musical terminology

Musicians in different environments use different words to describe the same things, and the same words can have very different meanings, depending on who’s using them and where.

For example, in musicology-land, a ‘part’ almost always refers to an independent voice within a musical texture. So, a piece of music in two parts has two voices or instrumental lines which are played or sung together, but are distinct from one another.

However, in many kinds of traditional music, a tune with two parts is a tune that has two sections, played one after the other. There’s the A part, and then there’s the B part. Musicologists tend to call these ‘strains’ (1st strain, 2nd strain) which can give their descriptions a sense of constipation.

Now if even a very basic piece of musical terminology like ‘part’ can have quite separate meanings to different musical communities, how are we going to describe detailed musical material in a way that’s comprehensible to more than one group? This is just one of our ongoing challenges.

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