This is the letter page S of the Musical Dictionary from Classical and Jazz


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Musical Dictionary: S



Sackbut: The early form of the Trombone -it may date back to 1000 AD. The 15th century English preferred to call it sackbut. It actually looks quite similar to the Trombone of today with the exception of the flared bell. The flare on today's Trombone was not adapted until 1740. By the Romantic period, the newly refined Trombone gave it a louder, more expressive character and found itself in many orchestral compositions.

Samba: Afro-Brazilian dance music.

Sampler: an electronic device that digitises and records music. Once electronically stored, it can be mixed, changed or woven to a new piece.

Sanctus: "Holy." In the Mass, the fourth part of the ordinary.

Sanft: Soft, gentle.

Sans: Without.

Santur: The santur is a member of the Dulcimer family having 12 to 14 courses of metal strings on two rows of movable bridges. It is played with wooden hammers.

Saxophone: Adolfe Sax patented this metal woodwind instruments in 1846. There are seven members of the saxophone family. The smallest have a straight form and the larger have their bell flared and bent upwards.

Saz: It is now considered the Turkish national instrument and used to accompany folk song and dance. It is another form of lute: pear shaped with a long fretted neck and three courses of metal strings.

Scale: A series of notes which define a diatonic tonality, often consisting of eight degrees, and containing a tonic and sometimes also a leading tone.

Scherzo: "Joke." A piece in a lively tempo. A movement of a symphony, sonata, or quartet in quick triple time, replacing the minuet.

Schnell: (Gr) Fast.

Score: The written depiction of all the parts of a musical ensemble with the parts stacked vertically and rhythmically aligned.

Secco: (Ita)  "Dry." Unornamented.

Second: The second degree of the diatonic scale. Also, the interval formed by a given tone and the next tone above or below it, e.g. C up to D, or C down to B. Intervals of the second may be major, diminished, or augmented.

Section: A division of a musical composition.

Segno: "Sign."

Sehr: (Gr) Very.

Sehr leise beginnend: (Gr) Very soft in the beginning.

Semitone: A half step. The smallest interval on the keyboard.

Sempre:  (Ita)  Always. Used with other terms, e.g. sempre staccato.

Semplice:  (Ita)  Simple.

Senza:  (Ita)  Without. Used with other terms, e.g. senza crescendo.

Septet: A piece for seven instruments or voices. Seven performers.

Sequence: 1. Repetition of the same basic melodic theme at a different pitch. 2. A type of Gregorian chant with non-biblical texts, lines grouped in rhymed pairs, and one note per syllable.

Serenade: A love song, or piece traditionally performed below a loved one's window in the evening.

Sereno:  (Ita)  Serene, peaceful.

Serialism: A form of music writing based on Twelve-Tone technique, in which pitch classes, rhythms, and often dynamics are determined systematically.

Serpent: The serpent can be called a woodwind instruments but it is made of brass and wood and played like brass instruments. It has keyed finger holes and sounds like a Tuba.

Seventh: The seventh degree of the diatonic scale. Also, the interval formed by a given tone and the seventh tone above or below it, e.g. C up to B, or C down to D. Intervals of the seventh may be major, minor, diminished, or augmented.

Seventh chord: When a seventh (above the root) is added to a triad (root, third, fifth), the result is a seventh chord, e.g. the dominant triad in the key of C major, G-B-D, with the added seventh becomes G-B-D-F and is labelled V7.

Sforzando, Sfz, Sf: Sudden strong accent on a note or chord.

Shakuhachi: An ancient Japanese bamboo flute with four finger holes and one thumbhole. You can get more information at

Shamisen: Used in Japan since the 16th century, it resembles a lute with a long unfretted neck. Three silk strings are plucked with a large plectrum.

Sharps: An accidental that raises a given pitch  by one half-step. See also key signature.

Shawm: There were shawms of many sizes at the height of popularity. It was constructed of a long piece of wood and curved metal bell. It is considered to be an early form of oboe.

Sheet music: An individually printed song, most often for voice, Piano, Guitar, or a combination of the three. Any printed music.

Sheng: A Chinese free reed Mouth Organ. It has several bamboo pipes that protrude from its bowl shape. Each pipe creates its sound through a brass reed at its lower end. A hole needs to be covered to create sound.

Sh: Very similar to sheng, this Japanese bowl shaped Mouth Organ is typically used in gagaku.

Shifting meter: The changing of meter within a composition. Synonymous with changing meter.

Shofar: An ancient, Natural Trumpet made from a rams horn. It was played during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Simile: An indication to continue in the same manner.

Sin': Until.

Singer: A performer who uses their voice or vocal chords to produce musical tones.

Sinistra: Left hand.

Sino: Until.

Sitar: A string instruments that is played by plucking and is held in a nearly upright position. It has different sets of strings including seven principal strings and 12-20 sympathetic strings. It has a very long fretted neck with a bowl shaped body.

