Glossary of Sheet Music Terms

Subject Terms | Publishing & Printing Terms

Specialized Subject Terms

The terms below were developed to describe the music and illustrations of this digital collection and have not been based on standard sources. A few of them are drawn from the Library of Congress Subject Headings, but most are unique to this finding aid. The description of the dances are, for the most part, based on the New Harvard Dictionary of Music, edited by Don Michael Randel (Belknap Press, 1986).

Classical music Music Search Example
Instrumental music, sacred songs, opera, songs with German, French, or Italian words, and spirituals. There is a general problem of definition for this music because of our understanding of "classical" versus "popular" music today. In the nineteenth century, when many of these pieces were published, there really was little distinction between the two. There may have been a notion that some music was "uplifting" and some was degenerate, but the idea of "good" or "classical" is a fairly recent value judgement.
Dance and Dance music Music Search Illustration Search
Dance music to be performed in the home was very popular. Much of it was easily played on the piano, which was, by mid-nineteenth century, a symbol of the rising economic status of the middle class. Some of the pieces include dance instructions. To locate those items, search for dance instructions.
        --Cakewalks Music Search Illustration Search Example
  1) A dance in duple time (2/4) characterized by high stepping and leaning back of the upper body. It became very popular on the stage and as a social dance in the 1890's to early 1900's.
2) During the same period the cakewalk became popular as a syncopated march strongly influenced by ragtime.
Bibliography: Brooke Baldwin, "The Cakewalk: A Study in Stereotype and Reality," Journal of Social History 15 (1981): 205-218.
        --Cotillions Music Search Example
  A social dance popular in the 18th and 19th centuries related to contredanse and quadrille. They were often performed at the end of a ball. The actual music and danse steps varied. The music used might be waltzes, polkas, mazurkas, and galops.
        --Fox Trots Music Search Example
  American social dance introduced in 1913. The dance steps themselves were highly varied and borrowed from other dances. Popular variants included the quickstep (originally a fast military march) and slow blues.
        --Galops Music Search Illustration Search Example
  A fast line dance in duple time (2/4) often used as the last dance in the Quadrille. The name is derived by the galloping motion used to move up and down the line.
        --Gavottes Music Search Example
  A Baroque dance in duple time, generally has a moderate tempo, and uses simple rhythms.
        --Mazurkas Music Search Illustration Search Example
  Originally a Polish folk dance, this is usually a lively dance (3/4 time) with strong rhythms. Mazurkas were usually danced by 4, 8 or 12 couples. In the mid 19th century it became a very popular drawing-room dance, along with the polka.
        --Minuets Music Search Illustration Search Example
  A highly stylized dance in a moderate tempo, triple meter. It was very popular in France from the mid-seventeenth century to the late eighteenth century. By the mid-nineteenth century it was considered to be "old fashioned" and was not frequently danced. It remains part of the classical piano literature to the present time.
        --Polka mazurkas Music Search Example
  A lively couple dance in 3/4 time combining the strong rhythms of the mazurka with the meter of the polka.
        --Polkas Music Search Illustration Search Example
  The polka, originating in Bohemia in the early 19th century, was an extremely popular fast dance characterized by strong rhythms (duple time 2/4).
        --Polonaises Music Search Illustration Search Example
  A processional dance of Polish origin but developed primarily outside of Poland.
        --Quadrilles Music Search Illustration Search Example
  A dance for four or more couples, often in 2/4 or 6/8 time There were multiple sections titled: Le pantalon, L'ete, La poule, La pastourelle and Finale.
        --Schottisches Music Search Illustration Search Example
  A slow round dance in triple time (3/4), sometimes called the German polka.
        --Tangos Music Search Illustration Search Example
  A dramatic dance that originated in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in the late 19th century. It is characterized by exaggerated movements by the dancers and abrupt rhythmic and dynamic contrasts in the music.
        --Tarantellas Music Search Example
  An rapid folk dance in 6/8 time from southern Italy with shifts between major and minor keys.
        --Waltzes Music Search Illustration Search Example
  The waltz remains one of the most popular ballroom dances for couples today. It originated in southern Germany and Austria but has evolved from slower, rustic German dances to the elegant, sophisticated and graceful version made popular in the late nineteenth century.
Education and fraternal organizations Music Search Illustration Search Example
Illustrations of schools, academies, symbols of organizations
Entertainment Music Search Illustration Search Example
This term is meant to include various types of minstrel shows and other public entertainment. It is primarily music from minstrel shows, vaudeville, barbershop quartets, etc. It includes various types of public performances other than opera. Opera excerpts are usually listed under "Classical music."
Fashion and costume Illustration Search Example
Illustrations of clothing and dress either as fashion or costume.
Food and Eating Illustration Search Example
Pictures of food as well as dining scenes
Historical and Patriotic Music Music Search Illustration Search
      God save the Southern land Example
      Wedding of the Blue and the Gray Example
Music commemorating historical events (e.g., presidential elections), wars and patriotism.
Human activities of ordinary people Music Search Illustration Search Example
Images of people (not caricatures) engaged in activities of daily life.
        --Afro-Americans Illustration Search Example
        --Children Illustration Search Example
        --Couples Illustration Search Example
        --Groups Illustration Search Example
        --Men Illustration Search Example
        --Photographs Illustration Search Example
        --Women Illustration Search Example

