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Glossary of Jazz Terms



“A” SECTION
The first structural section of a song. Used in reference to common jazz standard song forms including AABA, ABAB and ABAC.

ACCENTED PASSING NOTE
A passing note occurring on a strong beat.

ALTERED NOTES
Chord tones or extensions that have been sharped or flatted, including b9, #9, #11, b13, #5, and b5.

ANACRUSIS
See Pickups.

ARPEGGIATED MELODIC LINE
Melody that moves by skips, usually outlining chord tones.

AXE
Slang for musical instrument.

“B” SECTION
The second structural section of a song, occurring after the “A” section.

BACK BEAT
Strong accents played by the drummer on beats two and four to generate a rhythmic drive.

BACK PHRASING
Delaying the start of a melodic phrase by several or more beats for stylistic purposes.

BAR
Slang for measure.

BEBOP
A style period in jazz, originating in the 1940’s through the innovations of Charlie Parker and his contemporaries. Bebop is the parent style for what is considered modern jazz. It is characterized in part by complex melodic lines and rhythms.

BLOCK CHORDS
Four-note chords voiced in close position with all notes played or sung at the same time, i.e., not arpeggiated.

BLUE NOTE
Generally considered to be the b3, #4 and b7 scale degrees, but may also refer to the general bending/inflection of notes in a bluesy way.

BLUES
A 12-bar song form and chord progression frequently used by jazz and rock musicians.

BLUESY
A stylistic way of treating a melody or improvised line through the use of blue notes (b3, #4 and b7) and ‘bluesy’ inflections such as pitch slides.

BLUES SCALE
A unique scale that is commonly used with blues and other chord progressions. It consists of the 1,b3, 4, #4, 5 and b7 scale degrees.

BOSSA NOVA
A Brazilian rhythmic style that has a straight eighth feel as opposed to the swing eighths of swing feel.

BREAK; RHYTHMIC BREAK
All musicians play a short, accented note on a designated beat, followed by silence. The break can last from a few beats to a few measures or more.

BREATH ACCENT
See Breath Pulse.

BREATH PULSE
A slight accent by a singer or horn player caused by an increased amount of airflow, similar to saying the word, “huh.” Breath pulses are used regularly in swing feel to facilitate off-beat accents and other articulations.

BRIDGE
The B section of an AABA song form.

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CAESURA
See Railroad Tracks.

CHANGES
Slang for Chord Changes.

CHART
A lead sheet that contains arranging elements such as an intro, endings and/or rhythmic kicks.

CHORD FUNCTION
A reference to the harmonic role of a given chord within a progression. For example in the key of C major, a Dmi7 chord functions as the ii-7 chord because it is built on the second degree of a C major scale. However, in the key of F, a Dmi7 chord functions as the vi-7 chord.

CHORD SCALE
A scale works well as a melodic basis for improvisation with a certain corresponding chord.

CHORUS
One full time through the chord progression of a song. Musicians may play or sing the melody for a chorus, or an improvisation solo for one or more choruses, and so on.

CHROMATIC APPROACH NOTE
Neighbor note that precedes another note from a half step below or above.

CIRCLE OF 5THS
A circular diagram illustrating all 12 key centers in clockwise succession by the interval of a perfect fifth.

CLOSE POSITION VOICINGS
A circular diagram illustrating all 12 key centers in clockwise succession by the interval of a perfect fifth.

CODA
A passage of music played only once at the end of an arranged song. The coda section typically contains a tag or other type of extended of ending.

CODA SIGN Ø
One of the symbols used, along with D.S. or D.C., to dictate the navigation scheme of notated music. Coda signs are always used in pairs: the first one marking the location to jump to the coda section, and the second identifying the start of the coda section.

CODA SECTION
The final section of notated music, identified by a coda sign.

COMP
Slang for accompanying or complementing. The playing of rootless chord voicings by piano or guitar when accompanying a soloist. Harmonic instruments comp when a bass player is present playing the chord roots.

COMPRESSION
A musical phrase taken from a song and interjected into an improvisational solo based on a different song. Also referred to as, quote.

COUNT-OFF
The counting of numbers to begin a piece of music that is in tempo when two or more musicians are present. A typical count-off would be, “1 (rest), 2 (rest), 1, 2, 3, 4.”

CROSS STICK
Hitting the rim of the snare drum with the middle of the drum stick as a regular part of a drum pattern.

CUE
A hand gesture or other visual signal during the performance of a song giving musical direction to the other performers, such as to return to the top of of tune, or go to the coda section.

CUT TIME D
Slang for the meter 2/2.

DAMPER PEDAL
See Sustain Pedal.

