Glossary S


Sacred music | A type of music that uses religious or spiritual lyrics, typically used in a church.

Salsa | A type of Latin American dance music incorporating elements of jazz and rock.

Samba | A native Brazilian dance in duple meter that is faster and jazzier than the tango or rumba.

Sampler | An electronic device that digitizes, stores, and plays back sounds.

Sampling | The act of taking a portion (or ‘sample’) of one sound recording and reusing it as an instrument or element of a new recording. (See also loop and quotation.)

SATB | An abbreviation that means ‘soprano, alto, tenor, and bass,’ the four voices in a choir or chorus.

Saxophone | A metal wind instruments with a single-reed mouthpiece, used especially in jazz and dance music and featuring a cool and mellow timbre.

Scale | A series of pitches in ascending or descending order that divide an octave; each interval pattern gives a scale its unique sound. Scale tones are often assigned numbers (1-8), words (tonic-octave), or syllables (do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do).

Scale degree | In a scale, the name of a note in relation to the tonic. (Also degree.)

Scale syllables | (See solfège.)

Scale-tone seventh chords | A series of seventh chords built on each degree of a scale.

Scale-tone triads | A series of three-note chords built on each degree of a scale.

Scalloped fretboard | A fretboard in which the wood between each of the fret has been ‘scooped out’  to create a shallow “U” shape, allowing the players’ fingers touch the strings only without touching the fingerboard.

Scansion | The action of scanning a line of verse to determine its rhythm; the analysis of the rhythmic patterns in a song’s lyrics. (See also prosody.)

Scat singing | A style of improvised jazz singing in which nonsense syllables are used to imitate the sound of a musical instrument.


Scherzando | A general term that means ‘playfully.’ (Also giocoso.)

Scientific pitch notation | A method of naming note octaves using letters and numbers. (example: octaves of C are labeled C1, C2, C3, C4, etc.) (Also note-octave notation.)

Scordatura | A technique of changing the normal tuning of a stringed instrument to alter the timbre or fingering. (Also alternate tuning or cross-tuning.)

Score | The complete musical notation of a composition, especially for an ensemble, with each part on its own staff and with the individual parts lined up vertically. Also the music composed for a movie or play.

Scoring | (See orchestration.)

Scratching | A DJ or turntablist technique used to produce distinctive, rhythmic sounds by moving a vinyl record by hand back and forth on a turntable.

Scratchplate | (See pickguard.)

Secco | A general term that means ‘dryly or briefly.’

Second | An interval of two diatonic degrees. Also, in a chord, the tone that lies a second above the root of a chord.

Secondary chord | A minor chord built on the supertonic (ii), mediant (iii), or submediant (vi) of a major scale. (See also primary chord.)

Secondary dominant | In a chord progression, the dominant chord of a degree other than the tonic.

Second ending | The alternate and more final ending of a repeated section, often marked by a ‘2’ with a bracket. (See also first ending.)

Second inversion | A chord in which the lowest-sounding pitch is the fifth of the chord. (Also six-four chord.)

Second | A small, clear-cut unit in a song (like an intro, verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) that is combined with other units (sections) to form the structure of a song (sort of like stacking legos). Also a group of instruments in an orchestra or band.

Secular music | A type of music that has no religious or spiritual basis.


Secundal chord | A type of chord built from seconds, as opposed to thirds (tertian) or fourths (quartal). (See also tone cluster.)

Segue | A smooth transition from one section or song to the next.

Semibreve | (See whole note.)

Semibreve rest | (See whole rest.)

Semiquaver | (See sixteenth note.)

Semiquaver rest | (See sixteenth rest.)

Semitone | The smallest interval between two tones in Western music; the distance between two adjacent pitches on a keyboard; one half of a whole step. (See also half step, half-tone, and minor second.)

Semplice | A general term that means ‘simply, comfortably, or with ease.’ (Also comodo or facilmente.)

Sempre | A general term that means ‘throughout or always.’

Senza | A general term that means ‘without.’

Senza sordini | A dynamic marking that means ‘without mutes.’

Septet | A group of seven musicians. Also a composition written for seven voices or instruments.

Sequence | The repetition of a phrase or melody at a higher or lower pitch.

Sequencer | A electronic device or program for storing sequences of musical notes, chords, or rhythms and transmitting them to an electronic musical instrument.

