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Musical terms, signs, and abbreviations are always used in music for effective performance and good music interpretation. Composers normally use these terms to give directions on how their music will be performed.
These musical terms are very important in music performance because they guide musicians to bring music to life as intended by the composers.
And in truth, every musician should know how to interpret any musical terms they come across for better performance. Knowledge of these terms will make a musician’s performance more precise with more technique.
There are several musical terms used in music today to specify the dynamics, tempo, and style of performance. As a matter of fact, most of these musical terms are in Latin as the Italian language.
This is because the Italian composers were the first to write these directions, indicating how their music should be performed.
However, these terms categorically make it easier for musicians to connect musically regardless of their indigenous language.
In this article, we will have classified musical terms signs, and abbreviations into four categories for our discussion. In particular, the four categories are musical terms that indicate dynamics, tempo, change of tempo, and style of performance.
Musical Terms Indicating Dynamic (Intensity)
In music notation, dynamic signs or terms are fundamentally used to inform the performer about the degree of the volume of a musical note or phrase. Also, it gives directives to musicians on how the high or low the musical passage should be performed.
The musical terms indicating dynamics signify how the volume of a musical piece changes over time as well. They let performers know if the volume of the music phrase or passage should gradually become louder or softer.
In fact, they add more value to musical expression as desired by the composer. The list below contains some of the musical terms to signify dynamic or intensity in music notation.
Crescendo: Gradually getting louder. This term is from the Italian word “crescere” and it means “to grow”. Crescendo is the opposite of decrescendo and is often abbreviated as “cresc“.
It is used in musical content to inform a performer to smoothly increase the volume of a specified phrase or passage. Typically, the crescendo symbol looks like the “less than” (<) symbol but covers the entire length of the musical passage in which the crescendo is used.
Usually, the dynamic mark is always preceding and succeeding the crescendo to indicate the desired volume before and after the crescendo.
Decrescendo: Gradually getting softer. This term is from the Italian word “decrescere” and it means “to decrease or diminish”. A decrescendo is the opposite of a crescendo and is often abbreviated as “decresc“.
This term is used in musical content to notify a performer that a specified phrase or passage should be smoothly decreasing in volume. Sometimes a crescendo symbol that looks like a “greater than” (>) symbol but covers the whole length of the musical passage with a decrescendo is used.
Usually, there is a dynamic mark before and after the decrescendo to specify the required volume before and after the decrescendo.
ALSO READ: Facts You Need To Know About Musical Notation
Diminuendo: Gradually getting softer. This term has the same functionally as decrescendo and is abbreviated as “dim.” or “dimin“. Similarly, to decrescendo, a performer should decrease the volume of the specific passage of a composition smoothly. Also, diminuendo used the same symbol in the same manner as decrescendo.
Forte: Loud. This term is used in music for a passage that is marked to be performed loudly. Forte is commonly notated in music as “f“.
Fortissimo: Very loud. The superlative form of forte is fortissimo which means very loud. This is definitely louder than forte and typically abbreviated as “ff“.
Mezzo forte: Moderately loud. This is a directive to perform the specified passage of a piece moderately loudly. Mezzo forte is not to a certain extent so loud as forte. It is normally abbreviated as “mf“.
Mezzo Piano: Moderately soft. This term is abbreviated as “mp”. It is a dynamic mark used as a direction in music that a passage of a composition should be played moderately soft. But not to a certain extent as soft as piano.
Pianissimo: Performed very softly. This pianissimo is abbreviated as pp. It is a musical term that indicated that a passage of a piece should be played very softly. This is even softer than piano (p) and mezzo piano (mp).
Piano: Soft. This term is commonly abbreviated as “p”. It is typically a dynamic mark used in music to tell a musician that a particular passage or line of a piece or composition should be played or performed softly.
Other Music Terms Used For Dynamics
Other terms in this category are as follows:
|Forte piano||Loud and immediately soft|
|Fortississimo||Very very loud. Abbreviated as “fff“.|
|Meno forte||Less loudly|
|Meno piano||Less soft|
|Molto fortissimo||Extremely loud|
|Molto pianissimo||Extremely softly|
|Pianississimo||Very very quiet. Abbreviated as “ppp“.|
|Piu forte||More loudly|
|Piu piano||More soft|
Musical Terms indicating Tempo (Speed) of A Music
This section focus on musical terms for tempo (music tempo terms). In reality, the tempo in music is all about the speed at which a musical piece is performed. The speed of music usually depends on the mood a composer intended to create.
