To add a piece to the database,click here




A symbol indicating that the pitches are to be played either an octave above or octave below written.



Using all 12 pitches within an octave in a predetermined order to create a unique scale. That scale is then used to compose the piece of music. The 12-tone scale can be used in its original order, in reverse order (retrograde), in inversion, or in reverse (retrograde) inversion.



An increase in tempo.



An articulation marking usually notated by a > above a note. This symbol indicates that the notes should be played with a louder, sharper attack.


Aleatoric Music

Also called “music of chance,” aleatoric music is characterized by a deliberate use of indeterminacy. This leaves several aspects of the composition in the performer’s hands. Some elements that may be left to chance include rhythms and pitches. Often a composer will indicate a certain set of pitches or rhythms and then ask the performer to play them in any order. For example, a composer would take a set number of phrases and present them to the performer in no particular order. The performer would decide, at random, the order that these phrases would be performed.


Alternating Meter

Alternating time signatures between measures. An example is changing from 3/4 to 4/4 to 3/4 to 4/4, etc.


Asymmetric Meter

An uneven subdivision of the metrical pulse, such as 5/4, 7/4, 11/8, etc.



The absence of a key or tonality. In atonal music, all 12 pitches of the scale are treated equally. See 12-tone, above.



Using two tonalities or keys at the same time. In piano music, this is often done between the hands. For example, the left hand may play in A Major while the right hand plays in Eb Major.


Blues Scale

A blues scale is commonly defined as the scale degrees: 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7. In C, this would be: C, Eb, F, Gb, G, and Bb.


Changing Meter

A piece that does not stay in the same time signature. For example, a piece may start out in 4/4 and then change to 3/4 in the middle of the piece.


Chords, Broken

A chordal pattern played with one hand; usually an arpeggiated accompaniment pattern. For example, playing C followed by E followed by G. Broken chordal patterns can span over an octave (an interval of a 10th is common in intermediate music) and should be analyzed by the student to determine what harmony he or she is playing. Broken chords can also take the form of the root of the chords followed by the 3rd and the 5th of the chord played together. This is a common accompaniment pattern in 2/4 or 4/4 time.


Chords, Blocked

Blocked triads or 7th chords played with one hand. Blocked chords require careful voicing, frequently placing the melody as the top note of the chord with the remainder of the triad or 7th spelled below. Blocked chords that have all of their notes voiced within the span of an octave are said to be “close” voiced where larger ranges are referred to as open voicings. An example of this is a realization of lead sheet solo piano performance where the melody is contained in the top note of the right hand voicing and the left hand plays the bass line.


Chords, Rolled

Quickly rolled chords identified by a wavy line in front of the chord. Usually chords are rolled from lowest note to highest. If the composer wishes that the chord be rolled from highest to lowest, a downward pointing arrow usually precedes the rolled chord symbol.



Playing several adjacent notes at the same time. At the piano, this can be done with the palm of the hand or the entire arm.


Consecutive Thirds/Sixths

A series of ascending or descending 3rds or 6ths played with one hand. The technical problems in playing such 3rds or 6ths are evenness of touch and depressing both notes of the interval at exactly the same time. To prepare for such technical issues, scales may be practiced in 3rds and 6ths using many different touches (staccato, legato, non-legato, etc.).


Contrary Motion

Movement between two lines in the opposite direction. For example, the right hand may play an ascending C Major scale while the left hand plays a descending C Major scale.



A type of musical texture characterized by 2 or more independent lines. For example, a fugue or a canon.


Crossing Hands

Placing one hand over the other. Usually this is done so that more of the keyboard can be used in a composition. Movement across (or under) one hand calls for minimal motion and relaxed arms.



A symbol placed over a note or set of notes indicating that the performer may hold that note as long as desired.


Finger Action

Quick, toccata-like movement of the fingers. The technical issue “finger action” can be used to develop evenness of touch and facile control of individual fingers.



A slide between pitches. On the piano, this is usually done by turning the hand over and using the nail of the 3rd finger or thumb to “slide” up or down the keyboard.


Grace Note

A small note or group of notes. Grace notes are played in different manners; however, usually a grace note is played rapidly before the beat. Sometimes a grace note has a slash through the flag and stem.


Graphical Notation

Notation other than what is standard. Graphical notation can take on many forms, however, notated pitches and rhythms are usually determined by a drawn shape. For example, a composer may write a solid black line, indicating that the note is to be held for the length of the line. Or, a composer may draw notes on a 17 line staff, with pitches being approximations of intervals.



To produce harmonics or overtones on the piano, depress keys silently (thereby lifting the dampers so that the strings can vibrate) and then simultaneously hit another note on the piano. Through the vibrations, you will be able to hear additional pitches.


Inside the Piano

Playing “inside the piano” is a 20th century technique that expands the capacity of the instrument. Often a composer calls for the performer to strum the strings like a harp, pluck the strings, run a fingernail up the length of the string, or mute the strings with the hands. Before playing a piece that requires this technique, the correct strings may be labeled with a small bit of tape.



Legato is an articulation meaning to play smoothly and connected. The hands and fingers or the pedal can produce a legato sound. Legato is characterized by the sound of one note slightly overlapping the sound of the next note.


