Terms & Definitions

Terms and Definitions

I will use many musical terms in lessons that may not yet be part of your vocabulary. Frequently, they’ll turn up on your practice charts as well. In case you’ve forgotten what they mean, here’s a handy list of the ones that people tend to forget most often, with the simplest definitions I can think of.

  • Articulation – refers to how you play a note or notes. Is it legato or staccato, hooked or slurred, accented, martelé, portato? Etc.
  • Bow distribution – how much bow are you using for each note?  Early on this frequently takes the form of half and whole bows, proportional to the rhythmic values of the notes, i.e. using the whole bow for a half note and half of it for quarter notes.  Later on it becomes more sophisticated as the rhythms grow more complex and articulations (q.v.) like slurs begin to appear.
  • Contact point – the place on the string that your bow hits while playing. Frequently used with “consistent”, as in “If you don’t keep a consistent contact point, your sound will suffer.”
  • Interval – the distance between notes. To measure, count your starting and ending notes and all the letter names in between. For example, from G to C = G, A, B, C = a fourth.
  • Intonation – refers to how well in tune the notes are.
  • Legato – very smooth bowing
  • Octave – the distance of eight notes; the top and bottom note will have the same letter name.
  • Portato – halfway between a hook and a slur; the bow keeps moving, but the second (or subsequent) note(s) are rearticulated.
  • Staccato – a short bowstroke where the bow is stopped at both ends of the note.
  • Subdivide – counting out the shorter note values inside longer ones to make sure you’re holding it the right length, e.g. four eighths in a half note or three sixteenths in a dotted eighth.

To be updated as needed…