Musical Terms and Styles Kentucky State Core Content


A chant is the rhythmic speaking or singing of words or sounds, often primarily on one or two main pitches called reciting tones.

Catholic Monks Singing
Musicians performing for Opera will often sit in a special area in front (and often underneathe) of the stage, called the pit. From here, the musicians will perform the overture, or introduction, to the main show, featuring many of the themes that will be featured throughout.


A concerto is a musical composition, a piece usually composed in three parts or movements, in which (usually) one solo instrument (for instance, a piano, violin, cello or flute) is accompanied by an orchestra or concert band.

A Featured Soloist performs a Concerto, or solo work for an instrument and background ensemble.


A madrigal is a secular vocal music composition, usually a part-song, of the Renaissance and early Baroque eras. Traditionally, polyphonic madrigals are unaccompanied; the number of voices varies from two to eight, and most frequently from three to six.

Madrigals would be heard amongst the people, often in castles or where people gathered. As "secular" music, it would not be sung in a church.


Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text (libretto) and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. In traditional opera, singers do two types of singing: recitative, a speech-inflected style and arias, a more melodic style. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Opera is known for being truly captivating and mesmerizing. What would cause people to feel this way?


An oratorio is a large musical composition for orchestra, choir, and soloists. Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias. However, opera is musical theatre, while oratorio is strictly a concert piece—though oratorios are sometimes staged as operas, and operas are sometimes presented in concert form. In an oratorio there is generally little or no interaction between the characters, and no props or elaborate costumes.

Oratorios are large scale works, occasionally with costumes, but no acting, scenery. Often presented at special times in the church calendar, like Christmas (Handel's "Messiah") or Easter.

Program Musical

Program music is a type of art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative. The narrative itself might be offered to the audience in the form of program notes, inviting imaginative correlations with the music.

Hector Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique is regarded as one of the first examples of program music, or music that depicts or is inspired by other works.


Sonata: a sonata is a piece of music that is played, as opposed to sung. Composed for one or more instruments almost always with continuo (harpsicord, organ, lute in an improvised manner).

A Sonata is a work for instrumentalists from the baroque era.


A symphony is an extended musical composition in Western classical music, most often written by composers for orchestra. A work usually consisting of multiple distinct sections or movements, often four, with the first movement in sonata form. Symphonies are scored for string (violin, viola, cello and double bass), brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments which altogether number about 30–100 musicians.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra, seen here, represents the typical size and instrumentation of an ensemble needed to perform a symphony.

Tone Poem

A symphonic poem or tone poem is a piece of orchestral music, usually in a single continuous movement, which illustrates or evokes the content of a poem, short story, novel, painting, landscape, or other (non-musical) source.

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