Loose Wrist

The technical issue “loose wrist” indicates that the piece must be played without tension in the arms or hands so as to allow quick and relaxed movement around the keyboard. Many students who are comfortable playing only in 5 finger patterns have not learned such relaxation.


Melody in the Left Hand

Intermediate students often get into a rut of playing the melody in the right hand and chordal patterns in the left. Having a piece with the melody in the left hand requires that the student develop a singing line and control of tone in the left hand also. This is also a good study for balance between the hands so that the right hand does not overpower the left hand melody.


Mixed Modes

A piece that uses two or more modes within the composition. For example, D Dorian and D Phrygian.



A type of ornamentation indicating that the performer should start on the pitch, play one note below that pitch, and then back to the original pitch.



An octave is an interval of an 8th, or from middle C to the C immediately higher. This span of an interval of an 8th is often difficult for the intermediate student simply because his or her hands aren’t large enough. Playing repeated octaves require a loose wrist and arm. In this database, the technical issue “octaves” indicates repeated or consecutive intervals of an 8th as well as chords that span the interval of an octave.


Ostinato Pattern

A repeated pattern within a piece of music. Usually this pattern is in the left hand, emphasizing a prominent rhythm or harmonic scheme.


Parallel Motion

In piano music, the hands move in the same direction when playing in parallel motion. For example, when the right and left hand play a C Major scale (hands together) in an ascending pattern, they are playing in parallel motion.


Pedal, Sustain

The right pedal of the piano, often called the “sustain” pedal works by holding the dampers up from the strings after the hammers have struck them, causing the sound to ring. For an intermediate student, the main challenge when using the sustain pedal is timing (when to press and depress the pedal in relationship to what the hands are playing).


Pedal, Una Corda

The left pedal of the piano is called the “una corda” pedal, translated as “one string.” Most keys on the piano have 3 strings that are hit by the hammer. When the una corda pedal is depressed on a grand piano, the keys shift, causing the hammers to only hit one of the strings, thereby decreasing the volume of the attack.



A five-note scale. One common pentatonic scale consists of the 5 black keys on a piano. An example is the “Big Ben” clock melody. Also common in eastern music or in pieces trying to approximate eastern music.



Playing two or more chords of different root or quality at the same time. For example, playing an A-flat Major chord in the right hand and a Ab Major chord in the left hand.



A type of articulation notated by a staccato under a slur or legato marking. Playing portato is in between a staccato and legato articulation.


Prepared Piano

A composition written for piano in which the piano is physically altered before playing. Some simple preparations include placing a piece of paper on the strings or eraser heads or bolts between the strings.



Quartal harmony is composed of the interval of a 4th; quintal harmony is composed of the interval of a 5th. For example, a chord in quartal harmony can be spelled with the pitches C, F, B-flat, E-flat (all 4ths apart.)


Repeated Notes

3 or more notes of the same pitch played in succession by one hand. Repeated notes on the piano present a specific problem, because the key must be released before depressing for the remaining repeated notes. Usually repeated notes are played not by one finger but by a pattern of 2 or more alternating fingers.



A decrease in tempo.



A decrease or increase of tempo within a measure according to the performer’s desire to execute a passage in a musical manner. The concept of rubato can be explained to students through a visual representation of a rubber band slowly expanding and contracting.



Repeated intervallic patterns starting on different pitches. Sequences can be used to teach key areas by emphasizing the same pattern within the key. A good exercise for the intermediate student is to take the sequence and extend the patterns to additional pitches not found in the piece.



An articulation indicated by a dot above a note. Staccato notes are played in a detached manner.



A jazz derived rhythm that emphasizes the off beats. For example, ragtime music.



An articulation indicated by a straight line over the note. Tenuto notes are to be held longer and emphasized more.



An ornamentation that is a quick alternation between two notes. Trills can start on the note written or above the note written.



An ornamentation. The performer should “turn” around the note, playing one note above, the given note, and one below, ending on the note indicated.


Two Voices in One Hand

Not merely chordal or interval harmonies, but two separate voices played by one hand. This technique was common in both the baroque period (Bach’s many-voiced counterpoint) and the romantic period (Schumann’s voices in one hand). This technique also carried over into the 20th century. Playing 2 voices in one hand requires exact balance and tone control. Usually it is best to have the intermediate student practice one voice at a time so that the ear becomes accustomed to each line.


Wide Dynamic Range

Some 20th century music is characterized by extreme changes in dynamics. For example, pieces with the technique “wide dynamic range” can quickly change from pp to ff.


Wide Leaps in One Hand

Sometimes beginning and intermediate students become comfortable with playing within a five- finger patterns and therefore become hesitant to move the hands out of the five-finger patterns. A piece that incorporates “wide leaps in one hand” gives students the opportunity to play many different melodic intervals, developing a sense of relaxation and freedom within the hand.


Wide Range of the Keyboard

Pieces that utilize most of the piano. The beginning and intermediate student often plays in a set position in the middle of the keyboard. Playing pieces with a wide range helps the student to explore more sounds of the piano.


Whole Tone

A whole tone scale is composed entirely of whole steps. A whole tone scale starting on C would be: C, D, E,F#, G#, A#, C.