HOME Music Jargon buster
Many images on this page use the piano as the piano gives the best pictorial illustration of Intervals, Chords, Arpeggios, etc. the points though are as relevant to any other instrument.

Ad-lib' or 'at liberty',


This where you play just whatever you like. You can do this all over your favourite tracks! It's a great way of practicing your instrument. Do it first when the kids are out! If you don't seem to be playing anything decent, keep the faith & keep having a stab when you can anyway. One day it could all just come your way in a eureka! moment. More here....

Clarinet close up with guitat in background: Chords explained in Clarinet tuition Newburgh






Series of notes which make up a chord. The Tonic (or Root), the third (minor or major) & the fifth. Arpeggios are usually played from the lowest root note on an instrument to the highest available & down again.

Start your arpeggio on the root of the arpeggio, so start on an ‘A’ for an A arpeggio. If you find you can’t hit the root again as your highest available note is the third or the fifth, don’t let that stop you from playing those notes.

Similarly, when you go down again & end up on your starting note, keep going to see if there’s another component or two of your chosen arpeggio lower down.

Piano with one Octave of An arpeggio played with the left hand: Music theory Newburgh, Fife
One Octave of an arpeggio played with the left
hand in 'C major''(C, E & G)

Barred chords




By barring the fretboard, any standard chord shape, like E or A (minor or major) can be moved up to make any chord. Simply bar the appropriate fret with first finger & play the same shape above it. Moving up 1 fret raises the chord 1 semi-tone. Here the chord 'A Minor' is raised to 'Bb minor' by barring the 1st fret. A
Someone who bites their fingernails playing an 'A Minor' Guitar chord Someone who bites their fingernails playing a A# Minor (or Bb Minor) guitar chord
'A Minor' Guitar chord
A#Minor (or Bb) Guitar chord (a bar chord)
BridgeJames Brown lookin' cool  

"Take it to the bridge"– says James Brown in Sex Machine - & he does. Most songs have distinct chunks, Verse & Chorus being the most obvious. The intro & out-tro are also distinct chunks quite often based on the verse. However a ‘bridge’ is like a new chunk of song – as different as the verse & the chorus are from each-other.

Sex-Machine is not such a good example to listen to as there is little distinguishing the verse from the chorus, but when Brown says ‘Hit me now’, we certainly do go into a different chunk of song with new chords. Whilst you get several verses – especially Bob Dylan…. with different lyrics, & you get the chorus more than once in a song – usually with the same words & the ‘hook’ (the thing you remember coz it just grooves), you only usually get one ‘bridge’. It’s kinda nice coz it takes you to a new place for a wee while before you return to the familiarity of the main song.

Selection of Brass  Instrument  Mouthpieces: Trumpet lessons Newburgh, Fife Classification of instruments including: Trumpet, Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba, Flugal Horn, French Horn. All the Brass instruments use 3 valves to add a piece of tube of different length to the overall length of the instrument, altering the arpeggio range of notes that can be played. The Trombone is the only exception. Here the range is altered using a slide. Being able to play one Brass instrument means you have 90% of what it takes to play another. Again the trombone is different. With all the Brass instruments slackening & tightening the lips gives you the different notes in the arpeggio that the current valve position gives.
Using semi-tones. A Chromatic Scale is a series of semi-tones. Semi-tone played on the piano: Music Theory lessons Edinburgh: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife
A number of different notes played together. The basis of most standard chords is Root , Third, Fifth & often the root again up the octave. In more complicated chords, other parts of the key scale are added (most often the 7th) & in power chords, some are taken away - notably the third. Even though a guitar plays 6 strings simultaneously, often 2 or 3 strings will be playing the same note, but with an octave interval.
Piano with fingers playing  the chord 'C major'; Music Theory lessons Edinburgh: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife
Bb Minor Guitar Chord: Guitar lessons Newburgh, Fife

A guitar or piano can play a whole chord on their own. Other ‘mono-tone’ instruments (only one note comes out at a time) can help make up a chord with other instruments.