Sequential modulation | A change from one key to another where a musical sequence is successively repeated, each time modulated a whole step or half step higher or lower. (Also rosalia.)


Serenade | A musical composition or performance in someone’s honor.

Serial music | (See twelve-tone music.)

Series | (See tone row.)

Serioso | A general term that means ‘seriously.’

Serious music | (See art music.)

Session | A period of recording music in a studio, especially by a session musician.

Session musician | A freelance musician hired to perform or record with a group of which he or she is not formally a member. (See also sideman.)

Set | (See tone row.) Also, in a performance, a collection of songs played in order.

Set theory | A mathematical approach to music composition; often associated with atonal music.

Set-up | (See pre-chorus.)

Seventh | An interval of seven diatonic degrees. Also, in a chord, the tone that lies a seventh above the root note.

Seventh chord | A chord made of a triad and a seventh.

Sextet | A group of six musicians. Also a composition written for six voices or instruments.

Sextuple meter | A compound meter of six beats to a measure, with accents on the first and fourth beats.

Sextuplet | A group of six notes that are performed in the time normally given to four (indicated by a bracket and the number 6); a term often wrongly applied to a group of two triplets.


Sforzando | (Abbreviation: sfz.) A dynamic marking that means ‘forced, with a sudden emphasis.’ (Also sforzando or sforzato.)

Sforzando piano | (Abbreviation: sfp.) A dynamic marking that means ‘sforzato (forced) immediately dropping to piano (soft).’ (Also sforzato piano.)

Sforzato | (Abbreviation: sf.) (See sforzando.)

Sforzato piano | (See sforzando piano.)

Shape | The quality of motion and form or outline of a piece of music.

Sharp | A symbol (♯) that raises a pitch by one half step.

Sheet music | A hand-written or printed form of music notation that contains the words, melody (often incorporated into the piano part or written alone on its own staff), and chords of a song; as opposed to performed or recorded music.

Shift modulation | (See phrase modulation.)

Show tune | A song (often in ABAC or AABA form) that is written for theatrical musical comedy.

Shred guitar | A style of electric guitar playing in which rapid passages are performed using alternate picking, sweep-picking, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and other techniques.

Shuffle | A slow-tempo jazz rhythm of alternating quarter notes and eighth notes in a triplet pattern; prominent in blues music.

Sibilant | A high-pitched sound with a hissing effect (examples: whistles, cymbals, and the letters ‘s’ and ‘sh’).

Side drum | (See snare drum.)

Sideman | A supporting musician in a jazz band or rock group. (See also session musician.)

Side project | A temporary project for experimenting with, or expressing, another set of one’s skills.


Sight-read | The act of reading and performing music at sight, without preparation. (See also sight-sing.)

Sight-sing | The act of reading and singing music at sight, without preparation. (See also sight-read.)

Sign | In music notation, a symbol or word used to indicate performance specifications for pitch, dynamics, duration, etc.

Signal | In sound recording, an electrical impulse or wave that represents a sound.

Signature tune | A distinctive piece of music associated with a performer or a radio or television program. (Also theme song.)

Silence | A complete absence of sound.

Similar motion | The movement of two melodic lines in the same direction, but with the interval between them changing. (See also contrary motion, oblique motion, and parallel motion.)

Simile | A general term that means ‘the same’; an instruction to continue with some effect or technique.

Simple division | The subdivision of a beat into two equal parts. (See also compound division.)

Simple duple | In music notation, a time signature that includes two beats per measure and two notes per beat.

Simple interval | An interval of an octave or less. (See also compound interval.)

Simple meter | A meter in which each beat is subdivided into two parts; simple duple, or quadruple meter indicated by the number 2, 3, or 4 at the top of the time signature. (See also simple division.)

Simple quadruple | In music notation, a time signature that includes four beats per measure and two notes per beat.

Simple triple | In music notation, a time signature that includes three beats per measure and two notes per beat.

Sing | The act of making musical sounds with the voice, as opposed to speech.


Singer-songwriter | A person who both performs (sings) and composes (writes) his or her own songs.

Sino al | A general term that means ‘up to the.’

Sitar | A large, long-necked Indian instrument with movable frets and a rounded gourd body; played with a wire pick; often used as solo instrument and with tabla.

Six chord | (See first inversion.)

Six-four chord | (See second inversion.)

Sixteenth note | A note with half the duration of an eigth note, or one-fourth the duration of a quarter note; represented by a two-flagged stem. (Also semiquaver.)

