Terminology Adoptions 1907-1910
1. Tone: Specific name for a musical sound of definite
pitch. Use neither sound, a general term, nor note, a term
2. Interval: The pitch relation between two tones. Not
properly applicable to a single tone or scale degree. Example:
Sing the fifth tone of the scale. Not sing the fifth
interval of the scale.
3. Key: Tones in relation
to a tonic. Example: In the key of
G. Not in the scale of G. Scales, major and minor are
composed of a definite selection from the many tones of the
key, and all scales extend through at least one octave of
pitch. The chromatic scale utilizes all the tones of a key
within the octave.
4. Natural: Not a suitable compound to use in naming
pitches. Pitch names are either simple: B, or compound: B
sharp, B double-sharp, B flat or B double-flat, and there is
no pitch named B natural. Example: Pitch B, not B
NOTE:--L.R.L. thinks that B natural should be the name when
the notation suggests it.
5. Step, Half-step: Terms of interval measurement. Avoid
tone, semi-tone or half-tone. Major second and minor
second are interval names. Example: How large are the
following intervals? (1) Major second, (2) minor second, (3)
augmented prime. Answer: (1) a step, (2) a half-step, (3) a
6. Chromatic: A tone of the key which is not a member of its
diatonic scale. (N.B.) An accidental (a notation sign) is not
a chromatic sign unless it makes a staff-degree represent a
7. Major; Minor: Major and Minor keys having the same
signature should be called relative major and minor. Major and
minor keys having the same tonic, but different signatures,
should be called tonic major and minor. Not parallel major
or minor in either case.
8. Staff: Five horizontal lines and their spaces. Staff
lines are named (numbered) upward in order, first to fifth.
Spaces: Space below, first-second-third-fourth-space, and
space above. (Six in all.) Additional short lines and
their short spaces numbered outward both ways from the main
staff, viz: line below, second space below. The boundary of
the staff is always a space.
[Footnote 44: NOTE:--Not space below the staff or space
above the staff.]
9. G Clef, F Clef, C Clef: These clefs when placed upon the
staff, give its degrees their first, or primary pitch meaning.
Each makes the degree it occupies represent a pitch of its
respective name. Example: The G clef makes the second line
represent the pitch G. Avoid fixes G on. The staff with
clef in position represents only pitches having simple or
one-word names, A, B, C, etc.
10. Sharps, Flats: Given a staff with clef in position as in
example above, sharps and flats make staff degrees upon which
they are placed represent pitches a half-step higher or lower.
These pitches have compound or two-word names. Example: The
second line stands for the pitch G (simple name). Sharp the
second line and it will stand for the pitch G sharp. (Compound
name.) The third line stands for the pitch B. (Simple name.)
Flat it, and the line will stand for the pitch B flat.
(Compound name.) N.B. These signs do not raise or
lower notes, tones, pitches, letters or staff degrees.
11. Double-sharp, Double-flat: Given a staff with three or
more degrees sharped in the signature, double-sharps are used
(subject to the rules governing composition) to make certain
of these degrees, already sharped, represent pitches one
half-step higher yet. Similarly, when three or more degrees
are flatted in the signature, double-flats are used to make
certain degrees already flatted, represent pitches one
half-step lower yet. Examples: To represent sharp 2 in the key
of B major, double-sharp the C degree, or (equally good)
double-sharp the third space (G clef). To represent flat 6 in
the key of D flat major, double-flat the B degree, or (equally
good) double flat the third line (G clef). Do not say: Put
a double-sharp on 6 or put a double-sharp on C, or
indicate a higher or lower pitch on a sharped or
12. Signature: Sharps or flats used as signatures affect the
staff degrees they occupy and all octaves of the same.
Example: With signature of four sharps, the first one affects
the fifth line and the first space; the second, the third
space; the third, the space above and the second line; the
fourth, the fourth line and the space below. Do not say: F
and C are sharped, ti is sharped, B is flatted, fa is
flatted. Sharpened or flattened are undesirable.
13. Brace: The two or more staffs containing parts to be
sounded together; also the vertical line or bracket connecting
such staffs. Not line or score. Staff is better than
line for a single staff, and score is used meaning the
book containing an entire work, as vocal score, orchestral
score, full score.
