Formal definitions for musical terminology, qualities of sound (qualia).

Audio Lexicography Cover
Audio Lexicography Cover

Text Symbols

For sharing feelings about listening.

Happy:)Standard smile
:-)Smile with nose
;)Winking smile
{:-)Toupee smile
:@)Pig smile
;-)Winking smile with nose
:-EBuck-tooth or Vampire
:->Big happy grin
>-)Evil grin
:'-)Happy Crying
:-XKiss on the lips
:-&tongue tied
:*)Drunk smile
:@Exclamation "What???"
`:-)One eyebrow raised
@@Rolling your eyes
Unhappy:(Sad or frown smile
:-(Sad with nose
:-<Super sad
E-:-)Ham-radio operator
d[-_-]bDJ with headphones
C=:-)A chef
~( 8^(I)Homer Simpson
O:-)Angel boy
O*-)Angel girl
Other:-!Foot in mouth
:^)A broken nose
:-----)Long nose (liar)
:PSticking tongue out
:-($)Put your money where your mouth is
:-#With braces


Electronic alterationFiltration or other electronic changes.Extended techniquesUnusual playing methods on conventional instruments (e.g., Berio'sSequenzas andVisage; Cowell's Banshee; and Cage'sSonatas and Interludes for prepared piano).KlangfarbenmelodieAlternating melodic tones with other instruments (e.g., Webern's orchestration of Bach's Ricecar fromThe Musical Offering andSymphony).MetamorphosisChanging one idea gradually into another (e.g., Liszt'sLes Preludes and Bartok'sString Quartet No.2.MultiphonicsChords or harmonic intervals produced from harmonics.PointillismShort single bursts of instrumental color interjected among others (e.g., Webern'sConcerto, Op.24.SprechstimmeNearly spoken song (e.g., Schoenberg'sPierrot Lunaire.Timbre modulationChanging the dynamic balance (e.g., Carter's Etude #7 inEight Etudes and a Fantasy).


IndeterminacySounds not under control of a composer and performer (e.g., Cage's4'33").Moment formConstant figures used to unify short sections (e.g., StockhausenMomente).OverlapDovetailing old and new ideas in transition.ParodyQuotations of sections of pre-existing music (e.g., Schubert'sMarch Militaire in Stravinsky'sCircus Polka.StochasticControlled chance structure using probability theory (e.g., Xenakis).SurpriseSudden contrast (e.g., Haydn'sSurprise Symphony).TransitionBridge from from one idea to another (e.g., Beethoven's Symphony No 5, 3rd to 4th movements).UnionJoining together of non-consecutive structures.


Balancelouder or softer compared with other parts.Dynamic modulationSolo crescendo or decrescendo that differs with other parts.Terraced dynamicsSudden changes in loudness level.


Accompaniment, or frameworkSkeletal backdrop for other instruments.Clusters, or sound massLarge secundal ChordsHarmonic rhythmRate of harmonic change.Minimal processRepetitive process on small number of elements (e.g., Terry Riley'sIn C or Phillip Glass'sKoyanisqatsi).Non-tertian chordsChord structures not based on thirds (also, quartal chords).NucleusSpecial set of notes used as a primary focus (e.g., A, C, and C# in Scriabin's Op. 74/4).OstinatiObstinate, unchanging figures or aspects, usually in the bass.StasisA static figure, commonly background, such as a repeating chord figure.SubstitutionA chord, line, etc. that substitutes for others (e.g., ii for IV).TranslationFigures that are repeated in time or pitch, such as a sequence.UnravellingArpeggiation or spinning out of structures, such as chord arpeggiation.


ametricwithout any feeling of meter; e.g., chantaugmentationmotive at a slower tempo; longer notes; e.g., Bach's fuguesautomotonlike a machine; mechanicallydiminutiona motive at a faster tempo; e.g., Rachmaninov'sIsle of the Dead(uses Dies Irae)hemiolachange of meter within another; e.g., duple within triple (Brahms); similar to multimeter, but without a change of meter signature; also, used for unwritten polymeters (Schubert)homorhythmsimultaneous ensemble attacksisorhythmchanging pitches, same rhythm; e.g., isorhythmic motetsisomeloschanging rhythm, same pitchesmetric modulationchanging the length of the pulse groupmulti-meterchanging meters; 4/4 to 5/8 to 6/8, etc.; e.g., Stravinsky'sLa Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring)physical actionreflexive, muscular movementspolymetersdifferent meters simultaneously; e.g., 2/4 + 3/4; e.g., Ives'sScherzo, Over the Pavementspolyrhythmdistinctly divergent simultaneous rhythmic patterns; e.g., Ives'sScherzo, Over the Pavementssuspended timevery long static events, with nothing much else happeningsyncopationunexpected rhythms; e.g., Ives'sScherzo, Over the Pavementstempofaster, aggitated, or slower, calmertempo modulationperiodically accel. or decel.


