Glossary M


Ma | A general term that means ‘but.’

Maestoso | (See grandioso.)

Maestro | A distinguished composer, conductor, or teacher of music.

Magnetic tape | (Abbreviation: tape) In analog sound recording, a technology that uses magnetized strips of plastic (tape) to encode audio signals.

Major | (Abbreviation: M) A term referring to intervals, scales, chords, and keys, meaning greater as opposed to minor or lesser.

Major chord | (See major triad.)

Major key | A musical key that is based on a major scale; generally sounds bright and stable.

Major minor seventh chord | A seventh chord consisting of a major triad plus a minor seventh; often played using the dominant chord (V) in key. (Also dominant seventh.)

Major scale | A diatonic scale made of two equal tetrachords; its intervals form a specific pattern of whole and half steps. (Also Ionian mode.)

Major second | (Abbreviation: M2) A whole-step interval between two notes; the inversion of a minor seventh. (See also whole-tone.)

Major seventh | (Abbreviation: M7) A highly dissonant interval a semitone below an octave; the inversion of a minor second.

Major seventh chord | A seventh chord consisting of a major triad plus a major seventh.

Major sixth | (Abbreviation: M6) An interval of four whole steps and a half step between two notes; the inversion of a minor third.

Major third | (Abbreviation: M3) An interval of two whole steps between two notes; forms the bottom interval of a major triad; the inversion of a minor sixth.

Major triad | A triad made of a tonic, major third, and perfect fifth; includes a minor third above a major third. (Also major chord.)


Mallet | A wooden or plastic stick with a rounded head, used to play percussion instruments like the xylophone and marimba.

Mambo | An Afro-Cuban dance in 4/4 time with heavy accents on beats two and four.

Mancando | (See calando.)

Mandolin | A small plucked-string instrument with a rounded body and metal strings tuned in courses; often used in folk and in country-western music.

Manual | On an organ or synthesizer, a keyboard that is played using the hands.

Maracas | A pair of hollow clublike gourd (or gourd-shaped) containers filled with beans, pebbles, or similar objects, shaken as a percussion instrument.

Marcato | (Abbreviation: marc.) A dynamic marking that means ‘marked or emphasised.’

March | A type of military-style music with a steady duple meter and clear sectional patterns; often played to accompany marching in a parade or procession.

March time | (See common time.)

Marching band | An athletic group of wind and percussion musicians that performs at sporting events and parades, often featuring marching patterns and other choreographed movements.

Mariachi | A type of traditional Mexican folk music, typically performed by a small group of strolling musicians dressed in native costume. Also an ensemble that plays this style of music, consisting of trumpets, violins, guitar, and bass guitar.

Marimba | A deep-toned, mellow  percussion instrument that is a mellower version of the xylophone; of African origin.

Martellato | A dynamic marking that means ‘hammered out.’

Marziale | A general term that means ‘march-like.’

Master | The original, finished recording of a song from which copies are made.


Masterpiece | A work of outstanding artistry, skill, or craftsmanship. Also an artist’s or craftsman’s best piece of work.

Measure | A division in music notation indicated by bar lines across the staff; each measure contains the number of beats show by the time signature; allows the meter to be seen more clearly. (Also bar.)

Mechanical instrument | A musical instrument that is operated mechanically without a human performer (examples: a music box and player piano).

Mediant | The third degree of a diatonic scale, so called because it is midway between the first degree of the scale (the tonic) and the fifth degree of the scale (the dominant). Also the triad built on this degree. Also the key built on this degree.

Medieval music | European music written during the Middle Ages (approximately 600-1430).

Medium | The material or form used by an artist, composer, or writer.

Medley | A collection melodies taken from other compositions and strung together into a continuous piece.

Melismatic | A style of singing where one syllable of text is spread out over more than one note; as opposed to syllabic.

Mellophone | A brass instrument that often replaces the French horn in military and concert bands.

Melodica | A wind instrument with a small keyboard that controls a row of reeds, and a mouthpiece at one end.

Melodic interval | The musical distance between two pitches sounded in succession. (See also harmonic interval.)

Melodic line | (See melody.)

Melodic minor scale | A minor scale that results from flattening the third degree of the major scale when ascending; used to avoid the dissonant augmented interval of the harmonic minor scale. Traditionally, when the scale descends, the natural minor scale (with a flatted third, sixth, and seventh) is used.

Melody | A sequence of notes that is musically satisfying. (See also melodic line, theme, tune, or voice.)

Membranophone | A world music classification for instruments that produce sound by a vibrating membrane (like a snare drum, bass drum, or timpani).


Meno | A general term that means ‘less.’

Meno mosso | A tempo marking that means ‘less quickly.’ (Also meno moto.)

Meno moto | (See meno mosso.)

Merengue | A lively dance style from the Dominican Republic, with a syncopated duple rhythm.

Mesto | (See con dolore.)

Metallophone | Any percussion instrument consisting of tuned metal bars that are struck (usually with a mallet) so make a sound (example: xylophone).

Meter | The organization of rhythm in music; the grouping of beats into regular, recurring patterns (and arranged into units called ‘measures’); indicated by the time signature.

Meter signature | (See time signature.)

Metrical modulation | A systematic transition from one musical speed to another within a piece of music.

Metronome | A device used to indicate the tempo of a song by sounding (or flashing) regular beats at adjustable speeds. (See also beats per minute.)

Mezza voce | A dynamic marking that means ‘in an undertone, with a barely audible sound.’ (Also sotto voce.)

Mezzo | A general term that means ‘moderate or medium.’

Mezzo forte | (Abbreviation: mf.) A dynamic marking that means ‘moderately loud.’

Mezzo piano | (Abbreviation: mp.) A dynamic marking that means ‘moderately soft.’