DIATONIC
Notes, melodies and/or chords that are derived exclusively from within the notes of a given major or minor scale, with no alterations.

D. C. (DA CAPO)
Repeat to the beginning of the song or arrangement.

D. C. al FINE
Repeat to the beginning of the song or arrangement and play to the end of the piece as designated by Fine.

DOUBLE-TIME
A change in tempo that is twice as fast as the previous tempo.

DOUBLE-TIME FEEL
A tempo that feels twice as fast as the actual tempo. Chords and melody progress at the given tempo designation, but the underlying rhythmic feel is double-time.

DRAG-PHRASE
A stylistic way of executing a melodic line that is extremely laid back, so much so that it sounds as though the lines are rhythmically dragging behind.

DRAGGING
The undesired slowing down of the tempo; the opposite of rushing.

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EDGE
The beginning of the tune.

EVEN EIGHTHS
See Straight Eighths.

EXTENSIONS
The 9th, 11th or 13th scale degrees of any given key. Extensions are commonly added to chords for interest and color.

FAKE BOOK
A compilation of lead sheets notating melody, chord symbols, and if applicable, lyrics.

FALL-OFF
A descending pitch slide from a given note, used for stylistic purposes.

FILL
The interjection of a melodic or rhythmic idea where there is open and space in the music. For example, one musician may play fills behind another who is playing the melody.

FORM
See Song Form.

FORWARD PHRASING
Beginning a phrase at an earlier starting point than originally written.

FOUR-FEEL; 4 FEEL
See Swing “4” Feel.

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GIG
Slang for professional music performance, often referring to a performance in a club or private party.

GIG BOOK
An organized book of lead sheets and charts.

GROOVE
1. A rhythmic style, such as swing or bossa nova.
2. To sing or play with a good rhythmic feel; to lock into the same rhythmic “pocket” as the other players or singers

GUIDE TONES
The 3rds and 7ths (or 6ths) of the chords in a chord progression. Guide tones define the harmonic color of each chord.

GUIDE TONE LINES
Static (stepwise whole and half note) melodic lines created by connecting the 3rds, 7ths of each chord in a progression. Guide tone lines serve to outline the harmonic character of a progression and are often used for improvisation practice.

HALF-TIME
A change in tempo that istwice as slow as the previous tempo.

HALF-TIME FEEL
A tempo that feels twice as slow as the actual tempo. Chords and melody progress at the given tempo designation, but the underlying rhythmic feel is half-time.

HARMONIZE
To create chord structure and/or voicings for a given melody.

HARMONIC RHYTHM
The rate of speed in which chord changes progress and the relative duration of each chord. For example, the first two measures of a tune may each have 2 chords per bar, and the next two measures may have only 1 chord per bar.

HEAD
The melody of a song. Alternately, can refer to the beginning of a song.

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IMPROVISATION
In a jazz context, spontaneous composition based on the existing chord progression of a song.

IN THE POCKET
The process of musicians playing or singing in a way that feels rhythmically comfortable. Being in the pocket is synonymous to grooving.

INFLECTION
A slight pitch bend leading into a note from below or above.

INTRO
Introduction; music that is played before the melody begins.

JAM; JAM SESSION
A session where musicians get together to play jazz and improvise.

JAZZ BALLAD
A rhythmic style that is characterized by a slow, steady feeling of four beats per measure, usually with a slight underlying eighth note triplet feeling.

JAZZ STANDARD
Well-known, commonly performed songs in the repertoire of most professional jazz musicians, generally written prior to the 1960s, often originally composed for Broadway or motion pictures.

JAZZ WALTZ
A rhythmic feel in 3/4 meter. Jazz Waltz differs from a traditional waltz in that the 8th notes are swing-eighths, just as in swing feel.

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KICK
A specific rhythm played by the drummer, usually serving to support the same rhythm played by other members of the band or choir. A kick can be as brief as a single 8th note, or as long as two measures or more.
LAYING BACK
The stylistic placement of rhythms very slightly behind each steady quarter note beat.

LEAD SHEET
Music that is notated with melody, chord symbols, and if applicable, lyrics.

LEADING TONE
The note that is a 1/2 step below the tonic of any major or minor key center. For example, the note “B” is the leading tone for the keys of both C major and C minor.

LEGATO
Smooth and connected.

LICK
A melodic motif, usually referred to in the context of jazz improvisation.

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MELISMA
The singing of a melodic line on a single syllable or word.

MODE
A scale that shares the same notes of another scale but has a different starting note. For example, G mixolydian mode has the same notes as a C major scale, but it starts and ends on the note “G.”

