Theory Terms

The beat is the 'time,' or the 'pulse' of music. The beat does not change; it is always steady. You can speed up or slow down, yes, but the beat will remain steady.
Tempo is word for the speed of music. In music with a fast tempo, the beat is fast. In music with a slow tempo, the beat is slow.
A rhythm is a way of dividing beats. Rhythm is the element of music that changes. While the beat stays the same, the rhythms change and make a piece exciting. Rhythm can be simple or very complicated.
A measure is the amount of time in between two bar lines. Sometimes, a measure can be called a bar.
Bar line
You can think of bar lines in music like spaces in written language. Bar lines break up the rhythm into readable sections.
Bar lines can also be used to draw your attention to things, like a change in key, a change in time signature, or the end of a piece.
Time Signature
The time signature tells the musician how to make sense of the rhythm of a to keep the time. The top note lets you know how many beats are in a measure; the bottom note tells you how many of those beats a whole note gets. Some people also say (not incorrectly) that the bottom number tells you what kind of note gets one beat. See the Glossary's Musicianship page for more.
The word 'clef' is French for 'key,' and a clef is very much a key to how you read the notes on the staff! It is a symbol that appears at the start of every line of music to give the person reading the music a sense of the range of the notes.
C Clef
This clef (used mostly by violas) tells the performer that Middle C is the middle line. C clefs are movable; whatever line is between the bumps, that's Middle C. Cellos and trombones sometimes read a C clef called the tenor clef.
Prior to Beethoven's time (he lived from 1770-1827) all orchestra music was written in C clefs!
Treble Clef
This clef tells the musician where the first G above Middle C is (the second line, where the curl wraps around). Because it shows where G is (and it kind of looks like one), a treble clef can also be called a G clef.
Bass Clef
The bass clef is also called an F clef because it shows the performer where the first F below Middle C is. If you were to draw horizontal lines from the main part of the clef out to the two dots, the bass clef would look a little like an F.
Key Signature
The key signature of a piece of music tells the performer where the tonic, or 'home base,' is. Each key has its own key signature. (Check out the Links page to find sites where you can practice recognizing key signatures.)
Sharps raise the pitch of the note they are in front of by one half step. If the sharp is in the key signature, it raises every single one of that particular pitch in the entire piece by a half step (so if there is an F sharp in the key signature, every F in the piece is played or sung as an F sharp.)
If the sharp is just in a measure of music, the sharp raises every single one of that pitch in the measure, and then goes away.
Double Sharp
A double sharp does exactly what it sounds like it does: It raises the note it precedes by two half steps. Double sharps do not appear in key signatures. They usually appear only when a composer wishes to raise again a note that has already been sharped by the key signature.
Flats are the opposite of sharps. They lower a pitch by a half step. If a flat is in the key signature, it is just like a sharp; it lasts for the whole piece. If the flat is just in a measure, it only lasts for that measure.
Double Flat
A double flat lowers a pitch by two half steps. These do not appear in key signatures and are typically used only when a composer needs to lower a pitch that has already been flatted by the key signature.
Naturals cancel out both sharps and flats. They are not found in key signatures. When a piece of music changes key signature, you will probably see a natural to remind you of what pitches are changing away from being sharp or flat, but you won't find them at the beginning of a piece.
Accidentals are sharps, flats, and/or naturals that aren't in the key signature. They aren't in the music 'accidentally,' but it's easy to make mistakes if you don't notice them!

Vocal Terms -- Dynamics -- Tone -- Musicianship
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