Sixteenth rest | A rest with half the duration of an eigth rest, or one-fourth the duration of a quarter rest. (Also semiquaver rest.)

Sixth | An interval of six diatonic degrees. Also, in a chord, the tone that lies a sixth above the root note.

Sixth chord | A chord defined by the interval of a sixth. There are two basic types of sixth chords: chords that contain a note an interval of a sixth above the root (like a major sixth chord, minor sixth chord, etc.) or inverted chords with an interval of a sixth above the bass note (like a six chord, Neapolitan sixth chord, etc.).

Six-three chord | (See first inversion.)

Sixty-fourth note | A note with half the duration of a thirty-second note, represented by a four-flagged stem. (Also hemidemisemiquaver.)

Sixty-fourth rest | A rest with half the duration of a thirty-second rest. (Also hemidemisemiquaver rest.)

Sizzle cymbal | A cymbal with rivets, chains, or other rattles attached to modify the sound and create a hissing sound; often used in a drum kit.

Ska music | A style of fast Jamaican music, popular in the 1960s, that features a walking bass line, accented guitar or piano rhythms on the offbeat, and (in some cases) jazz-like horn riffs; influential in reggae.

Skiffle music | A type of folk music with a jazz and blues influence, often using homemade or improvised instruments (like washboards).


Skip | An interval larger than a whole step; a melodic interval between two notes that are not immediate neighbors in a diatonic scale; equal to an interval of a generic third or more (as opposed to a ‘step’). (Also disjoint interval, disjunct interval, or leap.)

Slap bass | A style of playing double bass or bass guitar by pulling and releasing the strings sharply against the fingerboard; used for effect in jazz or popular music.

Slargando | A general term that means ‘broadening.’

Slash notation | A vague or unspecific method of indicating rhythm using slash lines written over musical staves, which allows a performer to improvise the rhythm.

Slendendo | (See ritardando.)

Slendtando | (See ritardando.)

Slide | The moving part of a trombone. Also a smooth, hard object (usually a hollow metal or glass cylinder) worn on the finger that is used to fret notes on a stringed instrument while playing to create a smooth glissando or portamento effect. (Also bottleneck.)

Slide guitar | A style of guitar playing in which a glissando effect is produced by moving a bottleneck or slide over the strings; especially used in blues music. (Also bottleneck guitar.)

Slur | In music notation, a curved line that shows two or more notes of different pitch are to be played or sung smoothly (legato). Also used to connect notes that are sung on one syllable.

Sminuendo | (See calando.)

Smooth jazz | A style of polished jazz, influenced by R&B, funk, and pop music.

Smorzando | (See calando.)

Snare drum | A small cylindrical drum with two heads stretched over a metal shell; strands of snares (made of curled metal wire, metal cable, or plastic cable) are stretched across the bottom head and rattle when the top head is struck; part of a standard drum kit. (Also side drum.)

Soave | (See placidamente.)

Soft pedal | (See una corda.)


Soft rock | A lyrical, gentle rock style that evolved around 1960 in response to hard rock.

Solennemente | (See con dolore.)

Solfege | A system used by singers of labelling the 12 notes of the chromatic scale with syllables (in order, these syllables are: do, di, re, ri, mi, fa, fi, so, si, la, li, ti); in ‘Fixed do’ solfège, do is always a C note; in ‘Movable do’ solfège, do is always the tonic of a given key. (Also scale syllables or solmization.)

Solmization | (See solfège.)

Solo | A composition for, or performance by, one performer.

Sonata | A classical composition performed by a soloist or small ensemble, that consists of three or four movements; the movements differ in tempo, rhythm, and melody, but are held together by subject and style.

Song | A musical composition sung with or without accompaniment; a short poem or other set of words set to music or meant to be sung.

Song cycle | A set of related art songs, loosely bound together by a single concept or author.

Songwriter | A person who writes popular songs or the music for them.

Sonore | A general term that means ‘sound with full tone.’

Sonority | A sound that has a pleasing, deep, or ringing quality.

Soprano | The highest-ranged voice in a polyphonic texture, usually performed by women or boys. Also used to designate an instrument of a high or the highest pitch in its family (example: soprano saxophone).

Soprano recorder | The most common size of recorder tuned to C. (Also descant recorder.)

Sordino | A general term that means ‘mute.’

