Latin Phrases and Terms Used in Music


Most musical terms used in modern sheet music are Italian. Interestingly, there is a good number of Latin words that are used in musical terminology. Many go as far back as the Middle Ages. This is not a complete list, but someone might find it helpful.




Ad libitum - (performed) at one's will
Avena - a reed
Bis - twice
Breve - "short"
Chorus - a company of singers, a refrain of a song
Clausula Primaria or Principalis - the principal close
Coda - literally "tail"
Fistual Panis - Pan's flute
Fistula dulcis - a common flute
Fistula Germanica - a German flute
Fluta - flute
Foramina - holes of a flute or a similar instrument
Fuga - fugue, a contrapuntal composition in two or more voices
Genus - "a kind"
Genus melodiae - "kind of melody"
Major - "larger", "greater"
Manu -ductor - "a hand -leader", formerly applied to an individual who led a body of performers by beating time with his hand
Neumae - divisions or running passages
Organorum intabulaturae - a term for compositions expressly intended for the organ
Passiones - Latin for "Passion Music"
Precentor - leader of a choir
Quatour - synonymous with quartetto
Retro - back, backward
Sub - under
Tacet - "is silent"
Tenebrae - a musical service in commemoration of the darkness which attended the crucifixion of Christ
Tintinnabula - little bells
Voc acuta - a high voice
Vox gravis - a low voice