Italian musical terms

From Academic Kids


A great many musical terms are in Italian. It shouldn't be surprising that so many musical terms are Italian, since many of the most important early composers in the renaissance period were Italian, and that period is when numerous musical indications were used extensively for the first time. (See also sheet music.)

Here are some of these expressions:


Italian term Literal translation Definition

Musical forms

A cappella* in chapel style Sung with no instrumental accompaniment
Aria air A song, esp. one from an opera
Arietta little air A short or light aria
Ballabile danceable (song) to be danced to
Battaglia battle A piece suggesting a battle
Bergamasca from Bergamo A peasant dance from Bergamo
Burletta a little joke A light comic or farcical opera
Cadenza falling A florid solo at the end of a performance
Capriccio caprice A lively piece of music
Coda tail The end of a piece
Concerto concert A work for a solo instrument accompanied by an orchestra
Concertino little concert A short concerto; the solo instrument in a concerto
Concerto grosso big concert A Baroque form of concerto, with a group of solo instruments
Libretto little book A work containing the words to an opera or musical
Opera work A drama set to music for singers and instrumentalists
Opera buffa humorous opera A comic opera
Opera seria serious opera An opera with a serious, esp. classical theme
Sonata sounded A composition for one or two instruments in sonata form
Intermezzo interval A short connecting instrumental movement

Musical instruments

Piano(forte) soft-loud A keyboard instrument
Viola viola, orig. Latin vitulari "be joyful" A medium-sized stringed instrument
(Violon)cello Small violone (violone means "big viola") A large stringed instrument
Viola da gamba leg viola A stringed instrument held between the legs
Viola da braccio arm viola A stringed instrument held in the arm, such as a violin or viola
Viola d'amore love viola A tenor viol with no frets
Tuba tube A large brass instrument
Piccolo little A tiny woodwind instrument
Timpani drums A large drum
Cornetto little horn An old woodwind instrument
Campana bell A bell used in an orchestra; also campane "bells"
Orchestra orchestra, orig. Greek orkesthai "dance" An ensemble of instruments


Soprano upper The highest vocal line
Mezzo-soprano middle soprano Between soprano and alto
Alto high Second-highest vocal line
Contralto against high Alto, esp. a female alto
Basso low Or "bass;" the lowest vocal line
Basso profondo deep and low A very deep bass voice
Castrato castrated A male singer, castrated so as to be able to sing soprano (now sung by women, conventional countertenors, or sopranisti)


Tempo time The speed of a piece of music
Largo broad Slow and dignified
Larghetto a little bit broad Not as slow as largo
Lento slow Slow
Adagio ad agio, at ease Slow, but not as slow as largo
Adagietto little adagio Faster than adagio; or a short adagio composition
Andante walking Moderately slow, flowing along
Comodo comfortable At moderate speed
Allegretto a little bit joyful Slightly slower than allegro
Allegro joyful Moderately fast
Presto ready Very fast
Prestissimo very ready Very very fast
Accelerando accelerating accelerating
Affrettando becoming hurried accelerating
Accompagnato accompanied The accompaniment must follow the singer who can speed up or slow down at will

Dynamics - volume

Calando quietening Becoming softer
Crescendo growing Becoming louder
Decrescendo shrinking Becoming softer
Diminuendo dwindling Becoming softer
Forte strong Loud
Fortissimo very strong Very loud
Mezzo forte half-strong Moderately loud
Piano gentle Soft
Pianissimo very gentle Very soft
Mezzo piano half-gentle Moderately soft


Affettuoso with feeling Tenderly
Con brio with spirit With spirit
Cantabile singable In a fashion suggesting singing
Vivace lively up-tempo
Maestoso Majestic Stately
Agitato agitated Excited and fast
Animato animated Animated
Bruscamente brusquely Brusquely
Con amore with love with love
Con fuoco with fire with fiery manner

Musical expression (general)

Molto very Used with other terms, as "molto allegro"
Assai very Used with other terms, as "allegro assai"
Poco little "a little". Used with other terms, as "poco diminuendo"
ma non troppo but not too much But not too much (allegro ma non troppo)


Attacca attack Proceed to the next section without pause
Cambiare change Any change, such as to a new instrument


Coloratura coloration Elaborate ornamentation of a vocal line
Altissimo very high Very high
Arpeggio harp-like A chord with the notes spread out in time
Acciaccatura crushing An extra, very fast grace note
Appoggiatura leaning A type of ornament
Bocca chiusa mouth closed Wordless humming in a choral piece
Chiuso closed Calls for a horn to be muted by hand
Col legno with the wood Calls for a bowed instrument to be struck with the wood rather than the hair of the bow
Pizzicato plucked(?) Calls for a bowed instrument to be plucked with the fingers
Col arco with the bow Cancels "col legno" and "pizzicato"
Basso continuo continuous bass Continuous bass accompaniment
Coperti covered Of a drum, muted with a cloth
Una corda one string With the soft pedal, on a piano
Due corde two strings With the soft pedal, on a piano. For why both terms exist, see piano.
Tre corde or tutte le corde Three strings or all the strings Cancels an una corda
Scordatura (...) Alternate tuning (of strings)


Prima donna first lady Leading female role
Comprimario/a con primario, with the first A supporting role


Bel canto beautiful voice Any fine singing, esp. that popular in 18th and 19th c. Italian opera
Bravura skill A performance of extraordinary virtuosity
Bravo! skillful a cry of congratulation to a male singer or performer. Fem. brava, pl. bravi, brave

See also

External links

fr:Termes italiens en musique nl:Italiaanse muziektermen vi:Thuật ngữ tiếng trong m nhạc


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