Glossary W


Wah-wah | A musical effect achieved on brass instruments by alternately applying and removing a mute and on an electric guitar by controlling the output from the amplifier with a pedal. Also the pedal used to produce such an effect on an electric guitar.

Walking bass | A bassline in 4/4 time with a note played on each beat of the bar, typically moving up or down a scale in small steps; often includes a mixture of scale tones, arpeggios, and passing tones to outline the chord progression of a song, alternately rising and falling in pitch over several bars.

Waltz | A dance in triple time, with the accent falling on the first beat of each measure.

Washboard | A corrugated sheet of metal in a wooden frame designed for hand washing clothing that is sometimes used as a percussion instrument by scraping its ribbed surface.

Whammy bar | A lever attached to the bridge of an electric guitar that can slacken or elongate the strings temporarily, changing the pitch to create a tremolo or pitch bend effect. (Also tremolo arm or tremolo bar.)

Wheel fiddle | (See hurdy gurdy.)

Whistle | A clear, high-pitched sound made by forcing breath through a small hole between partly closed lips, or between one’s teeth. Also a small wind instrument that produces such a sound from a stream of forced air.

White noise | A noise that contains many frequencies with equal intensities.

Whole note | A note with the time value of two half notes or four quarter notes; represented my a note head with no stem; the longest note now in common use. (Also semibreve.)

Whole rest | A rest with the time value of two half rests or four quarter rests. (Also semibreve rest.)

Whole step | (See whole-tone.)

Whole-tone | A basic interval of two half steps, or two semitones. (See also major second and whole step.)

Whole-tone scale | An exotic scale of six pitches per octave, built entirely of whole-tone intervals.

Wind ensemble | (See concert band.)

Wind instrument | An instrument that produces sound by being blown into or by means of bellows; usually made of metal, plastic, or wood.


Wind quintet | The music for (or an ensemble of) five wind instruments (usually including a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn). (Also woodwind quintet.)

Wolf | (See wolf tone.)

Wolf mute | A dampening device often attached to the G-string of a cello between the bridge and the tailpiece to eliminate wolf tones.

Wolf tone | A loud, harsh noise produced when a played note matches the natural resonating frequency of the body of a musical instrument. (Also wolf.)

Woodblock | A percussion instrument made from a hollowed rectangular block of wood that is struck with a beater. (Also Chinese block or temple block.)

Wood finish | The protective coating covering the surface of a musical instrument; sometimes paint, but usually lacquer.

Woodwind | A wind instrument other than a brass instrument (examples: flutes, oboes, clarinets, or bassoons).

Woodwind quintet | (See wind quintet.)

Woofer | A loudspeaker designed to reproduce low frequencies.

Word painting | The musical depiction of words in text, so that the music tries to imitate the emotion or action described in the text. (Also text painting or tone painting.)

Word play | The witty use of the meanings and ambiguities of words (especially puns).

World music | Traditional music from the developing world. Also Western popular music that incorporates elements of such music.

Worried note | In blues music, a note that is played or sung with a slight quiver and deliberately out of tune.


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