Glossary of Musical Terms


Altered Chord: An extended chord that uses one or more raised (or lowered) pitches in the upper (extended) notes of the chord.  (Example: G7#9.  Sometimes the exact alteration is not specified, and the chord could be written as as G7(alt.), in which case the player would be free to choose the alteration that sounds best.  For a detailed overview of altered chords, see GuitarPlayer magazine's article on extended and altered chords

Campanella : A style of playing melodies so that multiple strings 'ring' simultaneously.  See What is Campanella Ukulele? (YouTube) by Jonathan Lewis

Chart : A distinct way of writing the chord changes for a song, measure by measure, so that working musicians can play together without memorizing a song, or sometimes even without ever practicing together.  Charts are often written using Numeric Analysis, to facilitate transposing to different keys.  (Not to be confused with chord chart, as chord diagrams are sometimes called.)

Chord : A group of notes, generally arranged to impart a pleasing sound or emotion.  See What is a Chord? at

Chord Diagram : A diagram showing where on the fretboard to put your fingers.  May or may not include fingering labels or other labels.  Also known as Chord Chart, Chord Frame, Chord Grid, Chord Box, or Chord Graph.

Chord Factor  : Any chord can be described by the Chord Factor of each of the notes: the interval of each note from the Root note.  Imagine a scale starting at the root of the chord.  The scale may be major or minor, depending on the type of chord - or, in some cases it may be a more obscure scale.  The scale is usually composed of seven unique notes: Root, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh.  Chord Factors describe each of these notes as an interval from the Root.  (For example, a minor triad would consist of R (Root), ♭3 (flatted third), and 5 (fifth).  When using Chord Factors to describe Extended Chords, which are usually interpreted as 'stacked thirds', the 'second' can be played an octave higher, which is then called the 'ninth'.  Likewise, 'fourth' translates to 'eleventh', and 'sixth' to 'thirteenth'.

Chord Melody : Generally, playing both the melody and chord progression of a song, in a manner such that the chord accompaniment tonally and rhythmically accentuates the melody line. In Chord Melody, the song is usually arranged so that the melody is on the highest-pitched string. This would normally be the first string (or second string if the first string isn't played on that chord), or the fourth string for high-g tuned ukuleles. See

Advanced Chord Melody can start to incorporate elements of Fingerstyle, where individual notes and partial chords become more prominent.

Chromatic  :  A series of adjacent notes, separated only by a half-step each.  

  1. Made up of any or all possible notes, regardless of key signature.
    Compare and contrast with Diatonic.
  2. Adjacent notes played sequentially. For example, [C, C#, D, D#, E, F] is a chromatic run.

Diatonic : Made of only the notes within the scale of a particular key... from the Greek 'dia' (across) 'tonic' (the tones).  For example, the diatonic notes in the key of G are G, A, B, C, D, E, and F#. Diatonic chords are chords that are made up strictly of these notes. There are seven diatonic notes per key; each of these notes is the 'root' of a diatonic chord. Diatonic chords can be triads, 'seventh' chords, or 'extended' chords.
Compare and contrast with Chromatic.

Extended Chord : This is a chord that is 'extended' with notes beyond the basic triad.  Think of a triad as a Root note, another note 'a third' above the root, and another note (the 'fifth') a third above that.  The chord can be extended with 'stacked thirds'; the 'seventh' is a third above the fifth, the 'ninth' a third above that, then the 'eleventh' and 'thirteenth' above that.  (The 'fifteenth' would be the same note as the Root note, so we only define Chord Factors up to the thirteenth.)

Fingerstyle : Generally, using any fingers and thumb to pluck a melody line with accompanying harmony.  See

Fingerstyle usually incorporates some elements of Chord Melody.

Half-step : the smallest interval between notes in western music.  This is the distance from one fret to the next, on a fretted instrument.  Scales are ususally built from a series of whole-steps and half-steps.  A chromatic scale is built entirely of half-steps.

Harmonic Minor  : A scale formed by using a heptatonic Natural Minor scale, with modifications made for Tonal Harmony (see Tonal Music).   Basically, the Natural Minor scale can be described as the Tonic note and the notes at intervals of a major second, minor third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major sixth, and minor seventh from the Tonic [2, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 10 half-steps from the Tonic].  In the Harmonic Minor, there is no 'leading tone' (the note one half-step immediately below the Tonic).  In the Harmonic Minor scale, the 'leading tone' (the major seventh interval from the Tonic)  is substituted for that minor seventh, so that you get the heptatonic scale formed by the intervals W-H-W-W-H-H-'W+H'.  But it doesn't stop there.  The Harmonic Minor is actually NOT a heptatonic scale.  There are 9 notes (not 7) in the Harmonic Minor.  In addition to the 'raised' (major) seventh, the minor seventh tone is also used (often while descending the scale), AND the minor sixth tone may also be used.  Thus the full 9-note scale can be formed from the intervals W-H-W-W-H-H-H-H-H. 

Harmonized Scale  : The series of diatonic chords based at each note of a scale.  For an in-depth introduction to the harmonized scale, see Gary Rebholz's blog entry on How to use the harmonized scale

Heptatonic Scale : A 7-note scale.  Generally, the seven notes are as equally spaced as possible within an octave, resulting in 5 intervals of a whole (W) step,  and 2 half (H) steps.  The Major Scale is often described as W-W-H-W-W-W-H.  This pattern can be seen as the white keys of a piano.  See

A heptatonic (seven tone) scale consists of seven notes per octave.  The 7 notes are usually spaced as evenly as possible (maximal evenness), using 5 whole-step intervals and 2 half-steps in the arrangement as seen on a piano keyboard: 2 whole steps, 1 half step, 3 whole steps, 1 half step.