Sostenuto | (Abbreviation: sost.) A general terms that means ‘in a sustained or prolonged manner,’ referring to a passage of music to be played in such a way. (See also tenuto.)


Sostenuto pedal | The middle pedal on a modern grand piano with three pedals; sustains only notes which are depressed at the time the pedal is depressed.

Sotto | A general term that means ‘under or below.’

Sotto voce | (See mezza voce.)

Soul music | A style of music that combines rhythm and blues with gospel music, featuring an emotional and highly dramatic singing style.

Sound | A vibration of air that can be heard.

Soundboard | A thin sheet of wood placed under the strings of a piano or similar instrument to enhance its volume and tone.

Sound check | A test of sound equipment before a musical performance or recording to check that the desired sound is being produced.

Sound collage | A technique taken from the visual arts in which musical fragments from other compositions are combined to create a new piece of music.

Sound effect | (Abbreviation: EFX or FX) In sound recording, an artificially created or enhanced sound. (Also effect.)

Sound engineer | (See recording engineer.)

Soundhole | An opening in the top surface of a stringed instrument (as a violin) to enhance vibration and resonance.

Sound reinforcement | The act of amplifying a voice or an instrument enough so that it can be heard at a distance.

Sound system | A set of equipment for amplifying, reproducing, and sometimes recording audio.

Soundtrack | A recording of the music used in a movie or television show. Also a strip along the edge of a film that holds the recorded sound.

Sousaphone | A brass instrument adapted from the tuba with a wide bell pointing forward above the player’s head and circular coils that rest over the player’s shoulder for ease of carrying in a marching band.


Speaker | (See loudspeaker.)

Speaker cabinet | A container that houses or holds a loudspeaker.

Spiccato | A style of staccato playing on stringed instruments involving bouncing the bow on the strings.

Spiritoso | (See con spirito.)

Spiritual music | A type of folklike religious music that often focuses on suffering.

Splash cymbal | A small cymbal used for an accent or effect; often used in a drum kit.

Squeezebox | (See accordion.)

Staccato | (Abbreviation: stacc.) A style of performance in which a melodic line is played crisply in short, detached notes, separated from each other by a brief silence; the opposite of legato.

Staff | (Plural: staves) In musical notation, a set of five parallel lines and the spaces between them, on which notes are written to indicate their pitch. (Also stave.)

Stage left | The side of the stage on the left, from the point of view of a performer facing the audience.

Stage right | The side of the stage on the right when facing the audience, from the point of view of a performer facing the audience.

Stand | A wooden or metal structure for holding a microphone, instrument, or sheet music.

Standard | Something that is usual or common. Also a level of quality or attainment. Also a tune or song of established popularity that has become a jazz or popular music classic.

Standard notation | Music notation written on one or more staves, using traditional note symbols and clefs to indicate pitch and duration. (Also traditional notation.)

Standard tuning | The most common tuning of a stringed instrument.


Stand-up bass | (See double bass.)

Stanza | (See verse.)

Static modulation | A change from one key to another where the key center can change anywhere, not just between two musical phrases.

Stave | (See staff.)

Steam organ | (See calliope.)

Steel drum | (See steel pan.)

Steel guitar | (See lap steel guitar.)

Steel pan | A pitched percussion instrument made from a large oil drum with one end beaten down and divided by grooves into sections that produce different notes; originated in Trinidad and Tobago. (Also steel drum.)

Steel-string guitar | An acoustic guitar strung with steel strings for a brighter, louder sound.

Stem | In music notation, the vertical line attached to a note head.

Stentando | A general term that means ‘delaying or retarding.’

Step | The interval between one degree of a scale and the next, regardless of whether the interval is a major, minor, augmented, or diminished second; in a diatonic scale, a whole step or half step; equal to an interval of a generic second (as opposed to a ‘skip’). (Also conjoint interval or conjunct interval.)

Stereo | (See stereophonic sound.)

Stereophones | (See headphones.)

Stereophonic sound | (Abbreviation: stereo) In audio, sound that is directed through two or more speakers so that it seems to surround the listener and to come from more than one source; as opposed to monaural sound.


Stick | (See drumstick.)

Stomp box | (See effects pedal.)

Stop | On the organ, a hand-operated lever that activates different sounds. On a stringed instrument, the act of pressing a string against the fingerboard. On a wind instrument, the act of closing a finger hole. On a trumpet, the act of partially closing the bell by inserting the hand.

