Glossary of jazz terms

Glossary of jazz terms

Glossary of jazz terms in one place. It’s a list of common jazz terms from the perspective of the jazz piano student and all other musicians:

Alteration: The raising or lowering of a tone by a half-step, from its diatonic value in a chord. In jazz usage, the fifth and ninth may be raised (augmented) or lowered (diminished); the fourth (or eleventh) may be augmented; the thirteenth may be diminished. The expression ‘diminished seventh’ is used solely as the name of a chord. Of course, in general music theory, any interval may be augmented or diminished.
Altered scale: The dominant 7th scale with a lowered 9th, raised 9th, raised 11th, no fifth, and lowered 13th, along with the usual root, 3rd and 7th. So-called because every possible alteration has been made.
Augmented: Raised by a half-step. See ‘Alteration’.
Augmented 7th: A dominant 7th chord with a raised 5th added. The name is misleading because it is not the 7th that is augmented. Written ‘ +7 ‘.
Bebop: the style of jazz developed by young players in the early 40s, particularly Parker, Gillespie, Kenny Clarke, Charlie Christian and Bud Powell. Small groups were favored, and simple standard tunes or just their chord progressions were used as springboards for rapid, many-noted improvisations using long, irregular, syncopated phrasing. Improv was based on chordal harmony rather than the tune. The ‘higher intervals’ of the chords (9th, 11th and 13th) were emphasized in improv and in piano chord voicings, and alterations were used more freely than before, especially the augmented 11th. The ground beat was moved from the bass drum to the ride cymbal and the string bass, and the rhythmic feel is more flowing and subtle than before. Instrumental virtuosity was stressed, while tone quality became more restrained, less obviously ‘expressive’. The style cast a very long shadow and many of today’s players 60 years later could be fairly described as bebop.
Blues: (1) A form normally consisting of 12 bars, staying in one key and moving to IV at bar 5. (2) A melodic style, with typical associated harmonies, using certain ‘blues scales’, riffs and grace notes. (3) A musical genre, ancestral to jazz and part of it. (4) A feeling that is said to inform all of jazz.
Boogie (boogie-woogie): a style of piano playing very popular in the thirties. Blues, with continuous repeated eighth note patterns in the left hand and exciting but often stereotyped blues riffs and figures in the right hand.
Bridge: The contrasting middle section of a tune, especially the ‘B’ section of an AABA song form. Traditionally, the bridge goes into a different key, often a remote key. Thelonious Monk once remarked that the function of a bridge is ‘to make the outside sound good’.
Cadence: A key-establishing chord progression, generally following the circle of fifths. A turnaround is one example of a cadence. Sometimes a whole section of a tune can be an extended cadence. In understanding the harmonic structure of a tune, it’s important to see which chords are connected to which others in cadences.
Chromatic: Pertaining to or derived from the chromatic scale, which includes all 12 tones to the octave. Chromatic harmony is a vague term referring either to the use of many altered tones in the chord, or to the use of chromatic root-movement in between the given chords.
Chorus: One complete cycle of a tune, one time through from top to bottom.
Cool: the style of the early 50s, taken up by many white musicians and popular on college campuses. The basis was bebop, but the fastest tempos were not used and the sound was quiet and understated. Miles Davis was one of the main originators.
Diatonic: the contrary of ‘chromatic’. Said of melody or harmony using only the unaltered major (or sometimes minor) scale.
Diminished: Lowered by a half-step. See ‘Alteration’.
Diminished Scale: a scale of 8 notes to the octave in alternating whole-steps and half-steps. There are just three different diminished scales. Quite a complicated system of voicings and motivic patterns for diminished has been developed by modern players.
Double time: A tempo twice as fast, with the time feel, bar lines and chords moving at twice the speed.
Double time feel: A time feel twice as fast, so that written eighth notes now sound like quarter notes, while the chords continue at the same speed as before.
Extensions: the ninth, eleventh and thirteenth of a chord.
Fake Book: a collection of jazz charts, published without paying royalties and thus illegal. For decades, a book called ‘1000 Standard Tunes’ circulated; you can still see its grossly simplified charts, written three to a page. In the 70s the “Real Book” appeared, out of the Berklee School of Music, with some 400 tunes in excellent calligraphy. This has become the standard and all jazz musicians are still expected to have a copy. The ‘Monster Book’ is very good. Others are a series called ‘Spaces’, and the ‘Real Book Vol. II’. In recent years a large number of legal fake books have been published. They have much higher standards of accuracy but usually don’t have as many tunes.
