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

of notation.

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

chromatic tone.

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[44]. (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

flatted degree.

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

the staff.

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.


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

quarter measure.

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.


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

is submitted:

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

artistic genius.

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.