Music Glossary


A long, slightly bent piece of Brazilian wood that holds and stretches hundreds of pieces of horse hair between its two ends (the tip and the frog). A string player holds the bow at the frog and pulls it across the strings of the violin, cello, viola, or bass. The hair of the bow is coarse and sticky from the rosin, so it grips the string and causes it to vibrate, producing sound that resonates through the body of the instrument.

Circular Breathing

A technique used by wind players that allows them to play for an extended period of time without interrupting the sound by taking breaths.  The technique involves pushing air out of the mouth with the cheeks while inhaling through the nose at the same time.

Piano (dynamic)

Literally “gentle” in Italian, “piano” is a dynamic marking that means to play softly. “Piano” is often abbreviated in the score with a lowercase (p).

Pianoforte (instrument)

Commonly known simply as the piano, the pianoforte gets its name from the Italian for “soft-loud.”  The inventor of the piano, Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco, called the piano gravicembalo col piano e forte, loosely meaning “harpsichord with soft and loud.”  The name pianoforte is also derived from the name of an earlier version of the piano, the fortepiano, which was the instrument used by Haydn, Mozart, and early Beethoven.


A very thinly shaved piece of wood from a plant called Arundo Donax, or Giant Cane, attached to a wind instrument that vibrates when air is passed over it.  These vibrations create waves that propagate through the instrument and then into the air and to our ears.  Some instruments, such as clarinet and saxophone, use a single reed, meaning there is just one reed affixed to a mouthpiece, and air is blown into the mouthpiece over the reed.  Other instruments, such as oboe and bassoon, use double reeds, meaning there are two blades of wood that are tied together over a small tube.  The reeds are held between the player’s lips and air is blown directly in between the two reeds, causing them to vibrate together, sending sound through the instrument.  There are also some less common instruments that use triple or even quadruple reeds.


A solid cake of resin from trees that is applied to the bow of a string instrument so that the bow hair becomes “sticky” enough to grip the string as it is pulled across, causing it to vibrate and produce sound.