And in musical notation, the tempo can be notated in three different ways which are modern language, Beat Per Minute (BPM), and Italian music terms.
The musical term indicating tempo is used by composers to inform musicians how fast or slow a passage of a piece should be played to create the composer’s desired mood.
Typically, Italian music terms are common in music notation to give musicians a directive on how the music should be performed.
Of course, Italian has been used for centuries as the language of music. Therefore, we will base our musical terms used to indicate the tempo of music on a common Italian term.
The following are some of the musical terms used in musical notation to indicate the speed of the music.
Adagietto: Rather slow or fairly slow. This term is a direction in music that indicates playing at a fairly slow tempo. Adagietto is a slightly faster speed than adagio and also slower than andante. This tempo is around 65–69 BPM.
Adagio: Slowly with great expression. This is typically abbreviated as “adag.”, “adgo“, “ado“. “adgº“, or “adº“. Adagio is a tempo marking for slow speed in the middle of largo and andante. Adagio is around 66–76 BPM.
Allegretto: Moderately fast. This term is a directive to perform the indicated section of music moderately fast and rather lively. Allegretto is not as fast as allegro but faster than andante with a pulse around 112–120 BPM.
ALSO READ: What You Need To Know About Slur And Its Function In Music Notation
Allegro: Fast or quick at a brisk lively tempo. This is a directive that a piece or passage of a piece should be performed fast, quick, and bright. Allegro speed is in the middle of allegretto and vivace and it is around 120–156 BPM.
Andantino: Slower than andante. This is a very special tempo relatively to andante. Normally, it is a directive to perform music at a speed that is slightly faster than andante. And sometimes it is used to specify a speed that is slightly slower than andante. The tempo for Andantino is around 80–108 BPM.
Andate: At walking pace or speed. This term is used as a musical direction that a passage of a piece or the entire piece should be performed moderately at a walking pace. This tempo marking is between largo and moderato and around 76–108 BPM.
Largo: Slow and broad. This is the musical term used as a direction for a very slow and solemn tempo in music. It is around 40–60 BPM.
Lento: Slowly. A directive that a musical piece or a section of the piece should be played or performed slowly. The lento as a tempo of the music is around 45–60 BPM.
Prestissimo: As fast as possible. This term is used on the passage of music to be performed at a speed that is very fast as possible. Prestissimo is the fastest speed in musical notation. Faster than presto at a tempo between 200 BPM and above.
Presto: Quick. This term is a directive to perform a section of music or composition very quickly. Presto is the second musical tempo that is very fast and it is around 168–200 BPM. It is faster than allegro that is commonly used in music notation.
Other Terms Used For Tempo
There are several other music tempo terms apart from those we discussed above. In particular, some other music tempo terms used in music to indicate tempo are listed below:
|Grave||Really slow and solemn between 20–45 BPM.|
|Larghetto||Rather broadly between 60–66 BPM.|
|Larghissimo||Very slow as possible between 24 BPM and below.|
|Lento||Slowly between 45–60 BPM.|
|Moderato||At a moderate speed or pace.|
Musical Terms For Change Of Tempo
In brief, these are musical terms that give the performer a composers’ idea of how slow or fast the music should feel or be performed. In the middle of a performance, composers may likely choose to change the tempo of a piece of music.
Therefore, he/she will need the means to convey that intention to the performer of the piece. And in order to achieve this end, there are some musical terms available to be used.
All we need to do is write the term in a very appropriate section of the music where we want the effect to take place. The musical terms below are normally used to signal changes of tempo in music notation.
A tempo: In time. This is an instruction to go back to the original tempo after an intentional deviation. A tempo is usually used after a term like ritardando to help the performer know the right time to go back to the original speed.
Accelerando: Gradually getting faster. This musical term is a directive to gradually increase the tempo of music or an indication that music should be getting faster until there is an indication to stop. Also, dotted lines are usually used with the accelerando to specify the length of musical passage it covers. And the accelerando is often abbreviated as “accel” or “accelº“.
