Glossary P


Pacato | A dynamic marking that means ‘calm or quiet.’

Pace | The speed or rate at which something happens, changes, or develops.

Panflute | (See panpipes.)

Panning | In sound recording, the process of controlling the relative position of a sound (from far left to far right) in a stereo field during mixdown.

Panpipes | A wind instrument made from a row of short pipes of varying length fixed together and played by blowing across the top. (Also panflute.)

Parallel key modulation | (See parallel modulation.)

Parallel keys | The major and minor keys that share the same tonic but have different key signatures (example: C major and C minor).

Parallel major | The major key that shares the same tonic with a minor key.

Parallel minor | The minor key that shares the same tonic with a major key.

Parallel modulation | A change from one key to another where the tonic note remains the same (example: C major to C minor, or A minor to A major). (Also parallel key modulation.)

Parallel motion | The movement of two melodic lines in the same direction, keeping the same interval between them. (See also contrary motion, direct motion, oblique motion, and similar motion.)

Parameter | A term that applies to any one of the four characteristics of a musical note (pitch, duration, volume, and timbre).

Parlante | A general term that means ‘singing in speaking style.’

Parody | An imitation of the style of a particular writer, artist, or genre with deliberate exaggeration for comic effect.

Part | One of the voices in a polyphonic work. Also the written music for a single player in an ensemble.


Partials | (See harmonic.)

Passing six-four chord | In a chord progression, a chord played in second inversion that is used to smooth out a rough bass line. (See also cadential six-four chord and pedal six-four chord.)

Passing tone | A non-chord tone that is approached by step and then continues by step in the same direction. If a passing tone occurs with the second chord (instead of between two chords), then it’s called an ‘accented passing tone.’

Pateticamente | (See con dolore.)

Pattern | A regular and understandable sequence of actions or objects.

Pattern picking | On a plucked-string instrument, a common fingerpicking style where the thumb alternates between bass notes (often on two different strings) while the index and middle fingers alternate between two treble notes (usually on two different strings).

Pause | (See fermata.)

Ped. | A symbol used in piano music that indicates the use of the sustaining pedal.

Pedal | A foot-operated lever or control for a keyboard instrument, harp, or percussion instrument.

Pedalboard | An organ’s foot-operated keyboard; usually used to produce low-pitched notes.

Pedal point | A long-held tone, usually in the bass, sounding through changing harmonies in other parts.

Pedal six-four chord | In a chord progression, a chord played in second inversion that is used to simplify a jagged bass line. (See also cadential six-four chord and passing six-four chord.)

Pedal tone | A non-chord tone that begins on a consonance, then sustains (or repeats) through another chord as a dissonance until the harmony; most often played as a long-held tone in the bass.

Pegbox | A structure at the head of a stringed instrument where the strings are attached to the tuning pegs.

Penny whistle | (See tin whistle.)


Pentatonic scale | A five-note scale found in both Western and non-Western music; a major scale with the fourth and seventh notes omitted (example: the black keys on a keyboard).

Perceptive listening | The ability to listen carefully to music and understand how it works.

Percussion instrument | An instrument played by striking with the hand or with a hand-held (or pedal-operated) stick or beater, or by shaking. There are two basic categories of percussion instruments: pitched (like a xylophone or timpani) and unpitched (like a snare drum, bass drum, cymbals, or tambourine).

Perdendosi | A dynamic marking that means ‘waning or dying away.’

Perfect fifth | (Abbreviation: P5) An interval of three whole steps and semitone between two notes; the inversion of a perfect fourth.

Perfect fourth | (Abbreviation: P4) An interval of two whole steps and a semitone between two notes; the inversion of a perfect fifth.

Perfect interval | (Abbreviation: P) An interval between notes with extremely simple and consonant pitch relationships that remain perfect when inverted (intervals of a unison, fourth, fifth, and octave).

Perfect octave | (See octave.)

Perfect pitch | (See absolute pitch.)

Perfect prime | (See unison.)

Perfect unison | (See unison.)

Performance directions | The words or symbols provided by composers to instruct performers on how their music is played (including articulation, dynamics, expression, and phrasing).

Performing arts | The creative artforms that are performed in front of an audience.

Period | A unit of a song; usually eight bars in length. (See also phrase.)

Period instrument | A type of instrument that was used at the time a piece of music was originally performed.


