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Musical Vocab!

So, we’ve talked a little about the music and lives of Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant and Bill Frisell, now we must figure out how to express what the music sounds like in a way that is soulful and hip ( : While your teachers have a list of terms, I just wanted to use this Music Monday session to point out terms that seem especially relevant while giving some examples and pointing to resources that might prove helpful.

There are many writers, especially poets, who tend to write in a very musical way. Their words just flow in a certain rhythm that bounces in a way that is very close to the way one would rap. Some writers use musical metaphors to describe things around them. “I awoke to a symphony of birds outside my window.” In many ways the musical words we use to describe things around us are the same words that describe music itself. “A symphony of horns” may not refer to a symphony orchestra as much as the huge sound of several horns playing at once. Or, “The wall of sound created by the small ensemble washed over me like a symphony in Weigle hall.” In this case the word symphony is being used to describe and compare the sound of a small ensemble to that of a large one.

When writing about music the one thing to keep in mind is that it is often easier to describe how the music made you feel more than it is to write about the technical aspects of the music. Some words that could fall into the “feeling” category would be:

Meditative/reflective/contemplative vs. busy/frustrating/shallow

Tenderness/humanity/warmth vs. harshness/irritating/cold

Happy/upbeat/exciting vs. sad/melancholy/depressing

Other terms describe the music technically such as:

Tempo: Slow/fast

Crescendo/decrescendo: gradually louder or softer

technique: ability to play fast and slow with clarity, you can hear each note clearly

Soundscape: music that seems to kind of hang in the air creating structure out of nothingness ( :

In our visits we will look at an example of a review to see what words people who write, or have written, about music professionally use and how they use them.

A great resource for music terminology is the Virginia Tech online music dictionary:

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