ALSO READ: What You Need To Know About Musical Tone and Sound
Rallentando: Gradually getting slower. This is a musical term that gives a directive to perform a section of music by slowing the tempo gradually. The abbreviation often used for rallentando is “rall“.
Ritardando: Becoming gradually slower. A directive to perform the indicated passage of a composition with a gradual slowing of the tempo, or to gradually delay the tempo. The term is almost similar to rallentando. The abbreviation usually used for ritardando is “rit” or “ritard“.
Ritenuto: Held back; suddenly becoming slower. This term is a directive to perform the passage of music with an immediate reduction of speed. This is performed more suddenly and extremely than a ritardando. Specifically, the ritenuto is commonly abbreviated as “riten“.
Rubato: This term is all about rhythmic freedom in music that transmits flexibility and emotion to the performance. It allows the performer to gracefully stretch, slowing down, and also speeding up the tempo of a passage as desired.
Music Terms indicating Style Of performance
The music can be performed in so many ways with different expressions and styles. And in reality, the expressive interpretation of music notes and rhythm is the soul of any music.
And when it is well done, it ignites the emotion of the listeners as well as performers. Even a brief change in the tempo of music at the right passage has the power to create a tinge of emotion.
Emotion is the life of music and without it, music will only get boring. The style used in musical performances to generate emotion are many and varied. Some of them are listed and described below.
A Capella: Unaccompanied music. This is originally a musical performance by unaccompanied voices. It tells musicians to perform music without any instrumental accompaniment.
Ad libitum: At the performer’s pleasure or convenience. This musical term is commonly abbreviated as “ad lib” or “Ad l”. It is a directive give to the performer to use his/her discretion. In addition, it tells the performer to carry out the marked passage “at his/her pleasure” or “as he/she desires”.
Al fine: To the End. This term is normally used with Da Capo to indicate to the End or sometimes to where you find the word FINE (which indicates end). So you will see Da Capo al Fine which means go back to the beginning and stop at FINE or END.
Alla caccia: In a hunting style. This is a directive to musicians to perform a passage of music in a style of hunting music.
ALSO READ: What You Need To Know About Articulation In Music And Its Function
Alla Marcia: In a marching style. This is a directive that establishes a passage of music to be performed in the style of a march. And it is commonly in 2/4 or 4/4 signature with a downbeat that carry an accent.
Allargando: Getting louder, slower, and broader. This is a term in music that is normally abbreviated as “allarg“. It is a directive to a performer that the indicated section should be performed growing broader, slower, and louder, and more stately.
Appassionato: To perform the music passionately or deeply emotionally. This is a musical term that gives a directive to a performer to perform the indicated passage passionately, also with a great amount of emotion.
Calando: Gradually getting softer and slower. This musical term is used as a direction in music to inform the performer that the music should die away in volume as well as tempo.
Cantabile: In a singing style. This means that a piece should be performed in a singing style. Likewise, performing in a flowingly, melodiously, and graceful style that is full of expression.
Da capo: Repeating from the beginning. This musical term is commonly abbreviated as “D.C.” and it is an Italian term that means “go back and start again from the beginning”.
Dal segno: Repeat from the sign §. This is a musical term that is usually abbreviated as “D.S.“. It serves as a navigation mark in music notation and gives instruction to musicians to repeat the music from the sign known as segno.
ALSO READ: What is Legato in Music, Its Technique And Interpretation
Dolce: Sweetly. This term is used to tell musicians to perform the passage pointed out from a piece softly and sweetly, alternative with tender emotion.
Dolcissimo: More Sweetly. This is a superlative expression of a dolce. It is a directive given to musicians to perform the passage marked out with a greater degree compared to dolce. That means sweeter and softer and with higher tender emotion than “dolce.”
Fine: The end. This is a musical term that indicates the end of a movement or composition when a section is repeated.
Legato: Smoothly connected. This serves as a directive that a section in a musical piece should be performed smoothly, gracefully, and in a connected style without intervening silence from note to note. For this purpose, the slur is sometimes used to indicate legato in a musical piece.
Maestoso: To be performed majestically or in a majestic manner. This musical term serves as a guide to musicians that the marked section should be performed in a stately, dignified, and in a majestic manner. The interpretation of maestoso is dynamic and varied with the musician’s style of music.
Marcia: This means in march style orlike a march and you can see how it was used in “Alla Marcia“.
