanded.
Bridge of a guitar - A piece of wood or metal attached to the
body of the guitar to which strings are attached, or over which they
Bridge of a song - A musical connection between the last
verse and the chorus.
"B" side - The "flip" side of a
recording; the side that is not usually promoted.
Bubblegum - Music aimed at a preteen audience.
Call and response - The practice of singing in which a solo
vocalist, the caller, is answered by a group of singers. The
practice is also used with instruments, but its origins are vocal.
CD - Compact Disc. ("Disc" refers to audio
and video discs. "Disk" refers to computer disks.)
Cool jazz - A style of modern jazz developed by trumpeter
Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, baritone saxophonist Gerry
Mulligan and others. As the name implies, it is a style that
is subdued, and it generally is played by a small combo.
Country blues - The earliest and simplest blues style,
usually performed by a solo singer accompanied by simple guitar
strumming with occasional melodic fills.
Country-guitar fills - Short bits of melody played as a
response to a vocal line.
Cover recording - A recording made subsequent to the original
version; it may or may not follow the style or lyrics of the
Crooning - The soft vocal style of Rudy Vallée, Bing Crosby,
Perry Como and others who tended to slide from one note to another,
giving the effect of warmth, intimacy and sentimentality.
Crossovers - Records in one market which succeeded in another
market. Crossovers were the key ingredient that enabled rock
music to develop as a separate style.
Cutting - A technique used by disc jockeys to segue one
recording into another using a vari-speed control on one phonograph
to maintain a constant beat pattern through the change.
Dada - (Also Dadaism) A movement in art in which frustration
over the destruction of human life that took place during WW I was
expressed by fashioning artworks out of trash or other material put
together in chaotic form. Also, a western European artistic
and literary movement (1916-23) that sought the discovery of
authentic reality through the abolition of traditional cultural and
Delta blues - The country-blues style of Robert Johnson and
others who came from the Mississippi delta region.
Demo - A recording made as a demonstration of a group's
sound, for the purpose of selling the group to a record company or
Disco - Derived from the French term discothèque
(meaning "record library"), applied in the '60s to
nightclubs that played recorded music. In the '70s it
described the dance music played in nightclubs.
Dobro - A steel-strung, guitar-like acoustic instrument with
a raised metal section on the instrument's soundboard, played with a
sliding bar, invented in the '20s by the Dopyera brothers.
Doo-wop progression - The chord progression of a tonic (I)
chord, a submediant seventh (vi7) chord, a supertonic
seventh (ii7) chord, and a dominant seventh (V7)
chord, commonly used as the basis of '50s doo-wop songs.
Double time - A technique in music in which the tempo is
doubled, or played twice as fast as in the preceding section.
Dubbing (in recordings) - Also called overdubbing; refers to
the technique of adding instrumental, vocal or other sounds to a
recording that has already been put on tape. Dubbing requires
a multiple-track tape machine to allow one track to be heard while
the new one is being recorded.
EP - A 7-inch of 12-inch disc that is played at 45 rpm, with
usually two songs on each side.
Falsetto - An artificially produced high male vocal range
above the normal tenor voice.
Feedback - A naturally produced, sustained distorted squeal
created when high-volume sound coming out of an amplifier is taken
in by the pickup on the guitar (or a microphone) and then fed back
into the amplifier.
Fills - Bits of melody or embellishment played between
sections of the main solo melody.
Flamenco - A very rhythmic and highly emotional dance music
originated by the gypsies of southern Spain.
Flat-four beat - A four-beat metric pattern in which all
beats receive equal accenting.
Flip side - B side.
Folk Rock - A style of music whereby rock elements were
incorporated into the folk style during the '60s. Its creation
is attributed to Bob Dylan, also the Byrds.
45 - A 7-inch-diameter vinyl disc of recorded music that
revolves at 45 rpm; also known as a disc, single, or platter.
Funk - Music, of primarily black performers, with heavy
rhythms and a throbbing beat.
Fusion - A somewhat experimental jazz style that made use of
rock instrumentation and took some rhythmic and melodic patterns
from rock. Fusion was primarily an instrumental music, which
tended to be more closely related to jazz than to rock. (See
Fuzztone - A distorted sound effect achieved by cutting
through the speaker cone of an amplifier, playing a tube amplifier
at a much higher volume than it was intended for, or using an
electronic device that creates a controllable version of the sound.
Gangsta Rap - Became a dominant subgenre of rap by the
mid-1990s. Includes themes of gang-related violence,
pornography, and often includes extra-musical sounds such as
gunshots, etc. Characteristics: driving beat, heavy
metal guitar style, angry/violent lyrics.
