A key aspect to learning any musical instrument is you need to be familiar with the terminology. Without the understanding of the jargon, terms, and keywords used, it will be much harder to grasp music theory and subsequently learn to play.

*The terms mentioned below are used for music in general. However, specific usage in piano playing has been mentioned with the main definition.

Let’s take a look at some popular terms used to play the Piano:

1. Melody ‐ A melody is something we can hum. It is the main tune of the song formed through a series of single, linear notes and sounds. On the Piano, the Right Hand usually plays the melody part. 

2. Harmony ‐ Harmony is two contrasting notes being played together. On the Piano, we usually use different keys to create the effect. Harmony is like pairing different color clothes together. 

3. Rhythm ‐ It is musical jargon, and one should not wholly mix this term with what we use. It refers to the tone lengths or the duration of each tone as time goes on.

4. Tempo ‐ It refers to how fast the song is being played. The pianist can adjust the tempo

as per his need or the crowd concerned by specific movements of the wrist and the arm.

5. Dynamics ‐ One can often come across the terms “Dynamic Markings.” It refers to the volume by which someone plays the said song. It can be loud or soft, or it can be varied as the song

progresses. The pianist can press the keys softly or hard in order to get the desired volume as the keys are touch-sensitive. 

6. Articulation ‐ It is generally represented in the Italian language. The articulation of the musical piece can be choppy, heavy, light, short, or smooth. On the piano, various hand actions can help achieve these sounds.

[Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Online Piano Lessons]

Keys and Scales

1. One will often hear the terms such as “majors” or “minors” when on the journey to learn piano. It is of utmost importance that one can comprehend the usage of the words across their learning journey. Most of the instructions given by respective teachers while teaching the piano will involve using these piano music terms. Here they go‐

2. Key ‐ A key would revolve around the central tone of the song. It is the easiest to understand conceptually on a Piano

3. Major/Minor ‐ One of the easiest ways to understand the “major and minor” terms is by their application. For example, a pianist will mostly use major mode while playing a happy, joyful, or positive song. While, if a pianist plays sad music, then it is mainly played in the minor scale or mode.

4. Scale‐ It is a culmination of varied tones, each played one after the other. They are often arranged from highest to lowest or from lowest to highest. Moreover, scales generally have 8‐12 notes while playing on a piano in a given octave.

Piano Terms

5. Semitone and Whole Tone ‐ A simple musical terminology that can be easily understood on the Piano. The meaning is easy to understand. Semitone, more commonly termed as half step, is the almost negligible difference between any two tones on said piano. Furthermore, it is generally the distance between one piano key to another. The whole tone, more commonly known as the whole step, is twice the distance the pianist must cover compared to a semitone. For example, it is most commonly the distance between two black keys or two white keys. The concept is widely used in piano terminology.

[Read: Piano Pedals]

6. Octave ‐ Octave is referred to when a pianist covers eight whole steps higher than where he started. So when two notes combine together in sync, they create a sound higher than the other. They are also named in a similar manner and sound identical as well. In short, when you play both the notes together, you’d be playing an octave on the piano. Furthermore, octaves are used as distancing measures within the piano.

7. Tonic ‐ To make matters simple, when you hear a piano term such as C Major or C minor, then C over here is the tonic. Furthermore, if you hear G minor, then you should know that the following piano musical term means that G is a tonic. Moreover, it is commonly known as the keynote, and hence is one of the inherently important terminologies and concepts.

8. Dominant ‐ One might hear the pianist saying, “play the dominant part of the song.” Dominant means the fifth note of the scale. Moreover, it is the second most crucial tone of the entire piano terminology. It builds a sense of tension with respect to the Tonic Chord. 

9. Chromatic Scale ‐ It is a composition of half steps or semitones. On the Piano, the pianist plays Black and White Keys in sequence without skipping any key. 

10. Chord ‐ “Take the following chord,” “You are playing this chord wrong”‐ these are some of the common phrases one might hear over their journey to learn the piano. Chords, by par, is the most used piano term. Hence, a chord can simply be defined when a pianist plays more than one note at a given time. A chord can be created by combining Two or more notes together in a certain harmony

[Read: A Beginner’s Guide to Piano Chords]

11. Triad ‐ It is an extension of the previously discussed piano term‐ chord. Here, the pianist needs to play three notes at once. More importantly, each triad contains‐ a root note and two associated notes. Moreover, triads are curated by compiling whole steps and half steps. A pianist can play many triads, but each of them is ascertained after acquiring immense practice.

12. Arpeggio ‐ It is more commonly referred to as broken chords by notable pianists. The pianist will disassociate the chords played to play one tone at a given time. Arpeggio is mostly taught once the learner advances to a higher level of playing the piano as it requires stretching of the fingers from one key to another.

13. Sharp and Flat Notes ‐ One should not take the name as a derogatory of the given term. While learning the basic piano terms, one might encounter something written as – “Bb” or “C#.” Well, these denote sharp and flat notes. To understand C# or C‐sharp, one will have to play the black key right above the letter C present on the white key. While going for a flat note, or referred to above as Bb, one has to push the black key to the left of the key B. However, the Black key has no name as such. 

14. Accompaniment ‐ It is one of the piano terms used by the mentors while teaching sophistication and creating an art piece while playing the piano. Accompaniment is often played as a part of the central theme of the said song. To notice an important development here is that the accompaniment is played mildly than the main theme, to support the theme, then to overpower it. Pianists will be seen using their right hand to play the said melody while simultaneously using their left hand to support the music by playing chords.

15. Da Capo ‐ An Italian term often used in piano terminologies. The following indicates that the pianist should start their piece from its beginning.

16. Dal Segno‐ An Italian‐piano musical term used by the pianists, which indicates the performer to repeat a particular part of the delivered song‐ it’s marked by its initials‐ D.S.

17. Sonata or Sonatina ‐ One might have heard of the famous‐ Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas. The soloist plays sonatas on a particular instrument. A sonata will usually consist of small movements or a multi‐movement in the case of the piano. Sonatina is the shorter version of a sonata.

18. Duet or Four Hand ‐ The following piano term is used interchangeably and means the same. A moment in which two pianists sit together on the same piano to play a harmony is known as a duet. Four hands refer to the use of four hands (2 pianists) on the same piano simultaneously.

19. Mezzo Forte and Forte‐ The mezzo forte denotes the loudness or the volume, and it should be “medium‐loud.” Forte denotes to play the volume at a louder level than the mezzo forte.

20. Crescendo and Decrescendo ‐ The former piano term means to get loud throughout a passage or song. It is often written as “cresc.” on the sheet music. The latter dictates one lower down or soften the play over a while. It is written as “decresc.”

It is vital for a kid or any adult to understand the piano terminologies above if they want to be successful at playing the piano. If you’re looking for music courses online, check BYJU’S FutureSchool, where we offer a number of music classes for kids and adults.

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