ALSO READ: What You Need To Know About Cadence In Music
Morendo: Dying away or fading away. This is a guide in a musical piece for the performer to perform a selected section or passage in such a way that the passage will die away or diminishes in tempo and tone. Specifically, morendo will build a musical effect of a slow ritardando and a diminuendo with an intense fade.
Poco a poco: Little by little. This musical term is usually used as a direction to alter tempo marking in music. For instance, when used with accelerando to have “rallentando poco a poco“. This typically means let the music get slower little by little.
Staccatissimo: This is a superlative of staccato. It is a directive in music that notes should be played in an extremely detached, separated, and distinct way. In particular, staccatissimo is indicated by a solid wedge directly above or below the note head.
Staccato: Short and detached sound. This musical term is used as a direction in music that notes should be played in a detached, separated, distinct manner. Specifically, this is done with short intervening silence from note to note. For this purpose, a dot directly above or below the note head is sometimes used to denote staccato in a music notation.
Of course, there are many other musical terms, signs, and abbreviations used in music notation. With this in mind, those terms we discussed in this article are just selected ones.
In case you are playing a piece with other musical terms not discussed or mentioned here, you can check the term online. Also, you can ask the meaning of the term from your teacher if you have one. Just make sure you understand these terms and how to play or perform them.
At Phamox Music, we go all out for exactness and honesty. For this purpose, if by any means you found any possible glitch, be it factual, editorial or something that we need to update, kindlycontact us.
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- Rhythm and Tempo.
- Melody and Harmony.
- Using These Terms (and others)
- Supported by: Drew Silverstein and Michael Hobe.
Dynamics are how loud or soft the music is or should be played. Tempo is the speed at which a passage of music is or should be played. Use the musical terms from the Word Box to best describe the tempo, or speed, of each animal below on the line provided.What are the main musical terms? ›
- 12 bar blues. 12 bar blues is one of the most common chord progressions in popular music and the most common one in the blues genre. ...
- A capella. Music performed without instrumental background. ...
- Accelerando. ...
- Acoustic. ...
- Adagio. ...
- Allegro. ...
- Andante. ...
|Musical Terms||Meaning or Description|
|A Cappella||One or more singers performing without instrumental accompaniment|
|A Tempo||To sing or play as per the original tempo of the song|
|Accelerando||To gradually quicken the tempo of the song|
|Accent||Rhythmically significant stress in a line of verse|
This series introduces the six key elements of music including rhythm, texture, dynamics, pitch, form, and timbre. Children will build their knowledge of basic music techniques through a set of fun activities based on each element, and they'll grow their confidence and collaborative skills along the way.What are the 8 words related to music? ›
Music: Piano, Jazz, Song, Guitar, Lyrics, Compose, Singer, Concert.What are the 4 major tempo in music? ›
Allegro – fast, quickly and bright (109–132 BPM) Vivace – lively and fast (132–140 BPM) Presto – extremely fast (168–177 BPM) Prestissimo – even faster than Presto (178 BPM and over)What are the 4 dynamics in music? ›
What are the types of dynamics in music? Dynamics are the range of volume that music notes can be played. They create a scale starting with pianissimo (very soft), to piano (soft), to mezzo-piano (medium soft), to mezzo-forte (medium loud), to forte (loud), and finally to fortissimo (very loud).What are the 3 types of tempo? ›
Instrumental music with three kinds of tempo (fast tempo: >120 bpm, presto and allegro; medium tempo: 76–120 bpm, moderato and andante; and slow tempo: 60–76 bpm, adagio and larghetto) was selected by three music professors.What are the 7 elements of music? ›
Although the exact definition of music varies widely even in the West, music contains melody, harmony, rhythm, timbre, pitch, silence, and form or structure.
There are seven of these: Pitch, Duration, Dynamics, Tempo, Timbre, Texture and Structure.What are the 5 basic musical elements? ›
Melody, harmony, rhythm, and form and the expressive elements of dynamics, tempo, and timbre (tone color).What is the musical terms of rhythm? ›
Rhythm—The term “rhythm” has more than one meaning. It can mean the basic, repetitive pulse of the music, or a rhythmic pattern that is repeated throughout the music (as in “feel the rhythm”). It can also refer to the pattern in time of a single small group of notes (as in “play this rhythm for me”).