Instrumental music Music Search Example
Music for piano, flute, guitar, and other instruments (without words).
Legacies of Racism and Discrimination Music Search Illustration Search
Music in this category includes the various "dialect songs," musical caricatures, and songs derogatory to an ethnic or gender group. The notion of musical caricature often involes characteristic rhythms - e.g., tom-tom drum beats for "Indian" items. They were extremely popular and it is important to remember that we now view these pieces from quite a different perspective. Because of the nature of these works, some people may find these examples offensive.
        --Afro-Americans Music Search Example
  This term is used only for "dialect" and "plantation" songs. For illustrations see Stereotypes--Afro-Americans

Other groups include:

American Indians, Arabs, Asian, Couples, Dutch, English, Eskimo, French, Germans, Gypsies, Handicapped, Hawaiians, Hispanic, Irish, Italians, Jews, Men, Scots, Swedes, and Women

        --Stereotypes Music Search Illustration Search Example
  This term is used to describe caricatures of ethnic groups.

        --Stereotypes--Afro-Americans Illustration Search Example
  This term is used only for illustrations

Marches and Military Music Music Search Example
Instrumental marches and all types of military marches (including quicksteps, two-steps, one-steps)
Performers Illustration Search Example
This phrase provides access to a wide variety of individuals and groups and may be further subdivided by Afro-Americans, Children, Groups, Men, or Women.
Politics Music Search Illustration Search Example
Music of political parties, campaign songs, & elections
Religion Illustration Search Example
Used to describe illustrations of religious persons, religious statues, and songs about religion. For Sacred music see Classical music
Society and Culture Illustration Search Example
The following terms are used only for illustrations that are not caricatures.
        --Afro-Americans Illustration Search Example
        --American Indians Illustration Search Example
        --Children Illustration Search Example
        --Couples Illustration Search Example
        --Groups Illustration Search Example
        --Men Illustration Search Example
        --Supernatural & Imaginary Beings Illustration Search Example
        --Women Illustration Search Example
        --Sentimental Song Music Search Example
  Much of the collection consists of sentimental songs or a variation on the theme of longing for family, home, and state or country. There are many examples of each type that are collected under this heading. Examples are:
Home songs: Old folks at home
State songs (e.g., Florida): In Florida among the palms
Songs about sweethearts: Drifting
Songs about mothers: Mother would comfort me
Songs about soldiers away at the front: Say a prayer for the boys out there
Sometimes the same song was popular on both sides of the conflict:
The Vacant chair (Confederate version)
The Vacant chair (Yankee version)
        --State songs Music Search
  Names of states figuring prominently on the title page, in the title or words are listed here. Many states are represented. North and South Carolina are entered under Carolinas. Additionally there is a general category for Southern States (i.e., Dixie songs)
--Carolinas (i.e., North and South)
--Southern States

Vices, Gambling, etc. Music Search Illustration Search Example
This includes smoking, drinking & drunkenness, card playing, gambling, etc.

Publishing & Printing Terms

For additional information about the printing and publishing of music see the Bibliography

Chromolithography Example
Lithography adapted to use multicolored inks.
Engraving Example
The production of music notes, letters or illustrations by means of incised lines on a metal plate. In this example the impression lines from the actual printing process are clearly visible on images 2-4. The title page of this example was not engraved.
Lithography Example
The process of printing from a flat surface (e.g., stone or metal plate) on which the image to be printed is ink-receptive and the blank area is ink-repellant.
Stereotype Process Example
A solid metal duplicate of a relief printing surface that is made by pressing a molding material (e.g., wet paper pulp) against it to make a matrix. Molten metal is then poured into the matrix to make a casting which may then be faced with a harder metal to increase durability.

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