In an orchestra for example 100 musicians could be contributing only a limited number of the 12 notes available in our chromatic scale. Many will be duplicating notes in different octaves.

The key when playing to music is to play something which fits within the chord at a particular moment. Chords usually change every few seconds. In jazz they can change many times a second. See 'String Quartet'. See also Key.

Any instrument capable of playing chords






Repeated section of a song where the words are usually the same each time & the song ‘lifts’ before sinking back into the groove of the next verse – which will have different lyrics. The Chorus contains the ‘hook’ in the song – the magical bit one remembers. This effect is accentuated as it’s played many times.

The Chorus usually has a new chord structure, & new melody which is usually higher in pitch than the verse.





That part of your abdomen which you use to draw air into your lungs & push it out. You'll feel it strain if you're new to a wind instrument. Once you think you've identified it, try to exercise it. Take good long deep breaths & use this part of your body to control the amount & pressure of air you're providing for your instrument.  
Diminished fifth
Note no 7 in a chromatic scale. It's not in a major or minor scale but is sometimes added to a chord. The chord is then often referred to as a 'Diminished fifth'. . Diminished fifth played on piano: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife
Dynamics   Changes in Volume




Selection of mouthpieces & reeds: Woodwind lessons Newburgh, Fife

The positioning of the lips. The best way to find your unique embouchure is to faff around with your lips on your instrument until it sounds good! Don't be scared! Try everything. The trick is to identify pure notes that sound nice & round. If you haven't heard that yet, faff some more.... more at '5 Seconds'


There's a whole page on Embouchure, just click the image

The note Bb (B flat) is one semi-tone lower than the note of B. Use the same rule for any note. (This note can also be referred to as A# ).  
Flatten   To Lower (in Pitch)
Guitar Fret Board: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife



The wee bars of metal across a guitar fret board. They're position is very accurately calculated to shorten a string exactly the right amount when you press the string down on one. Each one brings you up a 'semi-tone' Guitar Fret Board:  Guitar Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife

Fifth (5th)





Note number 5 in a Scale (or note number 8 in a chromatic scale). This is a very important interval in a chord. It's very unusual to find a chord without a fifth. Finding & identifying the fifth has a major role in determining just what a particular chord is. See also 'Diminished fifth'.

The strings on a Violin, Mandolin, Viola & Cello are in 5ths. On a guitar though they're 4ths (except one which is a Major 3rd)

A Fifth played on the piano

'Perfect 5th' played on the piano: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife

Finger Memory




  The automatic reflex of the fingers to follow certain patterns following repetition. Finger memory means that your fingers instinctively follow patterns you’ve done many times before & leave your brain free to add some soul to your music.

At any given moment in your music you will be within a particular chord. This can be as short as a single beat or be several bars long. If your fingers can run up & down the arpeggios & scales of that particular chord fast & instinctively, you’ll find the holy grail of improvisation at your fingertips. As you move though the chord sequences, you simply change the set of notes accordingly.

Interval   The distance between 2 notes. (Always includes both notes) Examples: Semi-tone, (the closest), Tone, 3rd, 5th, & Octave the widest 'standard' interval, although in theory with 9ths etc you can go one forever.
Bunch of old keys: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife

A piece of music is a journey though a series of Chords of different Keys however there is always a 'Home' Key. The music will nearly always start & finish in this Key. The Home key is the most prominent to the piece of music & other chords are relative to it. It means that only certain notes within the Chromatic scale can normally be used for a melody & even less notes may be used for the background chord without things sounding a little odd.

If the music is in the key of C major, It'll usually start with this chord of C major sounding. The different notes in the chord could be played by one instrument - a piano or a guitar, several different ones in a band or a 100 different instruments in an orchestra. However, no matter how many instruments are playing, they will all be playing notes within that single chord of C Major. In this case, those 3 notes are C (root), E (3rd) & G (5th). An orchestra could be playing many different notes, all at the same time, but they will be different Octaves of just these 3 notes. Many instruments will be holding the same note.

In a 'Wall of sound' recording, tracks will be laid down on top of each-other time after time, but they'll always stay within the key of the chord presently being played. As soon other notes are added which are not C, E or G, it becomes a different chord. Staying within the current chord & key, stops things sounding messy.

