A few common musical terms. Note: most of these words originated before the age of standardization. Spellings may vary.

MUSICAL FORMS (kinds of pieces)

Concerto [con-CHAIR-toe]
Music featuring one instrument or a group of instruments, usually playing with an orchestra.

Opera [AW-pruh]
A sung stage play, using music to propel the story and displaycharacters’ emotions. Opera often uses two kinds of singing:
recitative [reh-chih-tah-TEEV], speech-like recitation for dialogue; and aria [AH-ree-ah], song-like music for reflection and reaction.

Oratorio [o-rah-TOH-ree-oh]
Vocal soloists and chorus join an orchestra to tell a story in music, but without the staging and costumes of an opera.

Sonata [soh-NAH-tah]
A piece for a single instrument, for an instrument with piano, or for a small group of instruments, which draws out the capabilities of that instrument or combination.

Suite [sweet]
A collection of several movements, often dance movements.

Symphony [SIM-fo-nee]
The musical equivalent of a novel, meant to show off the many moods and sounds of the orchestra.

Overture [OH-ver-cherr]
A piece for beginning an opera, ballet, or concert.


A piece of music within a larger piece, like a chapter in a book. Most symphonies, for instance, have several movements: each movement is in a different mood, and each has its own beginning and end.

A final movement. A finale might be any kind of movement: a rondo, a minuet, a theme and variations, or something else.

Probably the most popular dance of all time, the Minuet has this rhythm: ONE, two three, ONE, two three (like a Waltz, but less swirling.) Many symphonies have a Minuet movement. A Minuet is really two dances: you hear the first dance, then a second dance with a different sound and feeling, then the first dance again. The Minuet is often called “Minuet and Trio,” because the second dance, the “Trio,” traditionally used a smaller group of instruments.

A piece whose main melody keeps reappearing. Between sightings of the melody, other music takes over. When the melody returns, it is often in a sneaky, surprising, or entertaining way.

Scherzo [SCARED-so]
Beethoven and many later composers used Scherzos in their compositions instead of Minuets. Scherzo means “joke,” but the character of a scherzo movement is often ironic, turbulent, dark, or fierce.

Sonata (or Sonata-allegro) movement
A typical first movement of a symphony, concerto, or sonata, in which the composer introduces musical ideas at the beginning, then creates excitement and surprise by playing around with the ideas. Later, in a sort of homecoming, the ideas return in their original form.

Theme and Variations
The musicians play some music, and then present different transformations of that music—as though the music were trying on different costumes.



Walking speed; medium


Getting louder

Getting softer


ma non troppo
but not too much



Very fast



Music blogs discuss music, instruments, performers, gossip, and everything else about classical music.

Visit the Naxos Blog ( to keep up to date with news, podcasts and lots of other great stuff about our artists and recordings.

Music books on every aspect of music run the gamut from brief guidebooks to lavishly illustrated coffee-table tomes. Music dictionaries come in many sizes, from pocket-sized booklets to encyclopedic multi-volume sets. Naxos Books include many exciting and informative titles about composers, musical periods and instruments.

Naxos Educational CDs uses the wealth of Naxos recordings combined with approachable, absorbing narrative, to broaden the understanding of musicians and their music.

Naxos Music Library provides online access to the entire Naxos catalog by subscription (

Online music stores sell recordings, videos, and downloads; some provide excerpts for listening. Online video sites have huge collections of old films and new videos of musicians, past and present.

Orchestra web sites frequently offer educational features for children and adults, sometimes including videos, games, and recordings. Visit the ‘Orchestras’ section of our Artist Index to see what orchestras are available on Naxos CDs and DVDs as well as on the labels we distribute.

Naxos Artist Index and Composers Index are also good places to find recordings featuring particular musicians and particular musical works.

Music in Movies contains a wide-ranging list of classical music heard in films. Well worth browsing through to find the name of that special piece of music whose name you may not know and to find Naxos recordings.

The above Glossary was published with the permission of Naxos;

Upcoming Concerts

Recent Tweets