Gig - A musician's playing job. The term is
occasionally used to represent any job.
Glitter Rock - Glitter rock was not a specific musical style,
but rather a performance image that influenced the development of
the trend in the '70s toward large-scale theatrical
performances. While not all glitter groups assumed an
androgynous image, most did stress sexuality of some sort as part of
Gold disc - An award given to a single that sells 1 million
copies (500,000 copies after January 1, 1989) and an album that
sells 500,000 copies.
Gospel - A Christian religious music, especially a kind that
evolved from spirituals sung in black churches in the South.
Groupie - An obsessively devoted female fan of a male rock
star, traditionally. Could easily go the other way, too.
Grunge - A subgenre of the alternative music scene, emerging from
Seattle. Musical characteristics are quite similar to hard-core. It
was a fusion of punk and metal. At
the heart of grunge is musical dissonance. Artists wanted to have artistic
control over their music instead of it being relegated to a major recording
company ... enter Bruce Pavitt's Sub Pop Records. Artists include: Soundgarden,
Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Red Hot Chili
Headbangers - The post-punk hardcore rock audience.
Head chart - An instrumental/vocal arrangement conceived on
the spot, usually consisting of simple riffs played in unison, or
with simple harmonies.
Heavy metal - In a word ... rock music that is LOUD.
It took everything about hard rock a step further: more repetitive,
singers screamed, distortion was commonplace. Shock value
seemed to be important, as well.
Hip-hop - The entire culture related to rap: the
music, the manner of dress, the language, the graffiti, etc.
Honky-tonk - A bar or saloon; boogie-woogie-style piano is
often played in honky tonks.
Hook - A very catchy melody or lyric that sticks in the
Horn - Generic term for any wind instrument, especially
trumpet, trombone or saxophone; also, a French horn.
Horn section - The section of a jazz band that includes brass
and woodwind instruments; also, a group of French horns.
Improvisation - Spontaneous performance of music that has not
been written or planned out in advance, based on a progression of
harmonies and usually involving a certain amount of interplay among
Indies - Small "independent" record companies,
other than the Majors.
Instrumental break - A technique in which instruments stop
playing during a sort section of music allowing a singer or
instrumental soloist to be heard alone.
Jam - A genre in which bands are known to tour constantly,
draw their fan base and fame from live concerts, and are dedicated
to live experimentation and improvisation.
Jam Session - A spontaneous musical performance.
Jazz Rap - Combined hip-hop rhythms, horn lines and jazzlike scat
vocals into the standard rap mix.
Jazz Rock - Combined the horn-section sound of swing dance
music with a rock rhythm section and a rock beat. It almost
always used vocals, an element more essential to rock than to
jazz. Jazz rock tended to be more closely related to rock than
to jazz. (See Fusion.)
Jug band - A small blues, country or folk group that uses a
whiskey jug as a bass instrument, sounded by a player blowing into
the mouth of the jug.
Lip syncing - Moving the lips to synchronize with a
prerecorded song, giving the impression that the song is being
LP - A long-playing record, usually on 12-inch-diameter vinyl
and played at 33a rpm.
The Majors - Major recording companies which dominated the
pop market in the 1950s: RCA Victor, Columbia, Capitol, Mercury and
Mariachi band - A vocal-instrumental group of Mexican origin,
consisting of strolling musicians who sing and play guitars and
guitar-related instruments, violins and trumpets.
Mento - A Jamaican folk music that combines a Cuban rumba
with African rhythms. The name comes from the Spanish mentar,
meaning "to mention," referring to the subtle way the
music and dance express personal complaints or social criticisms.
Mods - Short for "modernists"; the Mods were a '60s
youth subculture in England who considered themselves the wave of
the future; they usually had jobs, wore trendy clothes, rode around
on motor scooters (rather than motorcycles) and took amphetamines.
Montuno - An improvisation section in a style of Latin music,
usually based on constant alternation between a supertonic seventh
chord (ii7) and a dominant seventh (V7) chord.
MOR - Middle-of-the-road; popular music with the greatest
appeal to the masses.
MTV - Music TV. Made its debut on August
New Age - Electronically (often) produced or enhanced
meditative instrumental music with jazz and progressive pop
influences. New Age artists include: Tangerine Dream,
Mannheim Steamroller and many others.
