Glossary of Musical Terms
Learn how to read sheet music
Play around with our interactive sheet music! Here you can learn some of the more unusual markings, expressions, techniques and articulations we might put on your sheet music. The more you know the better!
Dynamic marking (crescendo)
Appoggiatura, grace note
Gradual tempo change (poco rall.)
Acciacatura, grace note
Repeat barline, ending
Acciacatura, grace note
Key signature change
Time signature change
Gradual dynamic change (diminuendo)
Dynamic marking (piano)
Expression marking (dolce)
Gradual tempo change (poco accel.)
D.S. al Coda
Gradual tempo change (ritardando)
Dynamic marking (fortissimos)
Appogglatura, grace note
Appogglatura, grace note
Gradual dynamic change (cresc.)
Pedal (different notation)
Arrangement Level (or Difficulty)
Are you a beginner, intermediate or advanced player? (Or perhaps somewhere in between?) Choose the level that suits you perfectly. We can adapt any piece to your playing level: if it is too complex, we can simplify it, and if you want a virtuoso arrangement of a simple tune, we can add a whole load of complexity to it! Just let us know your wishes: you can send us some examples of pieces that are at the right level for you (either PDF scores or YouTube links) – we will make sure that we adapt the piece requested to fully suit your needs and expectations!
Chord symbols are always written above the staves and provide the harmonic information of the piece. A couple of examples of chord symbols are Em and Ab.
Lyrics queues are small references (to a song’s lyrics) that can be included in any transcription as signposts. For example, if you request a piano solo arrangement of a song, we can include the first few lyrics of the verses and chorus so that you can quickly know where you are.
Rehearsal marks are an ordered sequence of letters (A,B,C…) or numbers (1,2,3) which provide clear reference points throughout the score. This is most common in sheet music involving multiple players (e.g. an orchestral score) and is very helpful when rehearsing as it is much quicker for the players to find a specific rehearsal mark than a specific bar number on the sheet music. Rehearsal marks are placed above the staff, every 10-20 bars or in sections where there is a big change in the music (e.g. a change of tempo). They use a big font size and are very easy to spot!
Timestamps / Time Marks
Timestamps indicate a specific point in time in an audio file: the exact minute and second. If you want a short section of a song transcribed only, we will ask you to provide us with the exact timestamps. For example, you might want us to transcribe a one-minute section of a song, from 1:28 to 2:28.
Piano Solo Arrangement
A piano solo arrangement is perfect for a solo performer: it combines both the lead melody and the accompaniment of any given piece into a score for piano only. With this type of arrangement you will be able to play the full song alone on the piano.
Piano Accompaniment Arrangement
A piano accompaniment arrangement condenses all of the accompanying instruments of a song into one piano part (the lead melody line is not included). This is the perfect option if you want to accompany a singer or sing yourself while you play!
Piano & Vocal
A piano & vocal score is a score written to be played with one piano and one voice only. It includes the piano accompaniment, the lead vocal line, the lyrics, and the chord symbols (additional backing vocals can be added if required). This has become a very common format as it is very practical and concise. Sometimes a piano & vocal transcription will be a note-for-note transcription of a song that only uses piano and voice, and sometimes it will be an arrangement of a song with full band instrumentation.
Vocal Lead Sheet
(lead vocal line + lyrics + chord symbols)
A vocal lead sheet includes the notes of the lead melody line, the hyphenated lyrics written below, and the chord symbols written above the staff. It also includes indicators for the basic structure of the song (verse, chorus, bridge).
Lead vocal line + Lyrics
This option includes the notes of the lead vocal melody line as well as the hyphenated lyrics below the notes (no chords). It is a great option for a solo singer!
Lead vocal line alone
This option only includes the notes of the lead vocal melody line. It would be a great option if you need a scat solo transcription.
The more the merrier! Backing vocals provide vocal harmonies to the lead vocalist and sometimes perform counter-melodies too. On your request, we can either transcribe the backing vocals that are already present in the song or create our own to spice things up!
If you do not like to sing by yourself, vocal ensembles are for you! You can sing in trios, quintets, barbershop quartets…! From classical music to pop: there are many options. One of the most common vocal ensemble types is the SATB choir, made up of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass singers.
A lead sheet is a type of musical score that includes all the essential elements of a song for any given instrument. For example, a trumpet lead sheet will include everything that the trumpet plays throughout a song, as well as the chord symbols, and indicators for the basic structure of the song (verse, chorus, bridge).
The head is the main theme of a song, displayed on a lead sheet as a melody with chord symbols. It is usually played once or twice (by all the instruments) at the beginning and end of a song. The song will often have a short intro followed by the head, a solo section, the head again, and an outro to conclude.