Six-four chord: The second inversion of a triad, made by placing the fifth of the chord in the lowest voice, e.g. C is G-C-G.

Sixteenth note/rest: A note/rest half the length of an eighth note and a sixteenth the length of a whole note

Sixth: The sixth degree of the diatonic scale. Also, the interval formed by a given tone and the sixth tone above or below it, e.g. C up to a, or C down to E. intervals of the sixth may be major, minor, diminished, or augmented.

Sixth chord: The first inversion of a triad, made by placing the third of the chord in the lowest voice, e.g. C6 is E-G-C.

Skip: Melodic movement of more than one whole step.

Slide Trumpet: This instruments mouthpiece is fixed onto a long tube and can slide in and out of a long tube. By moving it in or out of the long tube the player may change the sounds by three semitones. Superseded by the Trombone.

Slur: A curved line placed above or below two or more notes of different pitch to indicate that they are to be performed in legato style.

Smorzando: An Italian dynamic indication: "fading away"

Snare Drum: Initially a gut string created the "snare" sound of the 15th century tabor. Now, metal wires create the rattling sound heard when this small drum is struck.

Soave: Sweet, mild.

Sognando: Dreamily.

Sol: In solmization, the fifth degree of the major scale.

Solmization: The term for the use of syllables for the degrees of the major scale: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do. The minor scale (natural) is La, Ti, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La.

Solo: To perform alone or as the predominant part.

Sonata: A piece for a solo, or accompanied, instrument, usually in 3 or 4 movements.

Sonatina: A short sonata.

Song Forms: The arrangement of sections in a song to contrast similar and different sections. Often, letters are used to represent different parts of a given selection: ABA, AABA, ABACA, etc.

Soprano: The highest female vocal range, above alto.

Sostenuto: Sustaining of tone or slackening of tempo.

Sostenente Piano: Sustained pitch: a sostenente Piano is a keyboard operated instrument that can sustain a pitch indefinitely, unlike a Piano or a Harpsichord.

Sostenuto Pedal: The middle pedal on a Grand piano patented in 1874 by the Steinway Corporation of America. When it is depressed it will catch and hold any dampers that are already fully raised from the strings. It can be used in conjunction with either (or both!) of the other pedals.

Sousaphone: A spiral brass Tuba with a large bell turned forward and typically used in marching bands.

Spiccato: On string instruments, a bowing technique wherein the bow is bounced on the string at moderate speed.

Spinet: The modern spinet is a small upright Piano.

Square Piano: From the 18th 19th century, this Piano was a horizontal rectangle and could be quite large and elaborately decorated.

Staccato: Detached sounds, indicated by a dot over or under a note. The opposite of legato.

Staff: The five horizontal lines upon which music is written. Usually including a clef, and having a time signature and key signature.

Stanza: A selection of a song, two or more lines long, characterized by a common meter, rhyme, and number of lines.

Steel Drum: Made from oil drums cut and hammered to various sizes for different tones and pitches. Struck with a rubber headed stick.

Steel Guitar: A Guitar with metal strings and played by sliding a metal bar over the fretted neck rather than fingertips pressing the strings.

Stesso:  (Ita) Same

Strings: Metal or artificial fibre that is appropriately tensioned between two points in stringed instrumentsand set into vibration when plucked, bowed, or struck.

String Drum: On this drum a string passes through a membrane and is rubbed to produce sound.

String instrument or Chordophone: Instruments with strings that produce sound when plucked, bowed, or struck.

Strophic: A term used to describe a song in which all the stanzas of the text are sung to the same music. The opposite of through-composed.

Strum: Brushing the fingers over the strings of a stringed instruments.


Subdominant: The fourth degree of the major or minor scale. Also, the name of the triad built on the fourth degree of the scale, indicated by IV in a major key and by iv in a minor key.

Subject: A theme or motif that is the basis for a musical form, such as a fugue or sonata.

Subito:  (Ita) Suddenly.

Submediant: The sixth degree of a major or minor scale. Also, the name of the triad built on the sixth degree of the scale, indicated by VI in a major key and by vi in a minor key.

Sul: On the.

Sul Pont: The action of "dampening" the note or chord on stringed instruments by using your hand or bow or the damper pedal on pianos.

Supertonic: The second degree of the major or minor scale. Also, the name of the triad built on the second degree of the scale, indicated by II in a major scale and iio in a minor scale.

Sur: On, over.

Suspension: The use of a Nonharmonic tone to delay the resolution of a chord, frequently as it occurs in a cadence.

Svelto:  (Ita) Quick, light.

Symphony:  A piece for large orchestra, usually in four movements, in which the first movement often is in sonata form. Also the name for a  large orchestra.

Syncopation: Accent on an unexpected beat.

Synthesizer: Small, self-contained unit of electronics. This device makes it possible to create sound by electronic synthesis.

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