Rhythm can be defined as the arrangement of notes, rests (silences), and intensity of a song's progression. Musical rhythm is about the repetition or reoccurrence of notes and rests in time, as well as how long, and with what intensity these notes and silences are played.What does dynamics mean in music? ›
Dynamics means how quietly or loudly a piece of music should be played. Dynamics are an important way of conveying the mood of a piece and your use of dynamics is a marked element of your performance.What are the 8 fundamentals of music? ›
- Basic Related Terms.
- Tone color:
Elements of music include, timbre, texture, rhythm, melody, beat, harmony, structure, tempo, pitch and dynamics.What is the 8 symbol in music? ›
An “8” means one octave, and a “15” means two octaves. In the example above, the note is an octave lower than natural since the “8” is placed below the staff. If it was placed above the musical staff lines, it means that the note is an octave higher than natural.What is a music lover called? ›
melomaniac (plural melomaniacs) One with an abnormal fondness of music; a person who loves music. [ from 19th c.] quotations ▼ synonyms, antonym ▲ Synonyms: melomane, melophile, musicophile Antonym: melophobe.What are the names of the six concepts of music? ›
Music is patterns of melody, rhythm, harmony, tempo/dynamics, and timbre combined to create repetition, variation and contrast.
Listed from slowest to fastest, some of the different tempos in music include grave, lento, largo, adagio, adante, moderato, allegretto, allegro, vivace, presto, prestissimo. Allegro is among the most common, ranging from 105 to 132 BPM.What are the 7 main tempo markings in music? ›
- Larghissimo—very, very slow, almost droning (20 BPM and below)
- Grave—slow and solemn (20–40 BPM)
- Lento—slowly (40–60 BPM)
- Largo—the most commonly indicated “slow” tempo (40–60 BPM)
- Larghetto—rather broadly, and still quite slow (60–66 BPM)
- tempo. speed of the music.
- largo. very slow.
- adagio. slow.
- andante. walking speed.
- moderato. moderate speed.
- allegro. fast, happy.
- vivace. lively; very quick.
- presto. very quick.
These terms are further refined to include a range of louder and softer dynamics. The typical range proceeds as follows, from softest to loudest: pianissimo (pp), piano (p), mezzo-piano (mp), mezzo-forte (mf), forte (f), fortissimo (ff).What are the 6 concepts of music dynamics? ›
The 6 Concepts of Music are, in alphabetical order Duration, Dynamics & Expressive Techniques, Pitch, Structure, Texture and Tone Colour.What is the structure of music? ›
Structure, or Form, in music refers to the arrangement and order of the parts or sections of the music. The structure of a piece of music is a predetermined order of each section, and how many times it is, or is not repeated.What is a three four time tempo called? ›
3/4 Time Signature
As we learned in the prior lesson, because there is a 4 on the bottom, the quarter note gets the beat (or pusle). The 3/4 time signature is sometimes called waltz time.
4/4: Four quarter-note beats per measure. Also known as common time and notated with a “C.”What are the 3 basic elements of music? ›
The elements of music can be broken down into three general categories: rhythm, harmony, and melody.What are the 10 key musical elements? ›
Virgil Thomson lists the "raw materials" of music in order of their supposed discovery: rhythm, melody, and harmony; including counterpoint and orchestration.What are the elements of rhythm? ›
The Elements of Rhythm: Sound, Symbol, and Time.What is the texture in music? ›
Texture in music refers to the effect of the different layers of sound in a piece of music, and the relationship between them. Layers of sound are the different things which are happening at the same time in a piece of music. There could be a guitar playing, a voice singing, drums playing and a piano too.What are the elements of the melody? ›
Kliewer states, "The essential elements of any melody are duration, pitch, and quality (timbre), texture, and loudness. Though the same melody may be recognizable when played with a wide variety of timbres and dynamics, the latter may still be an "element of linear ordering."What is the main tune of a song called? ›
We might consider melody to be the single most important element within a song. In everyday language, this is the element we call 'the tune'. In technical terms, however, the melody is a series of pitches, or notes, that are organised to form a shape or pattern.What are the five characteristics of melody? ›
- 5 characteristics of a good melody.
- Starts and ends on the same note (C)
- Moves mainly by step.
