This page compares British English use of musical terms compared with
other (mostly American) usage. However, because I am British (English),
I may be wrong about other usage, so please
mail me if you know
- In Britain, the word "staff" for the five lines on which music
is written is considered old-fashioned and is hardly ever seen
now, except in old books.
"Stave" is the word used in Britain
- "Staff" is still used in some countries, including the USA, with
"staves" as the plural.
- A "measure" is now quite often used as the word for a bar of
music, although (to my British mind) it has more of a
connotation of the "length" of the bar.
I believe that in the USA this is standard usage.
- "Bar" then sometimes refers to the actual bar line, especially
as in "double bar" for "double bar line".
- Semibreve/Whole note etc.
- There are three completely different naming methods for the
names of notes which govern their
length. Two are used in English, and these are described in
the page on note lengths.
- English names and Italian names are based on original
Latin names from the Middle Ages. American and German names
are based upon the relative lengths of notes. French names
are based the appearance of the notes.
- In Britain, the word "note"
can mean a written symbol as well as a sound.
Americans separate these meanings and use the
word "note" for a written note, and "tone" for the sound.
- We do sometimes use this meaning for the word "tone",
for example in the phrases "resultant tone" and "tone deaf".
- "Tone" can also mean the quality of a sound, for example, its
brightness or its dullness (as in the tone control on a
tape player or radio).
- In Britain, the word "tone" has an additional different
and specific meaning (see
- Tone/Whole-step, Semitone/half-step
- In Britain, "a tone" (in musical usage) is defined as an
interval of a major second, or
one-sixth of an octave.
Americans refer to this as a "whole-step".
- A Semitone is half a tone, the interval of a
minor second, one-twelfth of an octave, the smallest gap
between two notes on a piano (and many other instruments).
Americans call this a "half-step".
- A major scale consists of the
intervals TTSTTTS where T=tone and S=Semitone.
- Confusingly, a scale made up of six intervals
of major second (tones), as used by some 20th Century composers,
is called a "whole-tone scale".
- In Germany our note B is called H, and our B flat is called B
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