New Jack Swing - A subgenre of rap emanating from NYC,
merging the hip-hop beat with light rap and traditional R&B
vocals. Artists: Teddy Riley, Guy, Blackstreet, Keith
New Wave - Post-punk rock music of the mid to late
'70s. Punk was too violent and anti-establishment to appeal to
mass audiences. Some mainstream groups began adapting punk's
half-beat pulse, monotone vocals and emotional alienation, pulling
the style more toward the mainstream. Unlike punk's almost
exclusive use of guitar, bass & drums, new wave often added
electronic keyboards, saxophones or other instruments. Also
unlike punk's distortion, new wave musicians produced a clean, slick
sound. The angry guitar strumming of punk was transformed into
a fast, clear playing of repeated notes on the electric bass.
Important New Wave bands included: Blondie, Elvis Costello,
Overdubbing - The technique of adding more tracks of sound to
a recording that has already been recorded.
Patter-talk - Talking in rhythmic patterns; also called rap.
Payola - The practice of bribing disc jockeys to induce them
to play particular recordings on the air.
Platinum disc - Awarded to a single that sells in excess of 2
million copies (1 million copies after January 1, 1989) and an album
that sells in excess of 1 million copies.
Pop - Generally pleasant music with broad appeal, aimed at an
Pop song form - The structure of repeated and contrasting
sections of a song in which each section (represented as letters
when the form is described) is usually similar in length and
corresponds to an AABA, or some variant on that organization.
Post-Punk Hardcore - Following in the footsteps of
late-'70s punk rock, these bands took loudness, intensity, tempo and
nihilism to new levels. Combined hyperactive guitar banging
with the traditional pulsating punk beat and lyrics expressing dark
disillusionment. (Formation of the SST label in southern
California provided a vehicle for distribution apart from a major
label.) The post-punk rock audience was known as "headbangers."
Progressive Rock - A term used to replace "art
rock," related to '70s bands that relied on the musical
language of rock to create longer, more complex works that they
hoped could be taken seriously as classical works--this in
distinction from the earlier rock-with-orchestra and rock-opera
Psychedelic Rock - Rock music of the '60s which attempted to
recreate the effects of a psychedelic drug experience via long
instrumental improvisations on one or two repeating chords, often
involving one musician responding to what another had just played.
Pub - A bar or tavern in Britain.
Punk Rock - Similar to glitter rock, the focal point of punk
rock was not musical, but extramusical. It was a rebellion
against virtually all forms of post-'60s rock, and against society
in general. The punk attitude was one of anger, frustration
and violence. Punk music was simple, repetitive and louder
than mainstream rock. Lyrics tended to be on the gross
side. (Also, see New Wave.)
Rap - A way of talking in rhythmic patterns; commentary
chanted in phrases that rhyme over a pulsating beat and usually with
little or no musical accompaniment, originally. Rap artists
from the '80s include: Run D.M.C., Beastie Boys, L.L. Cool J.,
Public Enemy, M.C. Hammer, Vanilla Ice (white rapper).
R & B - Rhythm and blues; formerly called race music or
Reggae - A Jamaican music that developed from a mixture of
styles of African and American music and has as its characteristics
the rhythmic flow of ska and the syncopated bass line of rock
steady, but is faster and more rock-oriented than either style.
Rhythm and Blues - Called "race music" until the
end of the '40s, an originally black American popular music in which
the back-beat was accented and beats were usually subdivided
Riff (melodic and/or rhythmic) - A short melodic or rhythmic
pattern that is repeated over and over while changes take place in
the music played along with it.
Rock beat - The most identifiable feature of rock music is
its beat, the strongest pulses of which occur on beats 2 & 4 in
Rockabilly - Music that combined honky-tonk country music
with blues and rhythm and blues. Rockabilly bands in the '50s
generally used electric lead guitar, acoustic rhythm guitar,
acoustic (standup) bass and drums. (Name is a combination of rock
Rockers - An English youth subculture in the '60s that wore
leather jackets, rode motorcycles (not motor scooters), and
identified with American rockabilly music.
Rock steady - A Jamaican music that was basically a
slowed-down version of ska, but included a syncopated bass
line. When sped up, rock steady became reggae.
Rumba - A dance and its rhythmically complex music, of Cuban
Salsa rhythm - Popular music from Cuba based on rhythm
patterns from Africa; salsa music often includes an improvisational
Scratching - A technique used by disc jockeys in which a
record's rotation is rapidly changed from forward to backward
repeatedly, to create a rhythmic pulse over which the disc jockey
talks in a rhythmic patter or rap style.
Segue - The joining together, without pause, of two different
pieces of music.
Shuffle beat - A rhythmic pattern based on uneven beat
subdivisions in which a note is played on the beat and the next note
is played on the last uneven subdivision of the beat, creating a
"shuffling" rhythm. (It is the equivalent of a
quarter note followed by an eighth note in 12/8 time, only the
pattern occurs in 4/4 time.)
