Glossary B


Backbeat | The accents on beats two and four in a four-beat measure (as opposed to the downbeat on beat one of a measure); common in jazz music and rock and roll.

Background music | A type of unobtrusive music that accompanies to some activity (like dining in a restaurant) or that provides atmosphere in a movie.

Background singer | (See backup singer.)

Backing | In popular music, the music or singing that accompanies the main singer or soloist.

Back-plucked | The performance technique of plucking a stringed instrument far from the nut, and close to the bridge, to produce round, flute-like tones.

Backup singer | A singer who performs the supporting harmony in a song. (See also background singer and lead singer.)

Bagpipe | A wind instrument with reed pipes sounded by air squeezed from a bag under the player’s arm. Typically, one pipe plays the melody while the others create a droning sound.

Balalaika | A guitar-like instrument of Russia with a triangular body and three strings.

Balance | The proportion of unity and variety in a composition. Also the adjustment of volume and timbre between instruments or voices so that each is clearly heard.

Ballad | A slow and often sentimental song that tells a story.

Band | a group of musicians, usually in popular or folk music; each musician plays a different part in a composition.

Banjo | A plucked-string instrument with a long neck and a round body; often used in American folk music.

Bar | (See measure.)

Bar line | In music notation, a vertical line that separates the measures on a staff; the first beat after the bar line is usually the strongest beat in the bar.

Barbershop harmony | A style of close harmony singing, typically performed by four male voices: bass, baritone, lead (who has the melody), and tenor (who sings a part higher in pitch than the melody).


Baritone | Ad adult male singing voice of moderately low range (between tenor and bass). Also an instrument that is second-lowest in pitch in its family (examples: baritone oboe and baritone saxophone).

Baroque music | A lavish, ornamental style of music popular in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (approximately 1600-1750).

Barre chord | A type of guitar chord where one or more fingers are used to press down multiple strings across the fingerboard (like a bar pressing down the strings).

Bass | The lowest range of a voice, instrument, or sound. Specifically, the lowest adult male voice, the member of a family of instruments with the lowest pitch, and the lowest sound or part of a song. Also a common name for the bass guitar or double bass.

Bass clef | The clef on the grand staff that shows pitches mostly below middle C; a stylized letter ‘F’ that places F below middle C on the second-highest line of the bass staff. (Also F-clef.)

Bass drum | A large, two-headed drum that has a low, booming sound; often played with a soft-headed stick operated by a pedal; part of a standard drum kit. (Also kick drum.)

Bass drum pedal | A mechanized footplate attached to a mallet used to strike a bass drum.

Bass guitar | A stringed instrument (played with the fingers or pick) similar to a guitar, but with a larger body, a longer fretboard, and usually four strings tuned one octave lower in pitch than the four lower strings of a guitar.

Bassline | The movement of the lowest instrument of a group; in popular music, it’s often played by a bass guitarist to connect the drummer’s rhythm part with the melodic and harmonic lines played by the lead and rhythm guitarists.

Bass note | At any given point, the lowest note in a piece of music.

Basso continuo | (See figured bass.)

Bassoon | A large bass instrument of the double-reed woodwind family.

Basso ostinato | (See ground bass.)

Bass staff | The lower staff (which includes the bass clef) in the grand staff; typically used with instruments of a lower pitch range.

Bass viol | (See double bass.)


Baton | A thin stick used by a conductor to direct an orchestra or choir. Also a long stick carried and twirled by a drum major.

Beam | A horizontal line linking two or more notes that, individually, would have flags (like eighth notes, sixteenth notes, etc.).

Beat | A steady pulse; a basic unit of musical time. (Also count or pulse.)

Beater | A stick for beating a drum.

Beats per minute | (Abbreviation: BPM) A number, determined by a metronome, that measures the tempo in music (example: a BPM of 60 equals one beat per second.)

Bebop | (Abbreviation: bop) A type of jazz from the 1940s that features complex harmony and rhythms.

Bel canto | A lyrical style of operatic singing that features a full, broad tone and smooth phrasing; Italian for ‘beautiful song.’

Bell | an open-ended (often metal) hollow drum which resonates when struck. Also the fared end of a wind instrument.