Strascinando | (See ritardando.)

Strepitoso | A dynamic marking that means ‘noisy or boisterous.’

Stride | A rhythmic style of jazz piano playing in which the left hand alternates between playing single bass notes on the downbeat and chords an octave higher on the upbeat (giving the effect of ‘striding’ back and forth), while the right hand plays the melody.

String | A strand of gut, nylon, or wire on a musical instrument that produces a note by vibration.

String band | A type of country-music ensemble of fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin, and upright bass dominant during the 1920s and 1930s; a precursor to bluegrass.

String bass | (see double bass.)

Stringed instrument | Any musical instrument that produces sound using strings set into vibration by being plucked, strummed, struck, or bowed.

Stringendo | (See accelerando.)

String quartet | A chamber ensemble of two violins, a viola, and a cello. Also a work composed for this ensemble.

Strophic form | A song structure in which each verse of text is sung to the same music.

Structure | The shape or form of a piece of music; the arrangement of (and relations between) the parts or elements of composition.

Strum | The act of brushing or sweeping the fingers (or a pick) over the strings of a string instrument like a guitar.


Studio | (See recording studio.)

Style | The way musical elements (melody, rhythm, harmony, dynamics, form, etc.) are presented. Also the way that a person or group approaches composing music; what distinguishes one performance from another.

Sub- | A term (prefix) that means ‘at, to, or from a lower level or position.’

Sub-contrabass recorder | The lowest recorder tuned to C; less common because of its greater size and cost.

Subdominant | The fourth degree of a diatonic scale (so-called because it is a fifth below the tonic, while the dominant is the fifth above the tonic). Also the triad built on this degree. Also the key based on this degree.

Subito | A general term that means ‘suddenly.’

Subject | The main idea or theme of a composition, as in a fugue. (See also theme.)

Submediant | The sixth degree of a diatonic scale (so-called because it is a third below the tonic, as opposed to the mediant which is a third above the tonic). Also the triad built on this degree. Also the key based on this degree.

Suboctave | The octave below a given note.

Substitute fingering | (See alternative fingering.)

Substitution | (See chord substitution.)

Subtonic | The flattened seventh degree of a diatonic scale, one whole-step below the tonic (or one semitone lower than the leading tone).

Subwoofer | A loudspeaker designed to reproduce very low bass frequencies.

Suite | A set of selected pieces from an opera or musical, arranged to be played as one instrumental work.

Sul | A general term that means ‘on the.’


Suono | A general term that means ‘sound or tone.’

Super- | A term (prefix) that means ‘above, over, or beyond.’

Superoctave | The octave above a given note.

Supertonic | The second degree of a diatonic scale, one whole-step above the tonic. Also the triad built on this degree. Also the key based on this degree.

Surf music | A genre of American popular music from the early 1960s, featuring high harmony vocals and lyricsrelating to surfing or beach culture.

Suspended chord | A chord in which the third is replaced or accompanied by either a perfect fourth or a major second.

Suspension | A non-chord tone that keeps a note the same and then steps downward; is sustained and accented, as opposed to an anticipation.

Sustain | The act of holding a note for its full time value. Also the length of time a note sounds after its attack; the opposite of decay. (See also attack, decay, and release.)

Sustaining pedal | On a piano, a foot-operated lever that prevents the dampers from stopping the sound when the keys are released; usually operated by the rightmost pedal. (Also damper pedal or loud pedal.)

Sweep picking | A guitar playing technique in which a ‘sweeping’ motion of the pick is combined with a freting hand motion to play fast and fluid arpeggios.

Swing music | A type of big band jazz of the late 1930s and 1940s with an easy flowing but vigorous rhythm.

Syllabic | A style of singing where each syllable of text is given one note; as opposed to melismatic.

Symbol | A thing that represents or stands for something else; a visible object, shape, or sign that represents an invisible idea, concept, or abstraction.

Sympathetic vibration | (See resonance.)

Symphony | A large composition for orchestra, generally in three or four movements.

Syncopation | The deliberate disturbance of a normal beat pattern, produced by shifting the accent from a normally strong beat to a weak beat.

Syncronization | The occurance of two or more events or actions at exactly the same time and rate.

Synthesizer | An electronic instrument, typically operated by a keyboard, that can create a wide variety of sounds.

System | An organized method or set of precedures. Also a group of staves connected by a brace, indicating that they are to be played at the same time.


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