Mezzo-soprano | A female singer with a voice pitch of middle range, between soprano and contralto.


Mic | (See microphone.)

Microphone | (Abbreviation: mic or mike) A device that converts sound into an electrical signal (which can then be amplified, transmitted, or recorded).

Microtone | A musical interval smaller than a semitone, used in some non-Western music and in some twentieth-century art music.

Middle Ages | A musical interval smaller than a semitone, used in some non-Western music and in some twentieth-century art music.

Middle C | In music notation, the C note written on the first ledger line below the treble staff or the first ledger line above the bass staff. Also the C nearest the middle of a piano keyboard.

Middle eight | (See bridge.)

MIDI | An acronym for “musical instrument digital interface”; a widely used standard for interconnecting electronic musical instruments and computers.

Mike | (See microphone.)

Minim | (See half note.)

Minimalism | An avant-garde movement in music that features the repetition of very short melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic patterns that change gradually, producing a hypnotic effect.

Minim rest | (See half rest.)

Minor | (Abbreviation: m) A term referring to intervals, scales, chords, and keys, meaning lesser as opposed to major or greater.

Minor chord | (See minor triad.)

Minor key | A musical key that is based on a minor scale; generally sounds dark and unstable.

Minor major seventh | A seventh chord consisting of a minor triad plus a major seventh.


Minor scale | A family of scales that share the common characteristic of a minor third note. (See also natural minor scale, harmonic minor scale, and melodic minor scale.)

Minor second | (Abbreviation: m2) A half-step interval between two notes; the inversion of a major seventh. (See also semitone.)

Minor seventh | (Abbreviation: m7) An interval of a whole step below an octave; the inversion of a major second. Also a seventh chord made of a minor triad plus a minor seventh.

Minor sixth | (Abbreviation: m6) An interval of a semitone below a major sixth; the inversion of a major third.

Minor third | (Abbreviation: m3) An interval of three half steps between two notes; forms the bottom interval of a minor triad; the inversion of a major sixth.

Minor triad | A triad made of a tonic, minor third, and perfect fifth; includes a major third above a minor third. (Also minor chord.)

Misterioso | A general term that means ‘mysteriously.’

Mix | (See mixdown.) Also a version of a recording with the tracks arranged in a different way than the original (example: a dance mix version of a song).

Mixdown | (Abbreviation: mix) In sound recording, to process of combining and balancing the relative volume of multiple sound sources.

Mixed meter | A type of rhythm that changes meter.

Mixer | In sound recording, an electronic device for combining, controlling, and routing audio signals.

Mixolydian mode | A mode based on the fifth scale degree of a diatonic scale.

Modal | A term that refers to music using melodies or harmonies based on modes other than the ordinary major and minor scales.

Mode | One of the diatonic scales other than the major (Ionian) or minor (Aeolian) scales that are used to construct melodies and harmonies; each has a unique interval pattern and sound. (See also Dorian mode, Phrygian mode, Lydian mode, Mixolydian mode, and Locrian mode.)

Moderato | A tempo marking that means ‘moderate speed.’


Modified strophic form | A song structure that combines elements of both strophic and through-composed forms; a variation of strophic form in which a section might have a new key, rhythm, or varied melody.

Modulation | A change from one key to another within a composition; sometimes used to create interest or variety in a song.

Molto | A general term that means ‘much or very.’ (Also assai or tanto.)

Monaural sound | (Abbreviation: mono) In sound recording, a simple, outdated technique of capturing sound using a single audio channel, one microphone, and one speaker; as opposed to stereophonic sound.

Mono | (See monaural sound.)

Monophony | A single melodic line with no accompaniment.

Monotone | A continuing sound, like someone’s voice, that is unchanging in pitch and without intonation.

Mordent | An ornament played as a rapid alternation between a written note and the note immediately below or above it (sometimes further distinguished as lower mordent and upper mordent).

Morendo | (See calando.)

Mosso | A general term that means ‘movement or motion’; used with a preceding più or meno, for faster or slower respectively. (See also moto.)

Motif | A short melodic or rhythmic idea that is used repeatedly in a composition; used to generate and develop a longer idea or melody.

Moto | A general term that means ‘movement or motion.’ (See also mosso.)

Mountain dulcimer | (See Appalachian dulcimer.)

Mouth organ | (See harmonica.)

Movement | A separate, self-contained section of a larger composition (as in a symphony, suite, sonata, concerto, etc.).


MP3 | A form of digital audio compression that reduces the size of audio files without drastically reducing sound quality; short for ‘MPEG-1, audio layer 3.’

Multitracking | A recording technique where several tracks of sound are recorded independently but are then played back together.

Muses | The nine daughters of Zeus in ancient Greek mythology, each presiding over one of the arts; the origin of the word ‘music.’

Music | The art and science of organizing sounds in time, often to express a wide variety of human emotions; literally means ‘the art of the muses.’

Musical | A term that means ‘of or relating to music.’ Also a play or movie in which singing and dancing play an essential part. (Also musical theater.)

Musical theater | (See musical.)

Musician | A person who plays a musical instrument or composes music.

Music notation | Any system which represents music through the use of written symbols. (Also notation.)

Music of the spheres | An ancient Greek philosophy that implies the universe and everything in it is in harmony.

Musicology | The academic study of music (forms, history, science, methods, etc.), as distinct from training in performance or composition.

Music theory | The field of study that deals with the mechanics of music and how music works.

Music video | A short film or video that accompanies a recorded (often popular) song.

Musique concrete | A style of early twentieth-century avant-garde music made up of natural sounds and sound effects that are recorded and then manipulated electronically.

Mute | A device used to soften or eliminate the sound of a musical instrument.


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