14. Notes: Notes are characters designed to represent
relative duration. When placed on staff-degrees they
indicate pitch. (Note the difference between represent and
indicate.) Sing what the note calls for means, sing a tone
of the pitch represented by the staff degree occupied by the
note-head. The answer to the question: What is that note?
would be half-note, eighth-note according to the
denomination of the note in question, whether it was on or off
15. Measure-sign: 4-4, 2-4, 6-8, are measure-signs. Avoid
time signatures, meter-signatures, the fraction,
time-marks. Example: What is the measure-sign? (C) Ans. A
broken circle. What is its meaning? Ans. Four-quarter measure.
(Not four-four time, four-four rhythm, four-four meter.)
16. Note Placing: Place a quarter note on the fourth line.
Not put a quarter note on D.
17. Beat-Pulse: A tone or rest occurs on a certain beat or
pulse of a measure. Not on a certain count.
18. Signature Terminology: The right hand sharp in the
signature is on the staff degree that represents seven of the
major scale. Not always on 7 or ti.
19. Signature Terminology: The right hand flat in the
signature is on the staff degree that represents four of the
major scale. Not always on fa.
20. Rote, Note, Syllable: Singing by rote means that the
singer sings something learned by ear without regard to notes.
Singing by note means that the singer is guided to the correct
pitch by visible notes. Singing by syllable means that the
singer sings the tones of a song or part to the sol-fa
syllables instead of to words, neutral vowels or the hum.
Sing by note is not correct if the direction means simply to
sing the sol-fa syllables, whether in sight reading, rote
singing, or memory work. Sing by syllable would be correct
in each case.
ADOPTIONS OF THE 1911 MEETING AT SAN FRANCISCO
Arabic numerals, either 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, or 12, placed on the
staff directly after the signature and above the third line,
show the number of beats in a measure.
A note, either a quarter or a dotted quarter, placed in
parenthesis under the numeral, represents the length of one
beat and is called the beat-note.
The numeral and the beat-note thus grouped constitute the
Illustrative statements covering proper terminology: the tune
America is written in three-quarter measure. The chorus:
How lovely are the Messengers is written in two-dotted
The above forms of statement were adopted at Denver in 1909,
and are recommended for general use when speaking of music
written with the conventional measure-signs, etc.
In place of: two-two time, three-eight time, four-four time,
say as above: This piece is written in two-half measure,
three-eighth measure, four-quarter measure.
Primitive Minor (ascending)
The minor scale form having minor sixth and minor seventh
above tonic to be called Primitive Minor.
Illustrative examples. A minor: a, b, c, d, e, f, g, a; C
minor: c, d, e flat, f, g, a flat, b flat, c. [Transcriber's
Note: Supplied b flat missing from original.]
Primitive Minor (descending)
Same pitches in reverse order.
Harmonic Minor (ascending)
The minor scale form having minor sixth and major seventh
above tonic to be called Harmonic Minor.
Illustrative examples. A minor: a, b, c, d, e, f, g sharp, a;
C minor: c, d, e flat, f, g, a flat, b, c.
Harmonic Minor (descending)
Same pitches in reverse order.
Melodic Minor (ascending)
The minor scale form having major sixth and major seventh
above tonic to be called Melodic Minor.
Illustrative examples. A minor: a, b, c, d, e, f sharp, g
sharp, a; C minor: c, d, e flat, f, g, a, b, c.
Melodic Minor (descending)
Same as the Primitive.
ADOPTIONS OF THE 1912 MEETING AT CHICAGO
Pulse and Beat
The Committee finds that the words: Pulse and Beat are in
general use as synonymous terms, meaning one of the succession
of throbs or impulses of which we are conscious when listening
to music. Each of these pulses or beats has an exact point of
beginning, a duration, and an exact point of ending, the
latter coincident with the beginning of the next pulse or
beat. When thus used, both words are terms of ear.
One of these words, Beat, is also in universal use, meaning
one of a series of physical motions by means of which a
conductor holds his group of performers to a uniform movement.
When thus used it becomes a term of eye.
The conductor's baton, if it is to be authoritative, cannot
wander about through the whole duration of the pulse but must
move quickly to a point of comparative repose, remaining until
just before the arrival of the next pulse when it again makes
a rapid swing, finishing coincidently with the initial tone
(or silence) of the new pulse.
Thus it is practically the end of the conductor's beat that
marks the beginning of the pulse.
The Committee is of opinion that Beat might preferably be used
as indicating the outward sign.