As the music progresses, the chords change & the instruments will find a new note to play within the new Chord (or Key - because during the moment of a new chord, the music has moved to a different Key too - the same one as the chord).

It's possible to transpose a piece of music from one key to another. If a singer is finding it hard to hit the top notes of a song, the whole song can be transposed down a key or two. If this was say from the Key of E down to C, All the chords - indeed all the notes of the whole song would be brought down by a 'major 3rd'. And as a listener, you probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference. It's as if an old record player was slowed down a bit - although this doesn't just change the key but also the speed - which you probably would notice.


Minor V Major













This refers to Keys Chords & Intervals. It's a very important aspect of understanding music. The worst sounding mistakes are often clashes between someone playing a Major 3rd in a Minor Chord - or vica versa.
major 3rd
major 3rd played on piano: Music Theory lessons Edinburgh

Without any knowledge of music you will probably spot someone doing this because they are so incompatible & clash so badly. A Major Chord will have a Major 3rd in it. All musical rules are there to be broken though & it's the use of a minor 3rd in a major chord that makes those great 'blue' notes....

This means that the Interval between the Root & the Third in the Chord will be 5 semi-tones.

(Includes bottom & top notes) For a Minor it would be 4 semi-tones. A tune in a minor Key tends to sound sad or serious. Chopin's Funeral March is in a minor Key as is most sad music. Most 'happy' up beat music - music written for Children for example tends to be Major.
minor 3rd played on piano: Music Theory lessons Edinburgh
minor 3rd
Almost all Music in a Minor Key will have some major chords in it & most in a Major will have minor chords in it, but it naturally returns to it's 'Home' key often & nearly always starts & finishes in this Key reinforcing the Major or Minor feel.
Classification of mainly wind instruments capable of playing only one note at a time. Includes: Trumpet, Sax, Flute, Bag Pipes - err, well perhaps not the bag pipes - as they have drones. Fiddles, Cellos, etc too are not really mono-tone as you can play 2 strings at a time, although most of the time that's what they are doing. Bass - you can actually play chords on a bass, but again it's predominately used as a mono-tone instrument.  




An Octave (meaning '8') is an important interval. The two notes in an Octave have the same name. An 'A' & an 'A' for example - only the second 'A' would be up an Octave. A Piano typically has 7 Octaves, so you could play the same note 7 times in different Octaves. Every time a note goes up an Octave, the audio frequency which makes it the note it is, doubles. Interestingly, a stringed instrument plays an Octave on a particular string by halving the length of the string. Within one register a Woodwind instrument will half the length of the tube by releasing fingers to go up an Octave. Piano Keyboard with 2 notes pressed: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife
An Octave of 'C' played on the piano Both notes are 'C'
Pitch   How high or low a note is....&... place where folk play football....
Range   The amount of notes between two points - usually the Highest & Lowest





Thin sliver of bamboo (or occasionally plastic) which fits in the mouthpiece of a Sax or Clarinet. Pipes, Oboes & Bassoons have reeds too but these are 'double'. They have two reeds tied back to back & you blow down the middle.
Selection of reeds: Woodwind lessons Newburgh, Fife Reeds are rated in 'hardness' from '1' to '5'. The lower the number the softer the reed. The softer the reed the easier it is to play. Start with a soft one & don't play a harder one unless you prefer one. Harder reeds require more 'puff', They are certainly harder to play & the only advantage with them seems to be that they're slightly harder wearing. Top players though seem to prefer them.
An Oboe double reed




Thumb Key on a Tenor Sax: Saxophone lessons Newburgh, Fife On wind instruments there are often more than one 'register' of notes. When the top note has been played on the bottom register, a key is pressed, usually by the thumb, and the instrument offers a fresh set of notes in a second register. Saxes have 2 registers & the clarinet 3. The Flute has 3 but requires only embouchure changes to change register. Saxes & flute go up by an Octave between registers 1 & 2. Clarinet goes up an Octave & a 5th. Thumb Key on a Clarinet: Clarinet lessons Newburgh, Fife


The Root (or Tonic) refers to the most important note in a chord. The chord is indeed named after it so the root of the chord 'E major' or 'E minor' is the note E. For the chord of 'C# minor', (or C# major) the root is the note C# (C Sharp)  
Rhythm section

In a band – drums, percussion, bass, guitar, possibly keyboards but not lead players / mono-tone instruments like fiddle, brass or singers. The rhythm section is the rock of the band holding everything tightly together & changing direction in precise coordination.