- Has a smooth contour/shape.
- Has 2 or 4 bar phrases.
- Uses similar short motifs to give it a clear character.
- 4 Rules for Chord Progressions.
- Start and end on chord I.
A motive is often defined as the smallest unit of musical form that possesses a unique identity as a musical idea by virtue of distinctive intervallic patterns and/or rhythm.What are the 6 types of rhythm? ›
The 6 Types of Rhythm in Interior Design. In this guide, we discuss the six main principles of rhythm: repetition, radiation, contrast, alternation, transition and gradation.What are the 4 characteristics of rhythm? ›
Rhythm is the organization of musical notes in time, which includes the beat (or pulse), meter, tempo, and patterns of long and short note values.What is slow tempo called? ›
Adagio—slow (60 - 76 bpm) Andante—walking speed (80 - 106 bpm) Moderato—moderate pace (108 - 118 bpm) Allegro—fast, cheerful (120 - 168 bpm) Presto—very fast (170 - 220 b.p.m)
Melody is a linear sequence of notes the listener hears as a single entity. The melody of a song is the foreground to the backing elements and is a combination of pitch and rhythm. Sequences of notes that comprise melody are musically satisfying and are often the most memorable part of a song.What does timbre mean in music? ›
In music timbre is the characteristic tone colour of an instrument or voice, arising from reinforcement by individual singers or instruments of different harmonics, or overtones (q.v.), of a fundamental pitch.What is the tempo of a song? ›
In simple terms, tempo is how fast or slow a piece of music is performed, while rhythm is the placement of sounds in time, in a regular and repeated pattern. Tempo generally is measured as the number of beats per minute, where the beat is the basic measure of time in music.What is the rule of 5 in music? ›
Definition. The circle of fifths organizes pitches in a sequence of perfect fifths, generally shown as a circle with the pitches (and their corresponding keys) in a clockwise progression. Musicians and composers often use the circle of fifths to describe the musical relationships between pitches.What are the 5 musical elements give them? ›
Melody, harmony, rhythm, and form and the expressive elements of dynamics, tempo, and timbre (tone color).What are the 5 musical section of an orchestra? ›
The traditional orchestra has five sections of instruments: the woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings, and keyboards.What is the 5th mode of music called? ›
The Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode. Again, this is very similar to the major scale (see Ionian mode), except the seventh scale degree is a minor seventh above the tonic rather than a major seventh.What does 5 8 mean in music? ›
5/8 time signatures have 5 eighth notes per measure (5 quavers per bar). These eighth notes are grouped into two strong beats: one quarter note and one dotted quarter note. The order of these beats does not matter, but it usually remains the same throughout a piece of music.What does 5 7 mean in music? ›
It means you have a four-note chord in root position.
In this case, 7/5/3, 7/5 and 7 all mean the same thing a four-note chord in root position. You can find a thorough explanation of all the names for inversions and how the names where derived in my answer here.
7. Never omit any note of a triad or seventh chord except the fifth – and only omit the fifth when you must do so in order to follow rule 1. These principles assume that you have written with the correct ranges and that all the chords actually contain the notes you say they do.
Elements of music include, timbre, texture, rhythm, melody, beat, harmony, structure, tempo, pitch and dynamics.What are the 4 movements of a symphony? ›
- An opening sonata or allegro.
- A slow movement, such as andante.
- A minuet or scherzo with trio.
- An allegro, rondo, or sonata.
overture, musical composition, usually the orchestral introduction to a musical work (often dramatic), but also an independent instrumental work.What are the four symphony parts? ›
A symphony is made up of four sections called movements. Each movement follows its own structure or format. The first uses a quick tempo and follows sonata-allegro form; the second is slower and more lyrical; the third is a minuet or scherzo and the final movement often uses sonata-allegro form.What are the four levels of music? ›
The four main voices are typically labelled as soprano (or treble and countertenor), alto (contralto, countertenor or mezzo), tenor, and bass.What are the 6 music types? ›
musical genres in existence: Pop, Funk, Classical, Techno, Country and Rock. (Don't worry, there's hip-hop, too …How many scales are there in music? ›
There are 12 major scales and 12 natural minor scales that can be played on a standard 88-key piano. Each major and minor scale has its own unique sequence of intervals between each note in the scale.