Interval - "An interval is the distance between two pitches, usually measured as a number of steps on a scale." - from

Inversions : Chords are not restricted to 'Root position', where the Root is the lowest note in the bass.  Any chord with a note other than the Root in the bass is called an 'inversion'.  Also note that any note in the chord may be transposed up or down an octave, and it's still considered to be the same 'chord'.


* Note - the scale referred to when constructing chords is the scale of the key Signature context that the chord is played in.  This is part of the reason you'll see the same chord-shape with different names, and why individual note names may differ (See Enharmonics.)

Major Scale  : A heptatonic scale formed by the intervals W-W-H-W-W-W-H.  Also Known as Ionian Mode.

Modal Music : (vs Tonal Music) - Modal Music generally adheres to a particular mode, without adjustments to make it sound 'better' as we find in Tonal Music.

Mode : one of the seven 'Greek modes' of the heptatonic (7-note) scale.  Ionian mode is the Major scale, and Aeolian mode is the Minor scale.

Nashville Number system  :  a simplified form of Numeric Analysis, usually using Arabic numbers instead of Roman Numerals.

Harmonic Minor : A Heptatonic Scale formed from the intervals W-H-W-W-H-W-W.  Note that, if you take a Major Scale, start counting at the Sixth tone, and wrap around from the seventh back to the Tonic, you get a Natural Minor scale.  (This is known as the 'Relative Minor' of that Major scale.) 
The Natural Minor scale can also be described as the Tonic note and the notes at intervals of a major second, minor third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major sixth, and minor seventh from the Tonic [2, 3, 5, 7, 9, and 10 half-steps from the Tonic]. 

Numeric Analysis : "Numeric Analysis" of chords involves describing chords via the relationships of the intervals of the scale, and of the notes of the chord to the Root note of the chord.  This type of analysis is related to Harmonic Function (wikipedia) of a chord.

There are three comonly used variations of Numeric Analysis: classic Roman Numeral Analysis, modern "Berklee" Numerical Analysis (widely used in jazz and pop), and the Nashville Number System.  (These names are unofficial.  There is no definitive authority on what things are called, and the systems themselves are not cast-in-stone either.)

This site will mainly use the classic Roman Numeral Analysis system, as it seems to be most widely understood, and we're focusing on Diatonic harmony anyway.

Octave : An interval of 8 notes on a Hepatonic Scale.  Since a Heptatonic scale has only 7 unique note names, the 8th note has the same name as the Tonic.  In Western music, there are 12 pitches; an octave is 12 half-steps.  Physics tells us that the frequency of the note an octave above the Tonic is exactly double the frequency of the Tonic; thus, they sound similar and are closely related. 

Root  : The note on which a chord is based.  The 'flavor' of a chord depends on how the other notes relate to the Root note.  The intervals between the Root and the other notes in the chord are known as the 'Chord Factors'.  A chord voicing is considered to be 'Root position', when the Root is the lowest note in the bass.

Stacked Thirds:  Most chords are based on a set of notes spaced at pleasing intervals from the Root note of the chord.  'Close' intervals of a second (2 frets) or less are usually harsh and dissonant.  Thus, all notes in a chord tend to be spaced at intervals of a third (or more) from each other.  In a basic major or minor triad (Root-Third-Fifth), the Third is obviously 'a third' above the Root note; the 'fifth' is a third above the Third note.  You can turn the triad into a 'Seventh' chord by adding the Seventh note of the scale, which is a third above the Fifth note.

Extended Chords (used mostly in jazz) can extend the stack beyond the Seventh, to the Ninth (a third above the Seventh, which is actually an octave above the Second), Eleventh (an octave above the Fourth), or Thirteenth (an octave above the Sixth.)

Tonal Music  : Music which uses a particular set of harmonic conventions to generate a 'pleasing' resolution from Dominant chords back to the Tonic.  Particularly in Minor Keys, adjustments are made to the 'natural' minor scale (using notes from the 'harmonic minor' scale and/or the 'melodic minor' scale) to make it sound 'better'.  Contrast to modal music, where (in the Aeolian Mode) the slightly 'creepy' sound of the natural minor scale is embraced. 

Triad : A three-note chord, generally composed of a 'Root' note along with the third and fifth notes of the scale counted from that root.

Voicing: The way that the notes of a chord are arranged in relation to each other.  The concept of a chord voicing is similar to the concept of a chord inversion, except there are multiple possible voicings for any particular inversion.  In 'Root position', the Root is the lowest note in the bass.  In 'First Inversion' of a triad, the Root note is conceptually moved from the bottom to the top of the stack, above the Fifth.  However, the Fifth could also be moved up an octave, so that the order of the notes, from lowest to highest pitch, is Third, Root, Fifth.  This is also considered to be 'First Inversion'.  Thus there are at least two possible voicings of each inversion of a basic triad.  (  For more complex chords, there are many more possible voicings.

Whole-step : Two half-steps.  This is a distance of two frets, on a fretted instrument.