Pesante | A general term that means ‘heavily or weighted.’

Phasing | A technique in which a musical pattern is repeated and manipulated so that it separates and overlaps itself, and then rejoins the original pattern; getting ‘out of phase’ and then back ‘in sync’.

Phonic | A term that means ‘of or relating to speech sounds.’

Phonograph record | An analogue sound storage medium made of plastic (or vinyl) pressed into a flat disc. (Also record or vinyl record.)

Phrase | A unit of a song; usually four bars in length. (See also period.)

Phrase modulation | A change from one key to another at the juncture of two phrases, so that the first phrase ends in a cadence in one key, and the next phrase begins in another key. (Also abrupt modulation, direct modulation, or shift modulation.)

Phrygian mode | A mode based on the third scale degree of a diatonic scale.

Piacevole | (See dolce.)

Piangevole | (See con dolore.)

Pianissimo | (Abbreviation: pp.) A dynamic marking that means ‘very soft.’  The markings ‘ppp.’ or ‘pppp.’ can be used to indicate an even greater dynamic range.

Pianississimo | (Abbreviation: ppp.) A dynamic marking that means ‘as soft as possible.’

Piano | (Abbreviation: p.) A dynamic marking that means ‘soft.’ Also a type of large keyboard instrument with a wooden case enclosing a soundboard and metal strings, which are struck by hammers when the keys are depressed. The strings’ vibration is stopped by dampers when the keys are released, but the length and volume of the vibration can be regulated using two or three pedals.

Pianoforte | The original, proper name for the piano.

Piano quartet | A standard chamber ensemble of piano with violin, viola, and cello. Also a piece of music written for such a group.

Piano quintet | A standard chamber ensemble of piano with two violins, viola, and cello. Also a piece of music written for such a group.


Piano reduction | (See reduction.)

Piano trio | A standard chamber ensemble of piano, violin, and cello. Also a piece of music written for such a group.

Picardy third | A major chord used to end a section or song written in the parallel minor key; that is, a borrowed chord substitution of the tonic major triad for the tonic minor triad.

Piccolo | A small flute sounding an octave higher than the ordinary one; produces a shrill, high-pitched sound.

Pick | A thin, flat piece of plastic (or other slightly flexible material) held by or worn on the fingers, and used to pluck or strum a stringed instrument (like the guitar). (Also flat pick or plectrum.) Also the act of plucking a string with a pick or finger.

Pickguard | A piece of plastic or other material placed under the strings on the body of a guitar, mandolin, or similar plucked string instrument to protect the body’s finish from being scratched by a pick. (Also scratchplate.)

Picking | The technique of plucking the strings of an instrument (like a guitar or banjo) using a pick or plectrum.

Pickup | A device which, when attached to an acoustic musical instrument, converts sound vibrations into an electrical signal, which can then be amplified and recorded.

Pickup note | A single unaccented note (or a group of notes) that comes before the first strong beat in a measure. (See also anacrusis or upbeat.)

Pipe | A hollow tube or cylinder that forms part of a musical instrument (as in an organ pipe, a panpipe, a bagpipe, etc.).

Pipe organ | (See organ.)

Pitch | The highness or lowness of a musical tone. Also a particular note (example: middle C).

Pitch class | A set of all notes of the same name, without regard for octaves.

Piu | A general term that means ‘more.’

Piu forte | (Abbreviation: pf.) A general term that means ‘more loudly.’


Piu mosso | A tempo marking that means ‘more quickly.’ (Also più moto.)

Piu moto | (See più mosso.)

Pivot chord | A chord that is part of two different keys and is used to smoothly move or modulate from one key to another.

Pivot chord modulation | A change from one key to another using a single chord that is shared (functions diatonically) in both keys, so that before the chord the piece is in one key and after the chord the piece is in different key. (Also common chord modulation.)

Pizzicato | (Abbreviation: pizz.) A general term that means ‘pluck the string with the finger.’

Placidamente | A general term that means ‘peacefully.’ (Also soave or tranquillo.)

Plagal cadence | A temporary or permanent point of rest in a composition created by a two-chord progression of a subdominant chord (IV) followed by a tonic chord (I). (Also amen cadence.)

Plainchant | (See Gregorian chant.)

Plainsong | (See Gregorian chant.)