Free Jazz: a style of the early and middle sixties, involving ‘free’ playing and a vehement affect. It was originally associated with black cultural nationalism. Sometimes two drummers and/or two bass players were used. Some free jazz was profound, and some not very good. Some who played it later denounced it, but the style became an ingredient in future styles and still has many proponents despite its lack of general popularity.
Groove: an infectious feeling of rightness in the rhythm, of being perfectly centered. This is a difficult term to define. A Medium Groove is a tempo of, say, 112, with a slinky or funky feeling.
Half-diminished: the chord with a minor third, a lowered (diminished) fifth, and a minor seventh. Formally called ‘minor 7 flat 5’. This chord evolved from the IV minor 6th chord, which was common in the swing period; if its sixth is taken to be the root, a half-diminished chord results. The symbol is a small O with a diagonal slash. It is most often the harmony of the II in a II-V-I progression in a minor key. Two different scales have been commonly used for this chord; one with a flat 9th, the ‘locrian’, and one with an unflatted ninth, the latter scale being more modern.
Hard Bop: the style of the late 50s, engineered by Horace Silver, Art Blakey, etc. Still essentially bebop, the style used hard-driving rhythmic feel and vehement, biting lines and harmony drenched with urban blues, rhythm ‘n blues and gospel. Original compositions were stressed over the old standards used in bebop, ranging from simple riff-based blues to elaborate compositions, sometimes using whole-tone scales. Hard bop had a black, street flavor—a reaction, in part, to the intellectuality of the Cool School.
Improvisation (improv): the process of spontaneously creating fresh melodies over the continuously repeating cycle of chord changes of a tune. The improviser may depend on the contours of the original tune, or solely on the possibilities of the chords’ harmonies, or (like Ornette Coleman) on a basis of pure melody. The ‘improv’ also refers to the improvisational section of the tune, as opposed to the head.
Inner voice: a melodic line, no matter how fragmentary, lying between the bass and the melody.
Interlude: an additional section in a tune, especially one between one person’s solo and another’s. The Dizzy Gillespie standard A Night In Tunisia has a famous interlude.
Inversion: (1) In traditional music theory, a chord with a note other than the root in the bass. (2) With regard to any particular voicing, especially a left-hand rootless voicing, a rearrangement of the voicing by moving the bottom note up an octave. Or, any one octavewise arrangement of a voicing.
Jazz Standard: A well-known tune by a jazz musician. See Standard.
Latin: (1) Afro-Cuban, Brazilian or other South American-derived. There are many special terms used in Latin music and I haven’t tried to include them here. (2) Played with equal eighth notes as opposed to swung (see swing def. 2). Also ‘straight-8’. The feel of bossa novas and sambas.
Melodic minor: in jazz, a scale with a minor 3rd but a major 6th and 7th (both up and down). This scale and its modes (Altered, Half-diminished and Lydian Dominant are the familiar ones) make up a realm called melodic minor harmony. I prefer the term ‘tonic minor’.
Meter: a basic music term, but sometimes not fully understood. The organization of the beats of time (or ground beat), moving at a certain rate (the tempo), into groupings which are heirarchical, that is, there is a unit of a stated number of beats (the bar) which includes strong and weak beats in an organized pattern. All this is implied by a ‘meter’ of 4/4, 3/4, etc.
Modal: (1) Said of a section, or a whole tune, having static harmony (using one chord) and using scales from a particular mode, most typically the Dorian. (2) Having a key feeling derived not from dynamic chord progressions (like circle-of-fifths) but rather from repetition, monotony, and weight. (3) Loosely, a harmonic style that is diatonic and makes use of quartal harmony.
Modern: the styles of jazz since 1945. Especially applied to bebop, cool jazz, and hard bop.
Modulation: The establishment of a new key. This is mainly a matter of harmonic progression, but expectation, emphasis and phrasing also enter into determining whether a new key has really been established. In standards, a modulation to the beginning of the bridge is strongly expected. Typically, a II – V or a III – VI – II – V progression in the new key is used.
Pattern: a pre-planned melodic figure, repeated at different pitch levels. Something played automatically by the fingers without much thought. Reliance on patterns is the hallmark of a weak player.
Pentatonic: Pertaining to scales of 5 notes to the octave, in particular 1-2-3-5-6 of the major scale. Pentatonic melodies are typical of much indigenous music around the world, and these scales are also an important part of the modern jazz sound. Pentatonic melodies and patterns were especially typical of jazz and fusion in the seventies.

Theese are some of jazz (and music) terms. For more terms visit this link at


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