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30+ Music Terms for Beginner Piano Players

Learning music of any kind is a challenging and very fun experience. Whether you’re a novice learner or an advanced student, it always helps to have a guide on hand to common musical terms. Not only are musical term glossaries helpful while you’re just beginning to learn a new instrument or musical craft, but they serve as a great point of reference for more advanced learners or even teachers.

In this guide, we’ve put together over a hundred different musical terms for beginner piano players to reference whenever needed. Check out our specially curated glossary below!

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30+ Music Terms for Beginner Piano Players

These musical terms are very helpful when learning the piano as a beginner as a resource. We recommend having this guide on hand along with an online metronome and a transcription application for breaking down pitches and tempos.

Novice Piano Terms

1. Melody – A tune that one sings along with or a group of individual tones played back to back that is heard as a single unit.

2. Key – The relationship between the tones of a piece to create a cohesive sound.

3. Harmony – A group of tones that is played in the background of a melody to add diversity to the melody and set the mood.

4. Major and Minor – The two common modes of groups of tones, scales, or keys. Major tones translate as light and happy, while minor tones are often gloomy or atmospheric.

5. Rhythm: An arrangement of tones set at a certain length or tone duration over a specific period of time; the “flow” of the song.

6. Scale – A series or group of tones played in succession, arranged from the lowest tone to the highest and vice-versa. Most scales boast about twelve notes.

7. Scale degree – The tones of a scale that are listed one to seven. The eight note of the scale is considered the octave, so it is not typically numbered in the scale.

8. Tempo – The speed at which the song is played.

9. Half and whole step – Also known as semitone or whole tone. This is the distance between tones or the “beat” of the song. For example, a half step has a very short distance between two notes, while a whole step is twice the length of a half step.

10. Dynamics – The volume that the notes are played, indicated on sheet music by dynamic markings or symbols.

11. Articulation – The style of the tones or sections of the song; can be long, short, smooth, textured, heavy, soft, etc.; always noted with symbols on sheet music.

12. Octave – A tone that contains eight full whole steps higher than the initial note, commonly used in piano scales. The two notes will sound similar and have the same name, but one will be higher in tone than the other.

13. Tonic – Also known as “scale degree one.” This is the first note of a scale, and can also be called a keynote. The tonic is typically considered the most important part of a scale. For example, if you are playing a piece in G major, then G would be considered the tonic.

14. Minor scale – A scale that has all of a minor key’s tones, typically played from lowest to highest or vice-versa. These scales will contain twelve notes. Minor scales will vary more than major scales, but minor scales are typically not taught to beginning piano players for a while due to their complexity. Common minor scales include natural, harmonic, and melodic minor scales.

15. Major scale – A scale that has all of a major key’s tones, typically played from lowest to highest or vice-versa. These scales will contain twelve notes.

16. Chord – Three or more notes that are played at the same time or layered on top of one another to create a pleasant sound.

17. Chromatic scale – A piano scale that only contains half steps.

18. Triad – A very common chord that is typically taught to beginner piano players. Triads are chords that have three tones arranged in a specific way with whole steps and half steps included. Typically, piano learners will learn common complex triads later on in their studies.

19. Arpeggio – A piano chord that is extended or separated in a way that one can play each note at a time instead of at once. Arpeggios are very valuable in terms of scale study.

20. Chord progression – A group of chords played in succession.

Intermediate Piano Terms

21. Form – The way a piece or song is organized and structured. Sets the tone for the song.

22. Binary form – Also known as AB form. A form that contains two sections. The A section and B section are different from one another and are often repeated in their entirety before moving on to the next section.

23. Ternary form – Also known as ABA form. A form that contains three sections. The A section introduces the piece’s melody, which is usually repeated. The B section features contrasting notes to the A section. Once the B section is complete, the A section returns and finished off the piece.

24. Score – The sheet music for a musical piece.

25. Staff – The five lines that span from left to right on a score. Notes are placed on the four blank spaces between the lines or on the lines themselves.

26. Note – A tone or musical object that appears on a staff to note the tone or length.

27. Clef – A marking found at the very beginning of a staff that determines the pitch of the notes on that specific staff.

28. Treble clef – Also known as the G clef due to its appearance. A marking placed on the treble line.

29. Bass clef. A marking on the bottom staff of piano scores.

30. Ledger line – A line that serves as a prolonging extension of a particular staff, used to note pitches that don’t fit in the allotted five staff lines. Notes on these lines are either very high or very low.

31. Left hand and right hand – In music theory, these terms are usually abbreviated as LH or RH. These markings note whether a tone should be played using the left hand or right hand.

Was our in-depth list of music terms helpful? Tell us which terms were particularly helpful for your lessons in the comments below.

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Jonathan is the VP Growth at TutorOcean. Jonathan previously worked at Klipfolio, Invest Ottawa, Irdeto and IBM. Jonathan is also the Co-Founder of STEAM Foundation who successfully launched a Kids Coding Camp helping inspire students early in their educational development. Jonathan is also an active startup advisor, giving back to help the next generation of entrepreneurs. Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn.

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