ametricwithout any feeling of meter; e.g., chantdensityincreasing or decreasing the number of notes per unit time or space; e.g., Bartok'sMusic for Strings, Percussion and Celesteimitationstatements of the same idea by successive voices, normally in counterpoint; Renaissance motetsisotrophyharmonic planes or blocks of sound moving in opposite directionslayering/stratificationrepetitions in each part layered with other parts; e.g., Berlioz'sRequiem,theOffertoryplaningmoving chords in parallel motion; e.g., in Debussy'sPreludespolarizationone of two opposites; e.g., antiphony; e.g., Bartok'sMusic for Strings, Percussion and Celestespatial modulationmotion during performancetexture changedropping in or out; e.g., aDTing/subtracting voices/instruments; e.g., Ravel'sBolerotexture modulationgradually thinning or thickening; e.g., Ravel'sBolero


atonality(see pantonality)beatingtone slightly out of unison with other partsmodalityuse of modes other than major/minor; e.g., Hungarian folksongsmodulationa changing tonal focus; a change of keypandiatonicall tones of a diatonic scale treated with equal importancepantonalityall (12) tones with equal importancepolymodalitymore than one mode at a time; e.g., Dorian and Major simultaneouslypolytonalitymore than one tonic at the same time; e.g., Stravinsky'sLa Sacre du Printempstonal axistonic/dominant syntax/substitution


augmentationwrite/play in longer (slower) note valuesarticulationstaccato, legato, tenuto, etc.breathingsilences between soundscycles/rotationscycling through figures; e.g., Alberti bassdiminutionwrite/play in faster note valuesdirected motionmotion towards a goalelisionsubtract note/sfragmentationa segment of a themehard/soft edgeharder or softer definitioninterpolationinterject new (aDTed) tonesinterruptiontones that substitute for expected goal tones; e.g., climax of Wagner'sTristan & Isolde, act 2interval contractionsmaller intervals, same contour; e.g., Liszt'sLes Preludesinterval expansionlarger intervals, same contour; e.g., Liszt'sLes Preludesinversionmirrored contour; e.g., subject and inversion in Bartok'sMusic for Strings, Percussion and Celeste,first movementisomelossame notes, different rhythm; used constantly in dodecaphonymicrotonesintervals smaller than a semitonenon-tonal scalesscale structures that are symmetric in content; e.g., whole-tone scale, which has no differences to imply a tonicoctave displacementmelody with tones played in differing octave registers; occurs frequently ion Webern's musicornamentationembellishment of a given figure or framework, such as a trillpermutationchange the order of pitchesprolongationgoal tones used as skeleton for long linesretrograde inversiona backwards inversion (much used in dodecaphony)retrogradea theme backwardsserial techniquea constant ordering of pitch-classes, rhythms, etc.shapinga dynamic/time contoursubcomplexextracted non-consecutive tones as a nucleussubtraction /elisiona theme/motive with subtracted tonestranslationfigures that are repeated in time or pitchtranspositiona figure higher or lower in pitch


antiphonyspatial responses; sung in two groupscrossing voicescrossing over or under a given voicedoublingsdup.pc , parallel motionvoicingopen/close, smooth/disjunctunderlapcrossing under a given line