This term beat-note is already in use in another important
connection (see Terminology Report, 1911) and the Committee
recommends that those using the above terms shall say: This
note is an on-the-beat note; this one is an after-the-beat
note; this one a before-the-beat note.
Matters of Ear
Pulse: The unit of movement in music, one of a series of
regularly recurring throbs or impulses.
Measure: A group of pulses.
Pulse-Group: Two or more tones grouped within the pulse.
Matters of Eye
Beat: One of a series of conventional movements made by the
conductor. This might include any unconventional motion which
served to mark the movement of the music, whether made by
conductor, performer or auditor.
Beat-Note: A note of the denomination indicated by the
measure-sign as the unit of note-value in a given measure.
Given the following measure-signs: 2-4, 2-2, 2-8, quarter,
half, or eighth notes, respectively, are beat-notes.
Beat-Group: A group of notes or notes and rests, of smaller
denomination than the beat-note which represents a full beat
from beginning to end and is equal in value to the beat-note.
(A beat-group may begin with a rest.)
On-the-Beat Note (or rest): Any note (or rest) ranging in
value from a full beat down, which calls for musical action
(or inaction) synchronously with the conductor's beat.
After-the-Beat Note: Any note in a beat-group which indicates
that a tone is to be sounded after the beginning, and before
or at the middle of the pulse.
Before-the-Beat Note: Any note in a beat-group which indicates
that a tone is to be sounded after the middle of the pulse.
To illustrate terminology and to differentiate between Pulse
and Beat as terms, respectively of ear and eye, the following
Whenever a brief tone involves the musical idea of
syncopation, it may be regarded as an after-the-pulse tone and
the note that calls for it as an after-the-beat note; when it
involves the idea of anticipation or preparation it may be
regarded as a before-the-pulse tone, and the note that calls
for it, as a before-the-beat note.
Measure and Meter
What is the measure-sign?
What is the meter-signature?
These two words are used synonymously, and one of them is
unnecessary. The Committee recommends that Measure be retained
and used. Meter has its use in connection with hymns.
* * * * *
The author does not find it possible at present to agree with all the
recommendations made in the above report, but the summary is printed in
full for the sake of completeness.
The Music Teacher's National Association has also interested itself
mildly in the subject of terminology reform, and at its meeting in
Washington, D.C., in 1908, Professor Waldo S. Pratt gave his address as
president of the Association on the subject System and Precision in
Musical Speech. This address interested the members of the Association
to such an extent that Professor Pratt was asked to act as a committee
whose purpose it should be to look into the matter of reforms necessary
in music terminology and report at a later session. In 1910 Professor
Pratt read a report in which he advocated the idea of making some
changes in music nomenclature, but took the ground that the subject is
too comprehensive to be mastered in the short time that can be given to
it by a committee, and that it is therefore impossible to recommend
specific changes. He also took occasion to remark that one difficulty in
the whole matter of terminology is that many terms and expressions are
used colloquially and that such use although usually not scientific,
is often not distinctly harmful and is not of sufficient importance to
cause undue excitement on the part of reformers. Quoting from the report
at this point:--A great deal of confusion is more apparent than real
between note and tone, between step and degree, between key
and tonality. No practical harm is done by speaking of the first
note of a piece when really first tone would be more accurate. To
say that a piece is written in the key of B[flat] is more convenient
than to say that it is written in the tonality of which B[flat] is the
tonic. The truth is that some of the niceties of expression upon which
insistence is occasionally laid are merely fussy, not because they have
not some sort of reason, but because they fail to take into account the
practical difference between colloquial or off-hand speech and the
diction of a scientific treatise. This is said without forgetting that
colloquialism always needs watching and that some people form the habit
of being careless or positively uncouth as if it were a mark of high
Professor Pratt's report is thus seen to be philosophic rather than
constructive, and terminology reform will undoubtedly make more
immediate progress through the efforts of the N.E.A. Committee with its
specific recommendations (even though these are sometimes admittedly
fussy) than through the policy of the M.T.N.A. of waiting for some one
to get time to take up the subject in a scholarly way. Nevertheless the
philosophic view is sometimes badly needed, especially when the spirit
of reform becomes too rabid and attaches too great importance to
trifles. A judicious intermingling of the two committees in a series of
joint meetings would undoubtedly result in mutual helpfulness, and
possibly also in a more tangible and convincing statement of principles
than has yet been formulated by either.