In the solo section of a song, the instruments take turns to play a solo (play alone), often supported by an accompaniment from the rest of the band. These solos are often improvisations and tend to display the musician’s virtuosity. In a small group, like a jazz trio (piano, bass, drums), it is likely that each instrument will play a solo. In larger groups, like a big band, generally only a few of the instruments will play a solo.
'Real Book Style' Lead Sheet
A ‘Real Book style’ lead sheet is a more abreviated form of a normal lead sheet. It only includes the melody and chord symbols for the head, and sometimes it includes the melody and chord symols for the intro and outro too. It does not include the solo section and therefore each instrument can improvise its own solo! This type of lead sheet can be used by any instrument in the band (it can be transposed to suit transposing instruments like the Bb trumpet).
A riff is a short musical phrase (usually two to four bars long) that is repeated numerous times throughout a song. It is sometimes used as an intro or refrain.
Intro / Outro / Coda
An intro (short for introduction) is a short musical section that starts a song. In jazz music, it is often followed by the head. It sets the tone for the piece, establishing the melodic, harmonic or rhythmic material.
An outro is a short musical section at the end of the piece, which concludes it.
A coda is another name for outro. You will commonly find it used in songs that include repeats. For example, you might find an indication to repeat a section of the song from the beginning until the ‘coda sign‘. When you reach the coda sign, you will then skip directly to the section at then end of the song marked ‘coda‘.
A rhythmic chart is a type of musical score that includes the structure of the piece, the chord symbols, and any important instrument cues or hits. It is mainly used by the rhythm section of a band (piano, bass, drums). For example, in a band with piano, bass, drums, a singer and a horn section, the rhythm section (piano, bass, drums) might use a rhythmic chart, the singer might use a vocal lead sheet, and the instruments in the horn section might use their own lead sheets (with all of the notes written out).
A pickup is a note, or short sequence of notes, that leads into the first downbeat of a bar or musical phrase. In jazz, this term is often used when talking about a particular solo or section of the piece: for example, in a rehearsal you might say ‘let’s do the solo from the pickup‘.
Hits are instances when the whole band plays one or several notes together rhythmically. They feel like accents and can create intensity in the music. For example, there might be some important hits at the end of the song that help conclude it in a strong, emphatic way. Hits are indicated using rhythmic notation (as the pitches played by the band don’t necessarly have to be the same, the pitch value is not included in the notation).
Guitar & Bass
Sheet Music or Standard notation
Sheet music is a handwritten or printed form of musical notation that uses musical symbols to indicate the pitches, rhythms, or chords of a piece. It is the most common way of notating music.
As opposed to sheet music, the TAB or tablature indicates the instrument fingering only. It displays the different strings of the instrument and includes the fret number and rhythm of the notes rather than the actual musical pitches.
Sheet music + TAB
Sheet music + TAB is the most complete way of notating music for guitarists and bassists. It includes the pitches, rhythms, chords, and fingering (fret numbers on strings).
Chord fretboards are very useful for guitarists and bassists since they are diagrams that show you the exact finger position you need to make in order to play a certain chord. We usually write them above the staves, just like chord symbols.
An ensemble is a group of musicians that play instrumental or vocal music together. There are numerous different kinds of ensembles, ranging from small to large groups (e.g. string quartet, big band, etc.). We can completely adapt any ensemble piece to suit your specific needs – let us know what instruments/voices you have available in your ensemble and if you have any arrangement preferences (e.g. if you would like to include a solo for a specific instrument or if you would like a certain section of the piece to be played by some instruments in particular).
The conductor’s score or full score contains the notation for all of the different instruments and/or voices in an ensemble piece: it has separate staves for each instrumental/vocal part. Full scores are usually large print, as this helps the conductor read and follow every individual part.
An individual part is the sheet music exclusively for one of the instruments in the ensemble. For example, the cello’s individual part will only contain the sheet music that the cello plays.
Orchestra / Band / Strings / Horns
These are general terms used to describe the most popular types of ensembles. We can transcribe music for them note-for-note, exactly as heard, or we can arrange any piece for one of these ensemble setups (or for that matter any ensemble setup you may have!).
Concert Pitch / Playing Pitch
This is a term that applies to transposing instruments. A transposing instrument, to put it simply, is an instrument that produces a higher or lower pitch than indicated in music written for it. Let’s take the Bb clarinet as an example: if you play a written C on a score, it will sound like be a Bb. If you want it to sound like it is playing a C, you will have to transpose the written score accordingly.
Therefore, to continue this example of the Bb Clarinet, if you transpose a score for it accordingly, the new score is considered to be in playing pitch (also referred to as ‘written pitch‘), while the original (un-stransposed) score is considered to be in concert pitch (also referred to as ‘In C’ or ‘sounding pitch‘).