MOTIVE; MOTIF
A melodic phrase, which often serves as the basis for improvisational repetition and development.

MODULATION
Changing from one key to another within a song or arrangement.

NEIGHBOR NOTE
The note that is adjacent (by half step or whole step) to another note.

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OCTAVE DISPLACEMENT
The shifting of a melodic segment, phrase or passage one octave higher or lower.

OFF-BEAT
The weak beats of a measure, such as beats 2 and 4 in 4/4 music, or the “ands” of the beat in a series of eighth notes.

ORNAMENTATION
Melodic decoration of a note by use of inflection, grace notes, surrounding melodic approach notes, or other.

OUTSIDE
Improvisation that utilizes tonalities not traditionally compatible with the tonalities in the accompaniment. For example, if an improviser played/sang an Eb major scale over a D7 chord change, that would be considered playing outside.

PASSING NOTE
A scalar melodic note that passes between two other notes, usually chord tones.

PATTERN; SEQUENCE
A short melodic shape that is repeated on different starting notes multiple times.

PEDAL TONE
A single bass note, usually the root or the fifth of the key center, which remains constant underneath changing chords above.

PHRASING
1. The creative placement of melodic phrases slightly before or after their original start or end points. (See back phrasing and forward phrasing.)
2. The expressive manner in which a melody is performed, especially in the rate of speed of each phrase, the weighting of each note by use of accent or word stress, and the degree of conversational quality.

PHRASING OVER THE BAR LINE
Suspension of a melodic phrase over the predictable 2-, 4-, or 8- bar divisions of the original phrase structure of a song, often a natural result of using back or forward phrasing.

PICKUPS; ANACRUSIS
Melodic notes that occur before the first measure of a phrase. For example, the first three notes of “Autumn Leaves” are pickups.

PIVOT CHORDS
A chord that serves as a link between two implied key centers in a jazz standard song. The pivot chord has an harmonic function in both of the key centers and helps to smooth the transition.

POLYCHORD
The superimposition of one chord over another, played simultaneously. For example, D/C7.

POLYRHYTHM
The juxtaposition of one metric feeling (such as 3/4) over a different meter (such as 4/4). For example, a soloist may imply a feeling of 5/4 temporarily in the context of a tune in 4/4.

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QUARTAL
Chords built primarily with notes in the interval of a 4th, or improvisation where the interval of a 4th is used as a primary melodic component.

QUARTAL VOICING
A voicing built primarily in perfect fourth intervals.

QUOTE
See Compression.

RAILROAD TRACKS; CAESURA
Two short, parallel lines at a slant that indicate for the musicians to pause momentarily.

REHARMONIZE
Creative alterations in the chord progression of a song.

RELATIVE MAJOR
The major key that corresponds to a related minor key and shares the same notes and key signature. For example, F major is the relative major of D minor.

RELATIVE MINOR
The minor key that corresponds to a related major key and shares the same notes and key signature. For example, D minor is the relative minor of F major.

RHYTHM CHANGES
Reference to the chord progression of the song, “I’ve Got Rhythm.” Numerous other songs use the same progression with a different melody.

RHYTHMIC BREAK
See Break.

RHYTHMIC KICK
See Kick.

RIDE PATTERN
A specific rhythm that jazz drummers play on the ride cymbal when in swing feel.

RIFF
A repeated melodic lick or motive. Riffs are usually short and ‘catchy.’

RIM SHOT
A short and loud drum accent sounded by hitting the rim of a snare drum with the middle of a drum stick.

ROOT
The tonic note of a chord.

ROOTLESS VOICING
A chord voicing that does not contain the root of the chord. Rootless voicings are typically used by pianists and guitar players when working with a bass player.

RUBATO
No tempo; freely.

RUSHING
The undesired speeding up of the tempo; the opposite of dragging.

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SAMBA
A rhythmic style and dance originating from Brazil. Samba has a straight eighth, “2” feel in which each measure feels like it has two beats per measure.

SCAT SINGING
Vocal improvisation with use of syllables that emulate instrumental jazz improvisation.

SECONDARY DOMINANT
The dominant seventh chord a perfect fifth above the chord its progressing to, regardless of the key of the song. For example in the key of C major, a D7 progressing to G7 would be referred to as the five of five, meaning it’s a fifth above the V7 chord of the key. (V7/V7)

SET-UP
In a set-up the drummer plays an improvised rhythmic fill leading into, preparing or setting up a rhythmic kick or series of kicks. The set-up may be as short as a single beat or as long as several measures.

SEQUENCE
See Pattern

SEVENTH CHORD
A four-note chord comprised of a triad with an added 7th scale degree. Seventh chords can be major, minor, dominant and so on.