Bellows | a device with a bag that emits a stream of air when squeezed; used in certain wind instruments (like the accordion and bagpipe).

Ben | A general term that means ‘well.’

Bend | A change in the pitch of a note for expressive purposes (so named because, on a guitar, the effect is produced by literally bending a string).

Bene | A general term that means ‘well.’

Big band | A large jazz ensemble popular in the 1930s and 1940s featuring trumpets, trombones, saxophones (and other woodwinds), as well as rhythm instruments (like piano, double bass, drums, and guitar).

Block chord | A chord in which all the notes are played at the same time; as opposed to an arpeggio.

Block voicing | A method of harmonizing a melody (or lead) with one or more instruments or voices, either with a similar instrument or using a combination of instruments moving in the same direction as the lead; typical in jazz, pop, and rock music.


Blow note | A note performed on a wind instrument like the harmonica by blowing air through a set of reeds.

Bluegrass music | A kind of country music influenced by jazz and blues that features virtuosic playing of banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and guitars and high-pitched, close-harmony vocals.

Blue note | In blues and jazz music, the deliberate offpitch lowering of certain pitches; the flattened third, fifth, or seventh notes of a major scale. (See also bend or worried note.)

Blues | An influential style of music, related to jazz, that is based on a twelve-bar chord progression, the frequent use of ‘blue notes,’ and simple, repetitive, melancholy lyrics.)

Blues scale | A six note scale that includes the five notes of the minor pentatonic scale plus an augmented fourth (or diminished fifth) note, commonly used in blues music.

Body | The solid or hollow part of a stringed instrument. Also the part of a wind instrument that remains after removing the mouth piece, crooks, and bell.

Bolero | A Spanish dance (originally in 3/4 time but now often extended to 4/4 time) that features a triplet on the second beat of each bar.

Bongos | A pair of small drums of differing pitches, held between the legs and struck with both hands.

Boogie | A swing blues rhythm originally played on the piano in boogie-woogie music and adapted to guitar; often used in rock and roll and country music.

Boogie-woogie | A blues piano style that uses a rhythmic ostinato bass in the left hand while the right hand plays a simple (often improvised) melody.

Bootleg | An unofficial and unauthorized recording of a performance.

Bop | (See bebop.)

Borrowed chord | In a progression, a chord that is taken (or ‘borrowed’) from the tonic’s parallel key.

Bossa nova | A gentle jazz style and Brazilian dance related to the samba, popular in the 1950s and 1960s.

Bottleneck | (See slide.)


Bottleneck guitar | (See slide guitar.)

Bow | A long, partially curved rod with horsehair stretched along its length, used for playing the violin and other stringed instruments. To produce a sound, the bow is pulled over one or more of the strings.

Brace | A bracket and line that joins two or more staves (like the grand staff); indicates that the music is to be played at the same time by one instrument, or a group of instruments or voices.

Brass family | Wind instruments that create sound from the vibration of a performer’s lips, buzzing into a cup-like mouthpiece. The main instruments of a brass family (from highest to lowest) are: trumpet, French horn, trombone, and tuba.

Brass quintet | a chamber ensemble consisting of two trumpets, one French horn, on trombone, and one tuba.

Break | On the clarinet, flute, recorder, or other wind instruments, the place between the lower and higher registers of the instrument. Also, in jazz, a short improvised solo without accompaniment.

Breve | In music notation, a note symbol equal to two whole notes; rarely used in modern music.

Breve rest | In music notation, a rest symbol equal to two whole rests; rarely used in modern music.

Bridge | A musical connection or link between two sections in a song structure; typically a short contrasting section (often eight bars long) that prepares for the return of an earlier section. (Also channel, middle eight, releaseor transition.) Also the part of a stringed instrument that holds the strings in place.

Brillante | (See con brio.)

Broadway musical | A lively stage presentation that combines visual art, music, drama, and dance.

Brushes | A pair of thin sticks set with long wire bristles, used to make a soft hissing sound on drums or cymbals.

B-side | The less promoted song on the second side of a vinyl record single. (See also A-side.)

Bugle | A brass instrument like a small trumpet with no valves; mainly used in the military to indicate the daily routines of camp.

Bull fiddle | (See double bass.)


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