orchestrate: To arrange music in a form that facilitates various instruments playing together.
ostinato: A musical phrase that is repeated over and over, generally by the bass.
percussion: A family of instruments generally played by striking with hands, sticks, or mallets.
phrasing: The grouping of notes into musical statements.
polyphony: The sound or act of playing two or more melodies at the same time.
polyrhythm: Contrasting rhythms played simultaneously.
ragtime: A musical precursor of jazz, generally played on the piano, that appeared in the first years of the 20th century and that combined European classical technique with syncopated rhythms, which were said to “rag” the time.
register: The range of a voice or musical instrument (generally: high, medium, or low).
rhythm: The organized motion of sounds and rests; the patterned repetition of a beat or accent that drives a musical piece forward.
rhythm section: A grouping of instruments that provide the rhythmic and harmonic structure in band or orchestra; usually the drums, bass, and piano.
riff: A short, repeated musical phrase used as a background for a soloist or to add drama to a musical climax.
scale: An ascending or descending progression of related notes.
scat: A vocal technique that uses nonsense syllables to improvise on a melody.
score: A written map of a piece of music that is created by the composer and that dictates the notes to be played by each instrument.
section: A subdivision of a musical composition. Also: a group of instruments in the same family (e.g., brass or woodwind) that form a discrete part of a band or orchestra.
shuffle: A rhythmic style that formed the basis of the blues and early jazz and informed the feeling of swing.
solo: The act or result of a single musician improvising, usually within the structure of an existing song.
staccato: A playing or singing style characterized by crisp, short notes.
stride: A style of playing piano in which the left hand covers wide distances, playing the bass line, harmony, and rhythm at the same time, while the right hand plays melodies and intricate improvisations.
swing: The basic rhythmic attitude of jazz; based on the shuffle rhythm. Also: a style of jazz that appeared during the 1930s and featured big bands playing complex arrangements.
syncopation: The act of placing a rhythmic accent on an unexpected beat.