SHAKE
The repeated pitch fluctuation of a held note for stylistic purposes.

SITTING IN
Unrehearsed performance where a musician/singer is invited to perform a tune or two on someone else’s gig.

SLASHES
Short, slanted lines positioned in each measure of a rhythm section lead sheet to indicate the beats of the measure and chord alignment.

SLASH CHORD
A chord played over a bass note that is different than the root of that chord. (Example: G-7/C)

SOLO
Improvisation of new melodic lines over the chord progression of a song.

SONG FORM
The organizational structure of a song. Common song forms in jazz include AABA, ABAB, ABAC and 12-bar blues.

STANDARD
See Jazz Standard.

STRAIGHT EIGHTH NOTES; STRAIGHT 8THS
Eighth notes that evenly divide each beat in half, as contrasted by Swing 8ths which have an uneven division. (See Swing Eighth Notes.)

STOP TIME
An accompaniment pattern where a passage of music is played with a repetitive series of rhythmic breaks, usually occuring on the same beat of the measures.

SUBDIVIDE
The dividing of a rhythmic duration into two or more parts. For example a musician may be improvising on a ballad in 4/4, while also actively feeling a subdivision of 8th notes.

SUBSTITUTION
The replacement of one chord for another in a chord progression for purposes of creative harmonic interest.

SUSTAIN PEDAL; DAMPER PEDAL
The piano foot pedal located on the far right. Use of the sustain pedal helps to connect the chords smoothly in legato playing.

SWING EIGHTHS NOTES; SWING 8THS
Eighth notes that are interpreted with an underlying triplet feel.

SWING “4” FEEL
A driving feeling of four beats per measure. In “4” feel the bassist plays a walking bass line. (See “2” feel.)

SWING “2” FEEL
A rhythmic feeling of two beats per measure. In “2” feel the bassist plays primarily on beats 1 and 3. (See “4” feel.)

SYNCOPATION
Rhythmic emphasis on the weak beats of a measure, such as beats two and four in 4/4.

TAG
The repetition of the last phrase or part of the last phrase of a song, usually 2 or 3 times.

THROUGH-COMPOSED
A song form where no sections are repeated. For example the form ABCD would be through-composed.

TIME
A reference to maintaining steady tempo. It is every musician’s goal to develop a good sense of time.

TONE COLOR
The timbre of a voice or instrument.

TONIC
The first degree of a scale.

TONIC CHORD
The chord built on the first degree of a scale; the “I” chord.

TOP
Slang for the beginning of the tune.

TRADING FOURS
A jazz improviser trading 4-bar solo phrases with a drummer (or other improviser). For example, the improviser plays 4, then the drummer solos on 4, then the improviser, and so on. It is also common to trade eights or sometimes twos.

TRANSCRIBE
Notating music heard from recordings.

TRANSPOSE
The changing a song’s key from one to another.

TRAPS SET
The standard drum set played by jazz drummers. Typically includes a bass drum, one or more toms, a snare drum, one or more cymbals, and a hi-hat.

TRITONE SUBSTITUTION
A dominant seventh chord that substitutes for the chord whose root is three whole steps (a tritone) away. For example, Gb7 is the tritone substitution for C7.

TURN
A specific style of pitch inflection that connects two notes and is commonly used in jazz.

TURNAROUND
Short chord progression that cycles through the circle of 5ths. For example, |Imaj7 |vi-7 |ii-7 |V7 ||

TURNBACKS
See Turnarounds.

TWO-FEEL; 2 FEEL
See Swing “2” Feel.

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UP-BEATS
See Off-Beats.

VAMP
A short chord progression which is repeated either several times, or indefinately until cue. Vamps often serves as intros and/or endings.

VERSE
In jazz standard song forms, an introductory passage occurring before the main body (chorus) of the song, and usually performed rubato. Jazz standard songs that contain verses most often originated from Broadway shows.

VOCALESE
The addition of lyrics to, and performance of, a previously recorded instrumental solo. Well-known writers of vocalese lyrics include King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson and Jon Hendricks.

VOICE LEADING
Pertaining to arranging or jazz piano (or guitar), the linear continuity between all voices or notes of a chord when moving from one chord to another.

VOICING
Pertaining to arranging or jazz piano (or guitar), the specific arrangement of the notes of a chord, including any extensions or altered notes.

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WALK
To walk is to play a walking bass line.

WALKING BASS LINE
A swing feel bass line characterized by four quarter notes (with possible rhythmic variation) in each measure. Walking bass lines are in “4” feel and consist of a combination of scalar and arpeggiated lines.

WOODSHEDDING
Practicing!

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