AggressiveForward and bright sonic character.AirySpacious. Open. Instruments sound like they are surrounded by a large reflective space full of air. Good reproduction of high frequency reflections. High frequency response extends to 15 or 20 kHz.AmbienceImpression of an acoustic space, such as the performing hall in which a recording was made.AnalyticalHighly detailed.ArticulateIntelligibility of voice(s) and instruments and the interactions between them.AttackThe leading edge of a note and the ability of a system to reproduce the attack transients in music.Balanceessentially tonal balance, the degree to which one aspect of the sonic spectrum is emphasized above the rest. Also channel balance, the relative level of the left and right stereo channels.BassThe audio frequencies between about 60Hz and 250Hz.BassyEmphasized low frequencies below 200Hz.BlanketedWeak highs, as if a blanket were put over the speakers.BloatedExcessive mid bass around 250 Hz. Poorly damped low frequencies, low frequency resonances. See tubby.BlurredPoor transient response. Vague stereo imaging not focused.BodyFullness of sound, with particular emphasis on upper bass. Opposite of thin.BoomyExcessive bass around 125 Hz. Poorly damped low frequencies or low frequency resonances.BoxyHaving resonances as if the music were enclosed in a box. Sometimes an emphasis around 250 to 500 Hz.BreathyAudible breath sounds in woodwinds and reeds such as flute or sax. Good response in the upper mids or highs.BrightA sound that emphasizes the upper midrange/lower treble. Harmonics are strong relative to fundamentals.BrillianceThe 6kHz to 16kHz range controls the brilliance and clarity of sounds. Too much emphasis in this range can produce sibilance on the vocals.ChestyThe vocalist sounds like their chest is too big. A bump in the low frequency response around 125 to 250 Hz.ClearSee Transparent.ClosedA closed-in sound lacking in openness, delicacy, air, and fine detail usually caused by Roll-off above 10kHz; in contrast to Open.CongestedSmeared, confused, muddy, and flat; lacking transparency.ColouredHaving timbres that are not true to life. Non flat response; peaks or dips.CoolModerately deficient in body and warmth, due to progressive attenuation of frequencies below about 150Hz.CrispExtended high frequency response, especially with cymbals.DarkA tonal balance that tilts downwards with increasing frequency. Opposite of bright. Weak high frequencies.DebateargumentativelyDecayThe fadeout of a note, it follows the attack.Definition (or resolution)The ability of a component to reveal the subtle information that is fundamental to high fidelity sound.DelicateHigh frequencies extending to 15 or 20 kHz without peaks.DepthA sense of distance (near to far) of different instruments.DetailThe most delicate elements of the original sound and those which are the first to disappear with lesser equipment.DetailedEasy to hear tiny details in the music; articulate. Adequate high frequency response, sharp transient response.DryLack of reverberation or delay as produced by a damped environment. May comes across as fine grained and lean. Opposite of Wet.DullSee Dark.DynamicThe suggestion of energy and wide dynamic. Related to perceived speed as well as contrasts in volume both large and small.EdgyToo much high frequency response. Trebly. Harmonics are too strong relative to the fundamentals. Distorted, having unwanted harmonics that add an edge or raspiness.EuphonicAn appealing form of distortion that generally enhances perceived fidelity, often ascribed to the harmonic elaborations of some valve amps.FastGood reproduction of rapid transients which increase the sense of realism and "snap".FatSee Full and Warm. Or, spatially diffuse; a sound is panned to one channel, delayed, and then the delayed sound is panned to the other channel. Or, slightly distorted with analogue tape distortion or tube distortion.FocusA strong, precise sense of image projection.Forward(ness)Similar to an aggressive sound, a sense of image being projected in front of the speakers and of music being forced upon the listener. Compare "Laid-back".FullStrong fundamentals relative to harmonics. Good low frequency response, not necessarily extended, but with adequate level around 100 to 300 Hz. Male voices are full around 125 Hz; female voices and violins are full around 250 Hz; sax is full around 250 to 400 Hz. Opposite of thin.GentleOpposite of edgy. The harmonics (of the highs and upper mids) are not exaggerated, or may even be weak.GrainyA slightly raw, exposed sound which lacks finesse. Not liquid or fluid.GripA sense of control and sturdiness in the bass.GrungyLots of harmonic or I.M. (Intermodulation) distortion.HardToo much upper midrange, usually around 3 kHz. Or, good transient response, as if the sound is hitting you hard. Uncomfortable, forward, aggressive sound with a metallic tinge.HarshGrating, abrasive. Too much upper midrange. Peaks in the frequency response between 2 and 6 kHz. Or, excessive phase shift in a digital recorder's low pass filter.HeadstageThe perception of the Soundstage while listening to headphones.HighsThe audio frequencies above about 6000 Hz.High Midrange (High Mids, Upper Mids)The audio frequencies between about 2kHz and 6kHz.HollowRecessed mids.HonkyLike cupping your hands around your mouth. A bump in the response around 500 to 700 Hz.ImagingThe sense that a voice or instrument is in a particular place in the room.JuicySound that has joie de vivre, energy and life.Laid-backRecessed, distant-sounding, having exaggerated depth, usually because of a dished midrange. Compare "Forward".LiquidTextureless sound.Low Level DetailThe quietest sounds in a recording.Low Midrange (Low Mids)The audio frequencies between about 250Hz and 2000Hz.LushVery Rich/Full.Lush (2)A "lush" sound has a sense of warmth and fullness. Notes are more authoritative and have a sense of life about them. It is a sound free