Glossary: Musical Terminology
- a symbol to tell musicians to play a note with more emphasis or stress than the surrounding notes. Accents are written in music with a carat > over or under a note.
- the distance between the strings and fingerboard or frets; excessively high action makes the strings hard to press; excessively low action causes buzzing.
- a thin border of plastic, wood, or other material inlaid on the outside edges at the joint between the top and sides and the joint between the back and sides of an instrument to strengthen the edges and prevent cracking, especially of softer top woods (for violin-family instruments, see purfling).
- a method of cutting a single piece of wood through its thickness to make two pieces that have mirror-image grain pattern. Instrument builders generally plane and join the pieces of wood, placing the seam in the center of the top or back of the instrument to take advantage of the visual and tonal symmetry.
- the curved portions of an instrument; guitars and violin-family instruments both have upper (adjacent to the neck) and lower bouts (below the soundholes) which are out-curved; violin family instruments also have C-bouts at the soundholes which are in-curved.
- supportive wooden struts that strengthen instruments and affect tone; violin-family instruments have a single brace called a, “tone bar” that lies under the bass foot of the bridge; mandolins and guitars have various patterns of struts depending on the structure of the instrument, the kind of strings the instrument supports and the kind of tone that the builder tries to achieve. Bracing must be light enough to allow vibration and strong enough to prevent collapse.
- the part of an acoustic instrument that transmits vibration from the strings to the top of the instrument; the bridge can be attached to the soundboard with glue or held against the soundboard by the tension of the strings that pass over it. The first type of bridge is more typical on a guitar; this type of bridge also anchors the strings and supports a saddle over which the strings pass. The second type of bridge works in conjunction with a tailpiece which anchors the strings, and the bridge can either support a saddle or act as the saddle.
- a clamp that players place behind a fret across the strings to change the tone that the strings produce without re-tuning. Use of a capo allows less developed players to change keys easily. Capos allow more developed players to play specific voicings for particular effect.
- a pattern of fine cracks that can develop in instruments’ when exposed to extreme changes in temperature (because expansion and contraction of wood and finish is not equal in a temperature change, the finish cracks to relieve stress).
- COMPENSATED SADDLE
- A saddle that is at an angle other than 90 degrees to the strings and/or has notches that help to make the intonation of each string more perfect by accommodating the differences in string thickness.
- an interlocking joint that combines a flaring tenon and a mortise into which it tightly fits– the neck joints on Martin’s Standard Series guitars are dovetail joints.
- a large-body acoustic guitar pioneered by Frank H. Martin and Harry Hunt in the early 1900s (to increase the volume of an acoustic guitar so that it was loud enough to use in a band) that has become the archetype of guitars for many people.
terms which indicate to the musician how loud or soft to play the music. Examples are:
Piano (pee-an-oh): a musical term meaning “soft; subdued.” This word is from the Italian language, as are many musical terms.
Pianissimo – extremely quiet.
Diminuendo: Getting progressively softer.
Forte (for-tay): a musical term meaning “loud; with force”. Forte is the opposite of piano. This is also an Italian word.
Crescendo: Getting progressively louder.
A less formal definition of 'dynamics' allows it to describe the interplay of loudness and softness and emphasis between musicians when they play a piece of music.
- END BLOCK
- a piece of hardwood that supports the sides (or ribs) of the instrument where they join and provides a structural entity for the end pin of the instrument.
- END PIN
- a button that extends from the end block of a guitar, mandolin, violin or other stringed instrument. On guitars with fixed bridges, the end pin’s primary function is to provide a place to attach a strap. On guitars with floating bridges, mandolins and violin family instruments, the end pin anchors the tail piece which, in turn, anchors the strings.
- a distinctive pattern in wood created by its grain, annual rings, medullary and color variation. Some typical types of figure include flame, quilting, burl and bearclaw.
- a thin piece of wood (or hard, smooth material) attached to the playing surface of the neck of a stringed instrument. On guitars, mandolins & banjos, the fingerboard has frets (see definition below) at precisely measured distances. For fretted instruments, the fingerboard is also called a fretboard.
- FLAT TOP
- a nickname for guitars with “flat” soundboards & steel strings. Though classical guitars have flat tops, they are not “flat tops.”
- a small, flat object held between the thumb & index finger that’s used to strike the strings of an instrument. Usually triangular, teardrop shaped, or some shape between the two, flatpicks can be made of tortoise shell (now rare & illegal to produce & sell), stone, wood, metal or felt, but is usually plastic (“FLATPICK” is also a verb meaning to use a flatpick).
- FRET MARKERS
- markings inlaid in the playing surface & upper edge of a fingerboard to help players visually locate frets while playing - commonly set at the third, fifth, seventh, ninth, & 12th frets.
- thin metal strips (hammered into precisely spaced slots on the fingerboard) that allow players to more exactly produce specific tones.
- woods from deciduous trees that are harder than woods from coniferous trees. Hardwood is used in the sides, backs & necks & sometimes the top of stringed instruments.
- bell-like tones that ring at frequencies that are multiples of the frequency of the fundamental note. Players produce harmonics by lightly fingering a string at locations that shorten it to 1/2, 1/4, 1/8...of its full length. The string vibrates 2, 4, 8... times faster than the fundamental.
- the wood at the center of a tree that no longer carrys nutrients through the tree. Heartwood is harder, denser & more desirable for instrument building. In quartersawn coniferous wood, heartwood has noticeable medulliary (fine lines formed that run across the grain; the lines are residuals of sap-carrying vessels that are inactive in heartwood).
- the part of an instrument’s neck that widens into an L-shaped extension where the neck and body join.
- HEEL CAP
- a decorative veneer that covers the heel. On violins, the “heel cap” is an extension of the back & is more than a decorative piece; it is called a “button” & reinforces the neck-to-body joint.
- a topic about which Meadowood nags. Please read articles in the November 2000, November 2001 & March 2003 “Care Tips” section of www.meadowoodmusic.com.
- device that measures humidity. If you do not use a hygrometer, you cannot be certain of the humidity levels in which you store your instruments. We recommend having one if you have wooden instruments.
- decorative designs made by cutting patterns into the wood of an instrument & filling the cut-out with contrasting wood, abalone, mother-of-pearl, metal or other aesthetically pleasing materials.
- how well an instrument plays in tune with itself. The intonation of a stringed instrument depends on the relative placement of the nut, bridge & frets (in fretted instruments).
- wedge-shaped strips of wood (with closely spaced slits in them) that smoothly conform to the inside surface of the sides of an instrument where they meet the top & back; kerfing increases surface area for gluing & reinforces the seams of the instrument. In violins, kerfing is called “lining.”
- flexible & tonally responsive finishes containing cellulose (e.g. nitrocellulose), plasticizers & volatile solvents
- materials in which thin sheets of wood are glued together (with each layer’s grain direction perpendicular to the last) to make a durable, rigid, composite, wooden sheets. Instrument builders use laminates to reduce cost & increase the durability with some sacrifice of tone & volume.
- Someone who builds acoustic stringed instruments such as violins, guitars, etc. Also, the word luthier is sometimes used in reference to someone who has advanced repair/restoration skills on acoustic stringed instruments.