Genre – a class or category of music.  Also often referred to as style.  Examples include: hip hop, electronic, orchestral, etc.
*See bottom of definitions for master list.

Sub-genre – a subcategory of a genre.  For example, techno is a subcategory of electronic music.  A genre can have numerous sub-genres.

Hybrid Genre/Hybrid Style – a genre or style of music that fuses two or more styles together.  For example: orchestral music fused with lots of electronic drums and synthesizers.

Composing – the act of creating music through the use of harmony, melody, rhythm, and extended compositional techniques.

Extended Techniques – these are techniques within a field that are less conventional but still have a specific use within that field.  For example: when string instruments all slowly bend pitches so that the overall effect is an eerie atmosphere, or when a mixing engineer uses triggered dynamic equalization to replace side-chain compression.

Idiomatic – a function or technique that is unique to an instrument or set of instruments.  For example: strumming a guitar, techniques on the piano that involve crossing one hand over another, triple tonguing on trumpet, etc.

Producing – overseeing a musical project to help provide insight towards the macro aspects of the music.  This often involves helping the band/artist and mixing engineer stay on the same page to create one cohesive sound/vision.  This term has changed over time, however.  Today, producing is often considered the combined act of composing, mixing, and sometimes even mastering.

Mixing – a skill used to balance/manage the sounds within a song.  Techniques involve equalization to balance tone, compression to manage dynamics, adding spatial effects, etc.

Mastering – mastering is the act of re-balancing tone and dynamics within each song on an album so that the full album sounds well balanced.  It is also the job of the mastering engineer to add an appropriate amount of silence after/before each track, help arrange the order of the songs on an album if required, and export the songs in a format that translates well to various mediums (ie. streaming, radio, clubs, etc.).

Session Musicians – musicians that specialize in recording music.  These musicians are often great sight readers and are technically proficient.  It is also expected that session musicians provide professional equipment that they have come to master.

Conductor – a person who directs the performance of an orchestra or choir.

Format – in music this refers to the type of file that a song is associated with.  For example: .mp3, .wav, .aiff, etc.

Client – within our business relations, you are the client.  That is, anyone who is requesting work and compensating for the work being done.

Storyboard – this is a breakdown of the timing of a film, and how the music will interact with each chunk of time.  For example:
0:00-0:30 – Light atmospheric synthesizers
0:30-1:03 – silence
1:03-1:56 – epic war music, gradually increasing in intensity and volume.

Reverse Engineering – this is the act of listening to a sound or song and recreating a sound or song as similar as possible through deductive logic, educated guesses, and experimentation.

Cross-fade – the gradual decrease in volume of a song while another song is gradually increasing in volume.  This can also be done with individual instruments or groups of instruments.



Underscore – music that is meant to be in the background of a scene.  That is, music that does not distract from the picture.  This is often times light orchestral music, simple piano, or atmospheric synthesis.

Atmosphere(s) – a form of composition or sound design intended to immerse the listener into a particular atmosphere.  This sound is often a form of underscore, and makes great use of spatial effects like reverb and delay.  Also, the sound often makes great use of motion and evolves over time.

Textural – similar to atmosphere, but intended to create the illusion of a texture.   For example, sounds can be perceived as wet, bumpy, rigid, soft, etc.

Major – music/sounds that emit happiness, joyfulness, optimism, positivity, wonderment, celebration, etc.

Minor – music/sounds that emit sadness, eeriness, war, devastation, loneliness, scariness, evil, etc.

Swell – a sound that rises in volume and/or pitch over time.  I define swells as rising sounds that are under 2 seconds.

Wind-up/Sweep-up/Riser – sounds that rise in volume and/or pitch over time.  I define these as rising sounds that over 2 seconds.

Crescendo – the gradual increase of volume over time.

Wind-down/Sweep-down – sounds that fall in volume and/or pitch over time.  I define these as falling sounds that are over 1 second.

Decrescendo (swell down) – the gradual decrease of volume over time.

Impact – a short burst of a sound.  This could be the sound of a shotgun blast, or a trumpet section playing a short and loud note together.

Hitpoint – this is a point in the video where an action happens that would promote an aural cue in the music.  For example, tension leads up to a car chase scene and as soon as the chase begins the intense acceleration of the cars (the hitpoint) cues an impact sound and some energized music.

Orchestra – a group of instrumentalists, especially one combining string, woodwind, brass, and percussion sections and playing classical music.

String Quartet – a chamber music ensemble consisting of first and second violins, viola, and cello.

Western Orchestral Music – I use this term to refer to orchestral music that makes use of music theory associated with baroque, classical, romantic, and 21st Century periods.

Eastern Orchestral Music – I use this term to refer to orchestral music that is traditional to countries such as: China, Japan, India, Iran, etc.  Think east of Germany.

Silence – I’m sure you don’t need a definition of silence, but in case you do…it’s the absence of sound.  I included it in this list mostly to promote that silence is an integral part of music composition, and that it should always be considered a viable option when scoring to film.  After all, the use of contrast is a very powerful tool.

Sample – a sample is a piece of audio that has been repurposed from a previous recording or sample bank.  This can include using a recording of a single snare drum hit, or using a loop from an old soul song as the foundation of a hip hop beat.

Sampler – a device used to alter and replay samples.  Often, samplers can communicate with keyboards so that a sample can be re-pitched by a specified tuning system.  A sampler could make use of a full bank of samples that are used to imitate a Bechstein grand piano.  Less conventionally, a sampler could be used to record found sounds, like a cat’s meow, and create a melody using that sound.

Synthesis – sound synthesis is the technique of generating sound, using electronic hardware or software, from scratch.

