Accent: An emphasis on a particular beat or part of a beat.

Articulation: The specific way a musician plays a note or series of notes.

Background: A melodic figure typically played by an instrument, or section instruments, behind the melody or an improvised solo.

Bar: The division of music into a consistent number of beats; also known as a measure.

Beat: The basic pulse of any given music; the unit by which musical time is measured.

Big Band: The popular genre of jazz during the swing era. Also refers to a large ensemble of contrasting sections of instrument families. Typical instrumentation includes trombones, saxophones, trumpets, and a rhythm section.

Blues: The foundation of most popular music, it is an African American music form developed in the South during the mid-1800s.

Brass Section: The combined brass instruments in a big band, typically trumpets and trombones.

Bridge: The middle section of many standard popular American songs. It typically moves to a different key.

Call and Response: A type of musical conversation where vocalists and/or instrumentalists answer one another.

Chord: Three or more notes played at the same time to create one sound. Songs are made up of a melody supported by a string of different chords called a progression. Soloists improvise over those progressions.

Clave: 1. Meaning “key” in Spanish.; 2. Rhythmic patterns that form the foundation for the music of Latin America and Cuba.; 3. Cylindrical, hand-held percussion instruments.

Collective Improvisation: More than one instrument improvising at the same time.

Dirge: A slow, funeral-like song or tune.

Drag: To play behind the established tempo.

Duple: A type of subdivision where the beat is divisible by two.

Form: The organization and structure of a piece, including the harmonic structure.

Front Line: The group of instruments playing the melody in a New Orleans-style band. Typically refers to the trumpet, trombone, and the clarinet.

Great Migration, The: A time during the early 1900s when Southern African Americans moved north in search of work, education, and better opportunities for their families.

Groove: The interaction of rhythms to form a pattern.

Harmonic Structure: The pattern of chords for a song.

Harmony: The chords that support the written and improvised melodies.

Improvisation: Spontaneous composition of melodies to fit the form and harmony of a song.

Interval: The distance between any two notes.

Jazz Combo: A smaller version of a big band. Typically containing a rhythm section with a few horn players (e.g. trumpet, trombone, or saxophone).

Kansas City Style: A riff-based style of big band popular in Kansas City during the 1930s. Most closely associated with Count Basie.


Measure: The music contained between two bar lines.

Melody: The part of a song that you sing.

Meter: The number of beats per measure.

Mutes : A device added to a musical instrument to dampen or quiet the tone, often changing the quality of the sound.

Not-For-Profit Organization: A group of people that come together with a common goal to provide services for a given community.

Orchestration: The method by which a piece of music is organized, what instruments play together and when.

Ostinato: A short, repeated, rhythmic, or melodic pattern/phrase that is repeated throughout an entire piece or given section of music.

Phrase: A musical statement.

Port City: A city located on an ocean or other large body of water connected to an ocean.

Pulse: The basic beat of any given music.

Rhythm: The organized motion of sounds and rests.

Rhythm Section: The group of instruments in a jazz band that provide the rhythmic and harmonic structure. Typically consists of piano, bass, and drums.

Riff: A short repeated musical idea or phrase.

Rush: To play ahead of the established tempo.

Scale: An ascending or descending progression of notes organized in whole and half steps to form a specific pattern.

Scat Singing: Improvising using your voice and nonsense syllables, often to sound like an instrumentalist.

Second Line: A group of people who followed behind New Orleans jazz bands, dancing and parading down the street.

Section: A subdivision of a musical composition. Section may also refer to a group of instruments that are in the same family. Example: brass section, woodwind section, etc.

Shout Chorus: The climax of a big band piece. Generally the point of highest energy where everyone is playing.

Slur: The playing of two consecutive notes without a break between them.

Solo: When one musician improvises within the structure of an existing song.

Stanza: An arrangement of a certain number of lines of text or music, sometimes having a fixed length, meter, or rhyme scheme.

Subdivision: The manner in which the beats are divided. Example: duple or triple.

Swing: The rhythmic attitude of jazz. Also an era in the 1930s.

Syncopation: The accent of unexpected beats.

Tempo: The pace and speed at which music is played.

Timbre: The specific qualities and characteristics of sound.

Trill: Moving between two notes in a very rapid fashion.

Triple: A type of subdivision where the beat is divisible by three.

Triplet: The rhythmic foundation of swing.

Twelve-Bar Blues: The basic structure of a blues.

Vibrato: A slight and rapid fluctuation of pitch used to add character to the sound.

Woodwind Section:The section of instruments in a big band containing the saxophones. Occasionally, clarinets and/or flutes are added, too.


Jazz St. Louis is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to lead our community in advancing the uniquely American art of jazz through live performance, education and community engagement.


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