of any sibilance or brightness. It does not mean colored, however. It is an open and inviting sound enveloping the listener into its soundstage. (source: unkown headfier)MellowReduced high frequencies, not Edgy.Midrange (Mids)The audio frequencies between about 250 Hz and 6000 Hz.MuddyNot clear. Weak harmonics, smeared time response, I.M. distortion.MuffledSounds like it is covered with a blanket. Weak highs or weak upper mids.Musical (or musicality)A sense of cohesion and subjective "rightness" in the sound.NasalHonky, a bump in the response around 600 Hz.NaturalnessRealism.OpaqueUnclear, lacking Transparency.OpenSound which has height and "air", relates to clean upper midrange and treble.PaceOften assoc. with rhythm, a strong sense of timing and beat.PiercingStrident, hard on the ears, screechy. Having sharp, narrow peaks in the response around 3 to 10 kHz.PRaTPace, Rhythm and TimingPresence RangeThe presence range between 4kHz and 6kHz is responsible for the clarity and definition of voices and instruments. Increasing this range can make the music seem closer to the listener. Reducing the 5kHz content makes the sound more distant and transparent.PresenceA sense that the instrument in present in the listening room. Synonyms are edge, punch, detail, closeness and clarity. Adequate or emphasized response around 5 kHz for most instruments, or around 2 to 5 kHz for kick drum and bass.PuffyA bump in the response around 500 Hz.PunchyGood reproduction of dynamics. Good transient response, with strong impact. Sometimes a bump around 5 kHz or 200 HzRangeThe distance between the lowest and highest tones.Resolution (or Resolving)See DefinitionRichSee Full. Also, having euphonic distortion made of even order harmonics.Roll-off (Rolloff)The gradual attenuation that occurs at the lower or upper frequency range of a driver, network, or system. The roll-off frequency is usually defined as the frequency where response is reduced by 3 dB.RoundHigh frequency rolloff or dip. Not edgy.RhythmThe controlled movement of sounds in time.SaturationThe point at which a magnetic tape is fully magnetized and will accept no more magnetization.SeismicVery low bass that you feel rather than hear.ShrillStrident, Steely.Sibilant (or Sibilance)"Essy", exaggerated "s" or "sh" sounds in vocals. Sibilant sounds carry most of their energy through the 4Khz to 8Khz range, but can extend to 10kHz, depending on the individual. Sibilance is often heard on radio.SizzlySee Sibilant. Also, too much highs on cymbals.SmearedLacking detail. Poor transient response, too much leakage between microphones. Poorly focused images.SmoothEasy on the ears, not harsh. Flat frequency response, especially in the midrange. Lack of peaks and dips in the response.SnapA system with good speed and transient response can deliver the immediacy or "snap" of live instruments.SoundstageThe area between two speakers that appears to the listener to be occupied by sonic images. Like a real stage, a soundstage should have width, depth, and height.SpaciousConveying a sense of space, ambiance, or room around the instruments. Stereo reverb. Early reflections.SpeedA fast system with good pace gives the impression of being right on the money in its timing.SteelyEmphasized upper mids around 3 to 6 kHz. Peaky, non flat high frequency response. See Harsh, Edgy.StridentSee Harsh, Edgy.SturdySolid, powerful, robust sound.Sub-BassThe audio frequencies between about 20Hz and 80Hz.SweetNot strident or piercing. Delicate. Flat high frequency response, low distortion. Lack of peaks in the response. Highs are extended to 15 or 20 kHz, but they are not bumped up. Often used when referring to cymbals, percussion, strings, and sibilant sounds.Synaesthesiaa mixing of sensory stimuli (smell, sight, touch, etc.)Telephone LikeSee Tinny.TextureA perceptible pattern or structure in reproduced sound.ThickA lack of articulation and clarity in the bass.ThinFundamentals are weak relative to harmonics. Bass light.TightGood low frequency transient response and detail.TimbreThe tonal character of an instrumentTimingA sense of precision in tempo.TinnyNarrowband, weak lows, peaky mids. The music sounds like it is coming through a telephone or tin can.ToneThe sound of definite pitch.TransientThe leading edge of a percussive sound. Good transient response makes the sound as a whole more live and realistic.TransparentEasy to hear into the music, detailed, clear, not muddy. Wide flat frequency response, sharp time response, very low distortion and noise. A hear through quality that is akin to clarity and reveals all aspects of detail.TubbyHaving low frequency resonances as if you're singing in a bathtub. See bloated.Upper Midrange (Upper Mids, High Mids)The audio frequencies between 2 kHz and 6 kHz.VeiledLike a silk veil is over the speakers. Slight noise or distortion or slightly weak high frequencies. Loss of detail due to limited transparency.WarmGood bass, adequate low frequencies, adequate fundamentals relative to harmonics. Not thin. Also excessive bass or mid bass. Also, pleasantly spacious, with adequate reverberation at low frequencies. Also see Rich, Round. Warm highs means sweet highWetA reverberant sound, something with decay. Opposite of Dry.WeightyGood low frequency response below about 50 Hz. A sense of substance and underpinning produced by deep, controlled bass. Suggesting an object of great weight or power, like a diesel locomotive.WoollyLoose, ill-defined bass.


A beta PDF is available.


Audio Lexicography

Cost: $0.00

Thank you for referring to Yofiel. I hope you find joy in creating beautiful music.

- Ernest Leonardo Meyer

About this Article:
Audio Lexicography
Word count:

Clicking on Links and Images: When you hover over an image, and the cursor turns into an hourglass, then clicking it opens the picture in a lightbox. When the cursor is a pointer, it opens the associated article. Text and menu links are green.