If you want to be able to play fast runs like John Coltrane, scales will embed some 'finger memory' into you. This is a pattern that you can reproduce without thinking because you've played it many times before. More on Scales & Chromatic Scales on the exercises page  
Sharps (#)
The note B# (B sharp) is one semi-tone higher than the note of B. Use the same rule for any note. (This note is also 'C')  
& Flats (b)
The note Bb (B flat) is one semi-tone lower than the note of B. Use the same rule for any note. (This note can also be referred to as A# )  




Semi-tone played on the piano: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife This is the smallest possible interval between two notes. A chromatic scale uses a series of 13 Semi-tones to complete a scale. 2 semi-quavers: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife

String Quartet




Classic Ensemble of 4 instruments. 2 Violins a Viola & a Cello.
The Juilliard String Quartet - resident string quartet of the Library of Congress in 1963: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife

To hear chordal progressions as clearly as is possible you can do no better than listening to a String Quartet.

As there are no more than 4 voices at any one time, it’s possible the track the changes much more easily. Start with Schubert’s ‘Death & the Maiden’!


Third (3rd)







major 3rd played on piano: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife

A Major 3rd


The note in a particular key which comes 3rd in the scale. This is different for Minor & Major scales / keys. For the Scale of 'C Major', the third is E.

For 'C Minor' The 3rd would be Eb (E flat).

For a 'Major 3rd' the interval is 5 semi-tones (including both notes) For A Minor 3rd it's 4.


A Minor 3rd

minor 3rd played on piano: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife
  Dave's armoury of instruments: Try out one.......
Toys   James's affectionate name for his armory of instruments





Two semi-tones = 1 'Tone'. The interval between the notes in a scale are mostly tones, but sometimes semi-tones

A tone

A 'tone' played on the piano: Music Theory lessons Newburgh, Fife Floozie Soo link













To move usually a whole piece of music to a new Key. Often done in bands when a singers range is different to the song. The low notes are too low or the high ones too high to hit.

Keyboards will 'transpose' meaning they will allow you to play up or down the scale but still play the same notes on the keyboard. So if you play a 'C' - & a 'D' comes out you've transposed it up a tone.

Certain wind instruments are not in 'Concert Pitch' & their 'C' will not be the same as the 'C' on a Piano, Guitar, Flute or Fiddle. It's a regrettable fact that causes lots of headaches when reading music. Fortunately, if you're playing by ear, it doesn't matter! But it you're not, & you wish to play something on a sax which is written in C, you'll have to transpose the music.

In a band, if you're band mate tells you to play a 'D' - there's a good chance if you play your 'D' it'll come out as a 'C' on a Sax, Trumpet, Clarinet, Pipes etc. However, get your mate to play the note to you, listen to it & find it on your instrument & you're laughing. It can be a hindrance & a confusion to try to think about which notes you're playing in this situation.Use your ear every time & you'll have no problems & a lot less head-aches.

Why are certain instruments not in Concert Pitch? God Knows. I've never heard a convincing explanation yet. If you have one, why not share it! email

Treble Clef Sign
Viola   Orchestral Instrument looking, sounding & playing exactly like a Violin, except larger & having a lower pitch range
Wind   Classification of instruments requiring to be blown including: Brass, Woodwind, Bag Pipes. Also includes Church Organ...



Classification of instruments including: Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute, Piccolo, Oboe Bassoon & Cor-Anglais. The first two are single reed & the last three double reed. Saxophones are now commonly referred to as Brass though this is not strictly the correct classification.  

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Dave J Ford peering through  ice sculpture