Music education is fun, but it also helps brains develop more completely and quickly, especially for young children. Kids who learn to play an instrument, or just acquire a basic appreciation of music, do better in school and life in general. It’s almost as if the human brain is nourished by music, takes it in as the body does vitamins and nutrients.
Every new language, even the language of music, begins with vocabulary, special terms that we have to learn in order to understand the rest of the lessons. That’s true for all kinds of education, including mathematics, science, foreign language, art, and more. In this regard, music is no different. If you want to play the piano, there are a few dozen terms that act as a starting point, a bedrock of essential data. Call them the ABC’s of piano, if you will.
What’s the best way to review a written list of piano terms? Start by simply reading through the entire roster of words and definitions. Don’t worry about understanding at this point; just read. Here’s a summary of all the steps for getting the most out of a list of terms for piano:
- Read: As noted above, just read the list as you would a news article or recipe, without stopping to mull over unclear words or concepts. This step is important because it gives your mind a preview of what’s to come when you really dig into the terminology and gain mastery of it.
- Read Aloud: Spend the 10 or 15 minutes it takes to read the vocabulary list aloud, to yourself of to someone else. This gives you a double-dose of familiarity and strengthens the “preview” function, which the human mind seems to crave whenever it acquires new information.
- Use Your Own Words: Now, try putting each definition into your own words. If you don’t understand a few core terms, look them up in order to gain some clarity. But, before moving on to the next item, be sure you can use your own wording to define the term.
- Explain to Someone Else: Here’s the payoff. This step is sort of a self-test and will show you what you’ve learned up to this point. Find a willing assistant and explain each term to that person, doing your best to not only use your own words in the explanations but to actually teach the other person what the terms mean.
Essential Music Terms for Piano Students
Here’s the list. Use the principles discussed above to gain a comprehensive understanding of each item. Never hesitate to look up a word you don’t understand, or ask a piano-playing friend or teacher for assistance.
Remember, this is a very short, basic list. As you gain skill and experience with the piano, your music vocabulary will grow far past these essential, key terms.
- Accent As in the spoken word, giving something an accent, in this case a note, means that you play it in a louder way than the surrounding notes.
- Accompaniment There are two parts to a musical piece, the melody and the accompaniment. The accompaniment actually works to prop up the melody, which is more complicated and based on more than simple chords.
- Arpeggio When you play any chord, for instance C-major, only a single note at a time, then you’re playing arpeggio. Usually, you play all notes of a chord together.
- Beat The beat is that part of the music you hear when you listen for the “pulse.” It’s extremely important in dance, and is always divided into sections, or intervals, that are evenly spaced.
- Chord One of the most essential piano terms of all, chords are played when you use more than one key at the same time.
- Eighth Notes Notes are measured by how they relate to a “whole” note. So, however long it takes you to play a whole note should be enough time to play eight of these fractional notes, called eighth notes.
- Forte When you see this Italian word on the written music, it indicates that you should play louder than usual.
- Fortissimo It’s similar to “forte,” but stronger, so you’ll be playing very loudly when you see this term.
- Glissando You know what this is but don’t know the term for it. When pianists play a glissando, they use the backs of their fingers to play multiple notes in fast sequence, either rising or falling.
- Half Step This is a mechanical term that indicates two notes on a piano that have no others keys between them. Examples are two white keys that are next to each other, or a white and black key that are next to each other.
- Legato When you hear a piano piece that’s played very smoothly and without any breaks at all, it’s being play in legato fashion.
- Major Scale This is the most common scale, consisting of whole-note steps, except for two areas where there are half-tones. Those half-tones occur between notes three and four and again between notes seven and one.
- Melody Listen to a piano piece and then hum it. What you are humming is the melody.
- Mezzo A very handy term, it’s Italian for “medium.” Before the word “forte,” for example, it means “medium strong.” The word mezzo is used a lot in piano notation, so get used to seeing it.
- Minor Scale In everyday music, the minor scale is almost as common as the major. Typically used for frightening, sad, or highly exciting music, the minor scale features a half-tone between notes two and three.
- Pentascale This is a kind of “teaching” scale that is only used in learning. It’s simply a scale of five notes so that you can use one hand to practice.
- Pianissimo This Italian term is used in sheet music to indicated a piece that is to be played “very quietly.”
- Piano Don’t confuse this sheet music term with the instrument itself. The term “piano” on a piece means you are to play it softly.
- Rhythm When you combine the concepts of sound, time, and pattern, you have rhythm. When you play the piano, the rhythm helps you know when, exactly, you need to play every note.
- Slur If you see a curved line on a sheet of piano music, you’re looking at a slur. It means you should play the two connected notes with no break in between.
- Solfège This is about music terminology. It refers to the words we use to name particular notes, like do, re, mi, fa, so, la, and ti.
- Staccato This word is also used in non-music vocabulary. The sound is disconnected and very short. You play it by pressing the key very fast and then taking your finger away immediately.
- Tempo Simply put, this term refers to how slowly or quickly you’re playing a particular piece of music. You’ll hear pianists speak about a piece’s tempo with terms like allegretto (extremely quick), largo (slowly), allegro (quickly), moderato (moderately), and more.
- Whole Step On the piano, when you see two white keys that include a smaller black key in between, then the two white keys are separated by a whole step. Other white keys, the ones that do not have a black key between them, are separated by a half step.
Ideas are powerful things, but only if we use them. At Prodigies Music, we believe that young children, older kids, teens, and adults of all ages can absorb the wondrous power of music to make their lives better. Teachers, parents, and children can enhance their learning power and lifestyle by taking an online lesson anytime, anywhere. Basic piano courses are a great place to begin.
Learning to play music, on the piano or any instrument, can help your strengthen your overall memory, protect your hearing, and give a boost to your brain’s ability to process all kinds of information.
Learn More inside Chapter 1 of Piano Prodigies! Great for kids ages 4+!