Grade 1 – Terminology

In every grade you will be tested on your knowledge of various musical terms, signs and symbols. No video can help you learn these – it’s just a case of taking a deep breath and learning each term one-by-one. Of course, every time you look at a piece of music see what terms and symbols are used – if you’re not sure what something is, look it up or ask a music teacher. You’ll be amazed what you can learn just by looking at a piece of music.

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If an exam question asks for the meaning of a symbol don’t just give the English translation of the word. For example, if you were asked to give the meaning of the following symbol:


Don’t just give the answer as “Forte”; this is not the meaning. A perfect answer would be “loud” or “forte, which means loud”.

Term Meaning/Explanation
Accelerando (or accel) Gradually getting quicker
Adagio Slow
Allegretto Fairly quick
Allegro Quick (literally ‘cheerful’)
Andante At a medium pace (‘walking speed’)
Cantabile In a singing style
Crescendo (or cresc.) Gradually getting louder
da capo (or D.C) Repeat from the beginning
dal segno (or D.S) Repeat from the sign:   
Decrescendo (or Decresc.) Gradually getting quieter
Diminuendo (or Dim.) Gradually getting quieter
Fine The end
Translation = loud Musicians refer to this sign as ‘Forte’
Translation = Very loud Musicians refer to this symbol as ‘Fortissimo’
Legato Smoothly
Lento Slow
Mezzo Half
Translation = Moderately loud Musicians refer to this symbol as ‘Mezzo-Forte’
Translation = Moderately quiet Musicians refer to this symbol as ‘Mezzo-piano’
Translation = Quiet Musicians refer to this symbol as ‘Piano’
Translation = Very quiet Musicians refer to this symbol as ‘Pianissimo’
Poco A little
Rallentando (or Rall.) Gradually getting slower
Ritardando or (Rit.) Gradually getting slower
A dot above or below a note is referred to as ‘Staccato’. Translation = detached (not short as is often incorrectly stated)
A ‘hairpin’ above or below a note is referred to as an ‘accent’. Translation = a slight stress on the note
Tempo Speed or time
a Tempo In time
Translation = Gradually getting louder Musicians refer to this symbol as ‘Crescendo’
Translation = Gradually getting quieter Musicians refer to this symbol as ‘Decrescendo’
Over two different notes this is referred to as a slur. Do not muddle it with a ‘tie’. If you need help differentiating between a slur and a tie watch this video.
Perform the notes, under the bracket, an octave higher
Perform the notes, above the bracket, an octave lower
Pause on the note. Musicians can refer to this symbol as a ‘Pause’ or by it’s Italian name; a ‘Fermata’. This symbol can also appear upside-down underneath notes.
120 crotchet beats per minute. The inclusion of M.M. is not always used (M.M. = Maelzel’s Metronome)
Start of repeated section. This symbol is not used if the music is to be repeated from the beginning.
End of repeated section. At this sign go back to the start of repeat section symbol. If there is no start of repeat section symbol, go back to the start of the music.