Playback | In sound recording, the review of previously recorded music, often right after it’s been recorded, to determine its technical or musical qualities.

Playlist | A list of recorded songs played on a computer or broadcast by a radio station.

Plectrum | (See pick.)

Pochetto | A general term that means ‘very little.’

Poco | A general term that means ‘a little or somewhat.’ (Also un poco.)

Poco a poco | A general term that means ‘little by little.’


Podcasting | The process of broadcasting prerecorded material over the Internet.

Poi | A general term that means ‘then.’

Polka | A rapid, lively dance of Bohemian origin in duple time.

Polychord | A combination of multiple smaller chords (like triads) played at the same time to create or represent a larger, more complex chord; often used by keyboard players, where each hand plays a different chord.

Polyharmony | The use of two or more sets of harmony played against each other; common in some twentieth-century music.

Polyphony | The technique of setting, writing, or playing a melody or melodies in conjunction with another, according to fixed rules; applies to music of this style written before the Baroque period. (See also counterpoint.)

Polyrhythm | A rhythm that makes use of two or more different rhythms simultaneously; common in some twentieth-century music and in certain kinds of African music.

Polytonality | The simultaneous use of two or more keys in a musical composition.

Pomposo | A general term that means ‘pompously.’

Pop filter | In sound recording, a small screen placed between a singer and a microphone that is designed to reduce the harsh popping sound made when pronouncing words that begin with letters like ‘p’ or ‘b.’

Pop music | (See popular music.)

Popular music | A general term for music that appeals to the general public and is distributed commercially (examples: rock, soul, country, reggae, rap, etc.). (Also pop music.)

Portamento | On a stringed instrument, a mild glissando or slide between two notes, usually stopping for moment either above or below the destination pitch for an expressive effect. On a piano, a playing technique that is between legato and staccato.

Portfolio | (Abbreviation: folio) A collection of songs; especially used by a musician to display his or her skills.

Position | On a stringed instrument, a particular location of the hand on the fingerboard. On a trombone, a particular location of the slide. Also the arrangement of notes in a chord.


Power chord | (See fifth chord.)

Practice | The process of performing an activity or exercise repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency or skills. Also the actual application or use of an idea or method, as opposed to theories about such application or use.

Preamp | (See preamplifier.)

Preamplifier | (Abbreviation: preamp) An electronic device that amplifies a very weak signal, for example from a microphone or pickup, and transmits it to a main amplifier.

Pre-chorus | A mini-bridge that follows the verse in preparation for a chorus. (Also climb, lift, or set-up.)

Prelude | A short instrumental piece that introduces a larger work, though not long enough to be considered an overture.

Premiere | The first public performance of a musical or dramatic work.

Prepared piano | A piano with objects (like metal, rubber, or paper) placed on or between the strings, or with some strings retuned, to produce an unusual tonal effect.

Prestissimo | A tempo marking that means ‘very quick,’ as fast as possible.

Presto | A tempo marking that means ‘very quick’; faster than allegro.

Primary chord | A major chord built on the tonic (I), subdominant (IV), or dominant (V) of a major scale. (See also secondary chord.)

Producer | (See record producer.)

Professional | A person who is competent or skilled in a particular activity, especially someone who engages in an activity as a paid occupation rather than as a passtime. (See also amateur.)

Program music | Instrumental music that is connected to, or inspired by, something beyond itself (like a painting, poem, scene from nature, etc.); as opposed to absolute music.

Progression | (See chord progression.)


Progressive rock | (See art rock.)

Prosody | The blending of words and music; the patterns of rhythm and sound in a song’s lyrics. (See also scansion.)

Psalm | A sacred song or hymn.

Psychadelic music | A style of rock music from the mid-1960s that features musical experimentation and lyrics influenced by mind-altering drugs like cannabis, psilocybin, mescaline, and LSD.

Public domain work | A creative work that is not protected by copyright and which may be freely used by the public.

Pull-off | A playing technique on a stringed instrument performed by ‘pulling’ a finger off the fingerboard (generally while a string is still vibrating; the opposite of a hammer-on.

Pulse | (See beat.)

Punk music | A loud, fast-moving, simple, and aggressive form of rock music, popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Pure music | (See absolute music.)

Pythagoras | An ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher; generally thought of as the father of music theory.


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