Copying & Engraving
Transposition is the process of moving all the notes of a piece (or section of a piece) up or down in pitch by a constant interval throughout. A key transposition (i.e. moving the notes to a different key) is very useful for singers who need to adjust the music to their particular vocal register (so that the piece is not too high or too low for them to sing). Transposition is also implemented when adapting music to be played on different transposing instruments.
For further and detailed information, check our transposing service by clicking here!
A MIDI file is a Musical Instrument Digital Interface file. Unlike audio files, such as MP3s or WAVs, MIDI files don’t contain actual audio data but instead contain data that explains what notes are played, when they’re played, and how long or loud each note should be. Therefore, in order to play a MIDI file, you need to have a specific media player that can read MIDI files, or a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) like Garage Band, Logic Pro X, Cubase, etc. (If you have a DAW, you can even edit the notes on the midi file!)
MIDI files are generated automatically by a computer and therefore should be used as a sheer audio reference of the sheet music arrangement. In their basic form they sound very robotic and ‘computerized’, so they do not transmit the beauty of a human performance. They can, however, be very useful for practice!
Automatically-Generated MP3 File
An automatically-generated MP3 file is an audio file that we extract directly from our music notation software. Essentially, this is what the MIDI file sounds like when played through a MIDI player. If you don’t have a MIDI player and would like to hear what the sheet music sounds like, you can ask us to send you the automatically -generated MP3 file (for free)!
Remember, just like a MIDI file, this is to be used as a sheer audio reference of the sheet music – it gives a good basic idea of what the transcription will sound like when played and can be very useful for practicing. It is important to note that it will not reflect the real beauty and essence of the music since it is not played by a human performer.
Individual MIDI Files
Why wait until your conductor goes crazy because you haven’t done any practice for three months? Here is where MIDI files could be very useful 😉 Whether you are singing in a choir or playing in an ensemble or band, you can practice at home with a MIDI file of your individual part! Remember, if you aren’t able to play the MIDI file, just request an automatically-generated MP3 file!
MIDI Mockup or 'Enhanced' MP3 File
A MIDI mockup or ‘enhanced’ MP3 file is a demo of a piece built using virtual instrument software or hardware to stand in for acoustic instruments.
A MIDI mockup usually allows the customer, or producer, to hear their piece in a setting that approximates the final version, allowing them to approve or alter the project before investing the budget in recording it with live musicians. The result is an MP3 file (playable in all audio media players) that sounds almost as realistic as a human performance.
Remember we mentioned that MIDI files sound very unrealistic? Well, in this process, we use tools to make it sound MORE realistic. By using sound libraries and production tools, we can turn an initially robotic-sounding MIDI file into a very convincing audio file (an ‘enhanced’ MP3 file).
A step up from a MIDI mockup would be a MIDI recording. This is done by playing on a MIDI instrument and capturing all of the MIDI data from the live performance. This MIDI data can later be embellished with beautiful sound libraries (as is done in the process of creating a MIDI mockup). It is one step closer to sounding like a real live recording!
We currently offer MIDI recording services for piano pieces!
A live recording will capture all of the sounds from a live performance. Our talented team will record any requested piece exclusively for you.
Backing Track / Play-Along / Karaoke
Backing tracks enable singers, bands or soloists to add parts to their music that would be impractical or impossible to perform live, such as string sections, choir parts, or a full-on instrumental accompaniment. These are pre-recorded or pre-generated audio files.
You can request backing tracks in the form of a live recording, a MIDI recording, or a MIDI mockup, depending on your needs! (e.g. A MIDI mockup could provide a karaoke-style backing track for a singer to sing along to)
How Do I Use a Sibelius File?
Sibelius is one of the music notation software programs we use to manually type in the music. You will only be able to open the Sibelius file if you have this specific software.
How Do I Use a Finale File?
Finale is another of the music notation software programs we use to manually type in the music. You will only be able to open the Finale file if you have this specific software.
How Do I Use a MIDI File?
You can find a detailed description of MIDI files in the ‘Audio files‘ section above.
If you have a DAW, you can also import MIDI files and further edit them as you wish!
What is an XML File?
An XML is an Extensible Markup Language file. These files are really just plain text files that use custom tags to describe the structure and other features of the document. You can use them to open the transcription with Finale, Sibelius, Musescore, GuitarPro, and most other music notation software programs.
How Can I Print the PDF?
The PDFs we send are usually ready-to-print, but if you encounter any issues you can do the following: on your printer preferences (command+p on Mac, or control+p on Windows), there should be a “fit to page” option. Enable this option so that your printer adjusts the score automatically to the paper size you are using.