Single - A 45.
Ska - A Jamaican musical style that combines characteristics
of mento and American rhythm and blues, and is based on the use of
an accented subdivision after each beat.
Skiffle - A very simple British folk music that involved
little more than melody and accompaniment by a strummed acoustic
guitar, and rudimentary rhythm instruments such as washboard; it was
a cross between folk and Dixieland.
Slapping bass - A name given to rockabilly bassists' practice
of slapping the strings against the fingerboards of their
instruments as they played.
Soul - Difficult to define, soul music has traditionally been
related to black church music, and may be considered a composite of
gospel and blues. The term was attached to several styles of
music that expressed the growing feeling of black pride, primarily
in the '60s.
Speed Metal - A faster version of Thrash Metal. (See
Spirituals - American folk hymns and other religious songs
that originated in the late 18th or early 19th centuries and
developed into gospel music.
Steel guitar - An American country instrument that developed
from guitars brought by Mexican cattlemen to Hawaii in the late 19th
century, but which were tuned to a major chord; placed across the
player's lap, chords were changed by sliding a comb, a knife, or a
steel bar up and down the strings.
Stop time - A technique in which instruments play only on the
first beat of each bar, for example, while a soloist continues
performing. There are a number of stop-time patterns: first
and third beats; first and fourth beats; as well as patterns
stretching over two or more measures (not to be confused with break).
String bending - A guitar technique used by many blues and
rock guitarists in which the player pushes or pulls the string
temporarily out of alignment, causing the string to tighten and the
pitch to be raised.
Sub Pop Records - An "indie" record label
founded in Seattle by Bruce Pavitt in the early 1990s. It was
the most influential record company of the decade. It signed
then-obscure grunge artists such as Soundgarden, Nirvana, etc.
Tag - A short section of music added to the end of a
composition to emphasize that the piece is ending. The term
"coda" is also used for a tag ending.
Tape splicing - The technique of cutting apart and putting
together pieces of pre-recorded tape.
Technological Developments 78 rpm records (1920s), 33 rpm
records (1930s-40s), 7" 45 rpm records (1950s), cassette/8-track tape (mid
1960s), CDs (early 1980s), DAT (late 1980s), Minidisc & MP3 (1990s).
Theremin - Electronic instrument developed by Leon Theremin
(1896-1993). The Theremin is performed without touching it. As the
hand nears the antenna, the pitch rises. A second antenna, if available,
Thrash Metal - A blending of heavy metal (such as produced
by Black Sabbath) with the
speed and intensity of hardcore. Thrash metal provided a raw
alternative to mainstream heavy metal artists, such as Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, etc. Most thrash metal bands
originated in England. Artists included: Metallica, Megadeth.
(Speed Metal was a faster version of Thrash Metal.)
Toasting - A Jamaican name for the rhythmic patter-talk used
by disc jockeys.
Top 40 - A listing of the 40 most popular records nationally
for a given week, on the basis of radio station playlists and retail
sales of singles.
Trading twos or fours - A term for a type of improvisation
used especially by jazz musicians in which two or more musicians
take turns improvising on two- or four-bar sections of music.
Trad jazz (traditional jazz) - Dixieland jazz in the style
played in New Orleans and Chicago during the '20s.
Tremelo arm - A metal bar on an electric guitar that is
attached to the bridge (to which the strings are fastened) and can
be moved by the player to raise or lower the pitch of the strings to
create an effect of vibrato.
Twelve-bar blues - The classic blues form that is structured
in three four-bar phrases and follows a particular chord progression
based on four bars of a tonic chord, two bars of a subdominant
chord, two bars of a tonic chord, one bar of a dominant chord, one
bar of a subdominant chord, and two bars of a tonic chord.
I-I-I-I - IV-IV-I-I - V-IV-I-I. There are many variations of this
Two-beat bass - A style of bass playing often used in country
music in which the bass plays the root of the chord on the first
beat of each bar and the fifth of the chord on the third beat of
Urban blues - A blues style that developed in the big cities
and was generally more sophisticated and played by larger
instrumental groups than the older country-blues style.
Vamp - A repeated pattern, usually without a melody, that
serves to fill time before the main melody enters.
Walking bass line - The line played by a bass player that
"walks" melodically (by step) between chord tones instead
of jumping from one chord tone to another.
Wall of Sound - The lush, multitracked sound Phil Spector
created as producer of hits for such acts as the Crystals, the
Ronettes, and the Righteous Brothers.