Synthesizer – an electronic musical instrument, typically operated by a keyboard, producing a wide variety of sounds by generating and combining signals of different frequencies.

Sound Design – the art and practice of creating sound tracks for a variety of needs. It involves specifying, acquiring or creating auditory elements using audio production techniques and tools.

Sequencer – a programmable electronic device for storing sequences of musical notes, chords, or rhythms and transmitting them when required to an electronic musical instrument.

Drum roll – a rapid succession of beats sounded on a drum

Accent –  an accent is an emphasis, stress, or stronger attack placed on a particular note or set of notes, or chord, either as a result of its context or specifically indicated by an accent mark.

Staccato – where each sound or note is sharply detached or separated from the others.

Legato – in a smooth, flowing manner, without breaks between notes.

Pizzicato – plucking the strings of a violin or other stringed instrument with one’s finger.

Arpeggiation/Arpeggio – the notes of a chord played in succession, either ascending or descending.

Spiccato – a style of staccato playing on stringed instruments involving bouncing the bow on the strings.

Blare – make or cause to make a loud, harsh sound.  This sound is used commonly with brass instruments that play so loudly that the instrument start to distort itself.

Intro – a passage or section which opens a movement or a separate piece, preceding the theme or lyrics. In popular music, this is often known as the song intro or just the intro. The introduction establishes melodic, harmonic or rhythmic material related to the main body of a piece.

DJ Friendly Intro – a particular type of introduction that is stripped of most elements except for drums and subtle elements that will later develop within the piece.  These introductions are well suited for DJ’s as the absence of harmonic and melodic content can make the transition between two songs much easier.

Verse – a section of a song that often precedes a chorus.  Verses tend to be more intimate, and generally develop the story through lyricism so that the chorus has more context.

Chorus – a part of a song that is repeated after each verse, typically by more than one singer.  The Chorus tends to summarize the key message or idea of the song.  Sometimes also referred to as the ‘hook’.

Buildup – the part of a song that grows in tension, as to anticipate a change in section.  This is often heard in dance music, as the section that happens right before the “drop”.

Drop – in EDM a drop is the section of the song that is often loudest, most memorable, and easiest to dance to.  Where EDM has a drop, rock or pop would often have a chorus.

Bridge –  a contrasting section that prepares for the return of the original material section.  They are often used to break up the alternation of verses and choruses.

Outro – an instrumental passage that concludes a piece of music

Chord Progression/Harmonic Progression – a succession of musical chords, which are two or more notes, typically sounded simultaneously.  Think of a guitarist or pianist playing a succession of chords.  The progressions are often in 2-6 chord loops.  ie. C major, E minor, F major, G major (repeat).

Melody – a sequence of single notes that is musically satisfying.  Often referred to as the ‘tune’ of a song.

Harmony – the combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.

Counterpoint – the art or technique of setting, writing, or playing a melody or melodies in conjunction with another, according to fixed rules.



Automation – allows software to remember the audio engineer’s adjustment of various parameters during the post-production editing process.

Low Pass/High Cut Filter – a filter that passes signals with a frequency lower than a selected cutofffrequency and attenuates signals with frequencies higher than the cutoff frequency.

High Pass/Low Cut Filter – an electronic filter that passes signals with a frequency higher than a certain cutoff frequency and attenuates signals with frequencies lower than the cutoff frequency.

Arpeggiator – a very basic real-time sequencer designed to take a chord as an input and turn it into an arpeggio.

Distortion  distortion and overdrive are forms of audio signal processing used to alter the sound of amplified electric musical instruments, usually by increasing their gain, producing a “fuzzy”, “growling”, or “gritty” tone.

Dynamics – the variation in loudness between notes or phrases. Dynamics are indicated by specific musical notation, often in some detail.

Equalization (EQ) – a means to reduce or increase specific frequencies of a particular sound in order to build to it, or make it sit clearer in a mix. These frequencies are often split into three or five bands; lows, mids and highs, or bass, mid-range and treble.

Compression – used to make music sound louder without increasing its peak amplitude. Bycompressing the peak (or loudest) signals, it becomes possible to increase the overall gain (or volume) of a signal without exceeding the dynamic limits of a reproduction device or medium.

Pan/Panning – panning is the distribution of a sound signal (either monaural or stereophonic pairs) into a new stereo or multi-channel sound field determined by a pan control setting. A typical physical recording console has a pan control for each incoming source channel.  Put more simply, the pan knob allows one to position a sound from left to right between a set of stereo speakers.

Chorus – occurs when individual sounds with approximately the same time, and very similar pitches converge and are perceived as one.

Phaser – an electronic sound processor, that creates a sweeping effect by modulating a narrow notch signal filter. This hardware or software device is also known as a phase shifter. Its sound is similar to that of flanging . Phase shifting is a popular effect for keyboards and guitars.

Flanger – an audio effect produced by mixing two identical signals together, one signal delayed by a small and gradually changing period, usually smaller than 20 milliseconds. … Aflanger is an effects unit that creates this effect.



Playback mediums – when I use the term medium I am referring to the device with which the audio is played back.  For example, if a track is meant to be suited on all mediums, then it should sound great on a laptop, or in a club.

Audio Library – an audio library is a collection of audio loops, one-shot samples, sampler library banks, amongst other collections of audio segments.

In-the-box – this refers to music that is made purely within a computer/digital domain.  In other words, no acoustic instruments, or voice, were recorded for the project.  Instead, often samplers are used to emulate an acoustic environment.


*See bottom of definitions for master list of individual instruments.

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List of musical genres:

List of musical instruments: