Jazz Lingo & Jazz Slang: A Rundown of Common Jazz Terms

December 11, 2023
Jazz Records photo by Florencia Viadana

Ever feel lost when people start throwing around jazz lingo on the bandstand? Want to feel like you’re “in the know?” Well, this glossary of jazz terminology is for you!

I’ll give you the rundown of common jazz terms, slang, and lingo, so you can stay in the pocket and sound like a pro.

Niche areas of any given field will always have their own lingo, and jazz is no different. The terminology used by jazz musicians can be confusing to those who are new to the music. Even for more experienced musicians and jazz connoisseurs, some language can be unclear.

Don’t be discouraged, though! Learning the language of jazz is a great way to deepen your understanding and appreciation of the music. This is your comprehensive guide to jazz lingo and jazz slang!

Let’s dive in.

Glossary: Jazz Lingo, Jazz Slang, & Jazz Terms

Now’s the time to learn the lingo to hang on the bandstand. Bookmark this page. This is a living jazz slang dictionary. New jazz lingo will get added whenever I come across them in the field and interact among jazz players.

If you like kind of information, check out my free bass guitar lessons.

Jump links

Click on the jump links below to find what you’re looking for.

# | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z

Jazz Glossary – #

12 Tone Technique

A strict way of organizing the order of notes where each note has equal weight. In other words, there is no root, 3rd, or 5th. This approach to music was introduced in the 20th Century by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg.

2 Feel

Also known as a two-feel, is when a bass line is mainly emphasizing half-notes. While other rhythms can be played, beats 1 and 3 of a measure are often emphasized by the bass player.

251

Also known as ii-V-I progression. This is one of the most common chord progression fragments that you’ll come across in many styles of music, including jazz.

6th Diminished Scale

Also known as Barry Harris’ Sixth Diminished Scale. The 6th Diminished Scale is a system for harmonizing major and minor scales, by adding a chromatic note between the 5th and 6th scale degrees. In other words, harmonizing these scales produces alternate sounding 6 chords and diminished chords (rootless 7♭9 sound).

Jazz Glossary – A

A Section

The A Section of a song is first section of a song. It’s also commonly referred to as the “Verse” of a song. In jazz, the A section is often 8 bars or 16 bars in length.

AABA

In the first half of the 20th century, the AABA song form was a popular song form in American music. AABA is typically a 32-bar form and is still common in jazz music.

Absolute Pitch

One’s ability to identify or re-create a musical note without the benefit of a reference tone is called absolute pitch (AP), also known as perfect pitch. Meaning, if you’re an AP possessor, you can accurately reproduce a sound you’ve just heard on your instrument with perfect pitch.

Afro-Cuban Jazz

Afro-Cuban Jazz fuses Afro-Cuban clave-based rhythms and jazz harmonies and techniques of improvisation. This is the earliest form of Latin jazz and emerged in the early 1940s.

Altered Chord

​When you replace chord notes with neighboring pitches from the chromatic scale you end up with an altered chord. In jazz, the V chord is typically altered, containing multiple non-diatonic chord tones.

Altered Scale

You’ll hear the Altered Scale sometimes referred to as a Diminished Whole-Tone scale, Super Locrian scale, or The Altered Dominant scale. The Altered Scale is the 7th mode of a Melodic Minor scale and produces a scale in which all of the notes are altered. A lot of jazz musicians will use this scale when improvising over V chords.

Approach Note

Approach notes are notes leading up to a target note or landing note. Meaning, these notes are typically close in pitch to the target note and sometimes enclose or surround (aka enclosures) the target note.

Arpeggio

An arpeggio is created when you play notes from a chord in order of lowest to highest (ascending arpeggio) or highest to lowest (descending arpeggio). Meaning, if the chord tones are not played in ascending or descending order, then it is often called a Broken Arpeggio.

Arrangement

An adaptation of a song, whether it’s as simple as a bass line or as complex as a full orchestral score is an arrangement. The arranger can take free liberty from the original piece in order to create a new one.

Articulation

A stylistic aspect of your sound. Meaning, it’s how you play your notes. Notes can be articulated with a mixture of long and short notes, quick attack and slow attack, or staccato and legato. In other words, articulation directly impacts your time feel and groove.

Augmented

Typically refers to a raised 5th (a 5th that is raised by a half-step). The structure of an augmented triad is root, third, and raised fifth. This shape is symmetrical.

Augmented 7 Chord

To create an augmented 7 chord, simply add a 7th to an augmented triad. A major augmented 7 chord is structured root, third, raised fifth, major 7. A dominant augmented 7 chord is structured root, third, raised fifth, dominant 7.

Axe

Another word meaning your instrument. Guitarists and bass players often will use this lingo when talking about their instruments.

Jazz Glossary – B

B Section

The B section refers to a part of a song form and typically comes after the A section of a song, often the chorus of a tune. This is common form in pop music too.

Backbeat

In 4/4 time, the backbeat is a beat that’s typically played on beats 2 and 4 and strongly accented. A basic drum groove will play the snare drum on the backbeat.

Backdoor

Also known as the Backdoor Progression. This is a common ii V I chord substitution. The Backdoor is a vi chord moving to a ♭VII chord and resolving to the I (tonic chord).

Bad

Meaning something that’s really good. It’s an odd form of speech to say the opposite of what you really mean. But, I’ve heard this slang used a lot.

Ballad

Often referred to as a jazz ballad. The term is typically used to describe a slow and sentimental, song.

Bars

A measure containing a certain number of beats.

Beast

Word which can be used to describe an extremely talented and exceptional performer.

Bebop

Bebop is a fast paced music style that originated in the United States in the mid 1940s. The style has a fast-paced tempo, complex progressions with rapid chord changes and numerous changes of key, instrumental virtuosity, and occasional references to the melody. Jazz developed by young players in the early 40s, like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell were pioneers of this style of music.

Bill

One-hundred bucks.

Bird Blues

A blues form that was said to have originated by Charlie Parker (nicknamed “Bird”), that consists of a series of ii V progressions.

Block Chords

Block chords are a way to harmonize a melody where all four or five voices are in rhythmic unison. When a pianist or guitarist plays block chords, they’ll appear to have “locked hands.”

Blow

Meaning to play an instrument. I’ve often heard this term used when referring to a soloist, like a trumpet and sax player.

Blowing over changes

Meaning playing or improvising over the chord progression.

Blues

The fundamental harmony of the blues form is made up of the I, IV, and V chords. A jazz blues will often take these chord changes further, by inserting chords moving in the cycle of fourths to lead to each fundamental chord. See “Bird Blues,” a blues form that was popularized by Charlie Parker.

Bridge

A bridge is a contrasting section in music. It prepares for the return of the original material, and it usually lasts for a short period of time.

Broken Intervals

A broken interval is a musical term used to describe when one of the note is sounded before the other. For example broken thirds can be played when the low note is sounded before the higher note.

Jazz Glossary – C

Cadence

A cadence is the end of a phrase that resolves the tension created by another section or line of music. A harmonic cadence is the ending of a phrase, section, or piece of music. It always contains two or more chords. Rhythmic cadence is the way to signal the end of a phrase by using rhythmic phrases.

Cat

Short for Jazzcat. Meaning a hip person or a cool jazz musician. Also used to refer to someone that can play jazz.

Cell

A small rhythmic or melodic fragment is what it is. It is possible to use a cell as a developmental theme.

Changes

A jazz term abbreviation for “chord changes,” also known as the chord progression.

Charleston Rhythm

The Charleston rhythm consists of a dotted quarter note followed by an eighth note, and is a fundamental rhythm found in swing jazz.

Chops

The word “chops” refers to a musician’s level of skill and technical mastery in terms of their ability to perform music.

Chord

A chord is sounded when three or more notes are played at the same time.

Chord Chart

In a chord chart, the basic harmonic and rhythmic information for a song or tune are written down. It’s an easy way to communicate the chord progression and form of a song. There are two kinds of notational systems in use today. One system uses Roman numerals (from I to XI) while the other uses Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3…).

Chord Melody

Chord melody is a technique that involves adding chords to a melody. When you take a melody and add chords to it, that’s a chord melody. You can take a song and turn it into a harmony and melody arrangement that will make it sound beautiful while still keeping the original melody line.

Chord Scale

A chord scale is a system of harmonizing each note of a scale. This results in a set of chords based off the scale that was harmonized.

Chord Tones

The notes that are being played in the chord.

Chorus

A chorus is the section of a song that contains the song’s major melodic and lyrical motifs. You’ll hear this more term used more in pop settings. However, you will come across players that will refer to the chorus. Normally, song structures are repeated at least twice in an extended composition such as a musical piece. The chorus is also often used to describe a particularly emotional turning point of a tune.

Chromatic

The word “chromatic” is often used to describe a half-step movement. You can ascend or descend in a chromatic fashion. Chromaticism is widely used in jazz to create movement and interesting melodies.

Circle of Fifths

The circle of fifths is a way for organizing the 12 chromatic pitches as a sequence of perfect fifths. A circle of fourths is also a sequence, except that it moves in fourths. In jazz, chords often move in a circle (also known as a cycle). You’ll often hear the term “cycle of fourths” or “cycle of fifths” used often. Common jazz tunes will feature movements in the circle of fifths.

Clave

In Cuba, the clave is a rhythmic pattern used as a tool for temporal organization in Cuban music. There are different types of claves, like Son clave and Rhumba clave. You’ll hear or feel the clave in Afro-Cuban Jazz or Brazilian Jazz contexts, especially in the rhythms of the bass and drums.

Close Voicing

Also known as “closed voicing.” Meaning how the chord tones are stacked to create the chord. A close voicing stacks each chord tone as closely as possible, creating a more dense sound.

Coda

A coda can be few measures or an entire section in length and is used to bring a song to an end.

Coltrane Changes

A harmonic progression, also referred to as Cotrane Matrix. This progression is used as a substitute for improvisations using ii-V-I.

Combo

Same as a Jazz Combo. Meaning a small band or small big band.

Comping

The rhythms, countermelodies, and rhythmic chording that keyboard players, guitar players, and drummers use to support a musician’s improvised solo or melody lines are called comping.

Contrafact

Meaning an arrangement of music or jazz composition, that is based on a prior piece of music. The tune chord progression from, “I Got Rhythm” is commonly used for contrafact.

Contrary Motion

When two or more melodies or chords are moving in opposition. Example: One line can move up and the other line can move down. There are four different kinds of contrapuntal motion: parallel motion, similar motion, contrary motion, and oblique motion.

Cool Jazz

The Cool Jazz style of music was developed in the United States after World War II. It’s characterized by slower tempos and a more relaxed feel, in contrast to the fast and complex bebop style.

Counting Off

A type of instruction (typically verbal) given to performers of a musical instrument or choir to signal their entrance into the piece being performed. This establishes a tempo and time signature, and ensures that everyone enters the song in unison.

Cross-rhythm

Two or more different rhythmic patterns played at the same time.

Crushing it

Meaning you’re doing a great job. i.e: You’re going above and beyond.

Jazz Glossary – D

Diatonic

There are diatonic notes that are part of the key center. The non-diatonic notes are not part of the key center.

Digg

Slang that’s often used to say that you either really like something or understand something. You’ll sometimes hear a musician say, “I digg it.”

Diminished

A note that’s lowered by a half-step is often referred to as diminished. For example, a diminished 5th is a 5th that has been lowered by a half-step.

Diminished Scale

The diminished scale is a symmetrical scale made that’s structured by alternating half-step and whole-step (Half-Whole Diminished Scale) or alternating whole-step and half-step (Whole-Half Diminished Scale). Jazz musicians use this scale for dominant 7♭9 chords.

Diminished Seventh Chord

A four-note chord comprised of all minor 3rds. So, you have a root, ♭3, ♭5,♭♭7 (double-flat 7). A C Diminished Seventh Chord has these notes: C, E♭, G♭, A.​

Diminished Triad

A diminished triad in music theory consists of two minor third above the root (root, ♭3, ♭5).

Dominant sound

There’s many different ways to alter a dominant 7 chord, by flatting (lowering by half-step) or sharping (raising by half-step) the  9th, 4th, and/or 6th. However, the overall sound, the foundation of the dominant sound, is created with the root, 3rd, and ♭7. Every jazz musician should have a strong grasp of the dominant sound.

Double Time

Double-time playing is used in jazz and ballad playing. It’s when the melodic line is played twice as fast as the accompanying instruments remain at the same pace. Sometimes, all of the instruments can double the tempo at same time. An exciting sound is created by this.

Dough

Also referred to as “bread” or “paper.” Meaning money or cash.

Drop 2 Voicing

Drop 2 is a common voicing used by jazz musicians. It’s when you take the second voicing from the top and drop it down an octave. This produces a full sound.

Drop 3 Voicing

Drop 3 is another common voicing used by jazz guitarists and pianists. It’s when you take the third voicing from the top and drop it down an octave. This produces a sound that is not muddy because the bass note is spaced far apart from the upper voicing cluster.

Jazz Glossary – E

Embellishment

Sometimes referred to as Ornaments. An embellishment is a technique or musical device used to create variation with a melody. Some examples of embellishments are Grace Notes, Turns, Trills, Mordents, and Appoggiaturas.

Enclosure

Enclosures are a way to approach a target note, by surrounding the note from a step from above and a step from below. Meaning you’re approaching a note from above and below, or below and above, either diatonically or chromatically.

Enharmonic

Same note, different spelling.

Extensions

Extensions are chord tones that “extend” beyond the octave.  These notes are above the fundamental chord structure: root, 3rd, 5th, 7th. For example, 9, 11, and 13.

Jazz Glossary – F

Fake Book

Also called “The Real Book.” A collection of jazz charts that a jazz musician can use to “fake it” if one doesn’t know a tune.

Fill

A musical phrase in between the melody to keep the listener’s attention.

Free Jazz

Free Jazz is a kind of jazz that tried to break from the old traditions of jazz and create something entirely new. The freedom to experiment with your own creative impulses led to the birth of a new kind of art form, called Free Jazz.

Front Line

Any instrument that’s not part of the rhythm section, aka the horns.

Functional Harmony

In general music theory, Functional Harmony is the movement of one chord to another all functioning within a specific tonality. There are two types of chords: functional and non-functional. A functional chord wants to go in a direction that works within a tonal framework.

Fusion

Jazz fusion (also called fusion or progressive jazz) is a music genre combining jazz harmony and improvisation with rock, funk, and rhythm and blues.

Jazz Glossary – G

Go out

In other words, play notes outside of the key center. See “Playing Outside.”

Groove

Meaning the rhythmic feeling of the music. Can be used as a noun or a verb.

Guide Tone

Used for helping to navigate the chord changes. Guide tones are also provide melodic direction in your lines. Typically guide tones are created by the 3rds and 7ths of chords. The root, 3rd, and 7th of a chord is the essence of a chord, also known as a “Shell.”

Jazz Glossary – H

Half-time feel

Altering the rhythmic feeling of a song, by playing the changes and/or melody twice as long. In other words, if chord changes are normally one measure in duration, a half-time feel would play the changes with a duration of two measures.

Half-diminished (Ø)

A chord that’s often used for the ii chord in a minor ii-V-i chord progression. A half-diminished chord is a root, ♭3, ♭5, and ♭7.

Hard-Bop

Bebop is a style of jazz that was developed in the 1940s in the United States. Hard bop is an extension of bebop music that incorporates influences from rhythm and blues, gospel music, and blues.

Harmonic Clarity

Harmonic clarity often refers to when lines clearly sound out or imply the chord changes without the need of a harmonic instrument doing so.

Harmonic rhythm

Harmonic rhythm is a term that refers to when chord changes occur on strong beats of a measure, such as beats 1 and 3. Listening to the harmonic rhythm, when the chord changes occur, can be a great help when transcribing solos and analyzing them.

Harmony

When two or more notes are played simultaneously, harmony is created.

Head

In jazz, the head is the main them or most prominent part of a tune.

Hip

Generally a positive lingo. Meaning something that’s cool or slick.

Hipster

A slang term that was used in the 1940s that referred to jazz aficionados (someone who knows or understands a lot about jazz).

Horn

Also means your instrument.

Jazz Glossary – I

ii V I

Roman Numeral representation of a common jazz progression 2-5-1 that’s resolving to a Tonic Major chord. Notice the Roman numeral for the 1 chord is capitalized. Chord symbols are often represented as Roman Numerals.

ii V i

Roman Numeral representation of a common jazz progression 2-5-1 that’s resolving to a Tonic Minor chord. Notice the Roman numeral for the 1 chord is lowercased.

Improvisation (improv)

In jazz improvisation, a musician takes advantage of moments in a performance, spontaneously creating fresh melodies, to create new music and invent melodic lines or accompanying parts.

Inner-voice movement

The movement of middle register chord voicings. Typical jazz usage will take advantage of chromatic inner-voice movement to build melodic lines.

Inserted V7

In order to create additional movement to a line, jazz musicians will often insert a V7 chord or a line derived from a V7 chord. This creates a V-I cadence that is satisfying to the ear.

Interlude

A transitional passage between sections of a composition. This passage is used as a way to connect compositional sections.

Intro (Introduction)

An intro in jazz introduces a tune and sets up the vibe. It can last 4 bars, 8 bars, and many more bars. Often an intro can be embellished to quite a degree that when the band comes in and starts the tune, there is a nice contrasting effect.

Inversion

Meaning a different order. In jazz harmony, chords can be root position (root on the bottom), first inversion (3rd on the bottom), second inversion (5th on the bottom), and even third inversion (7th on the bottom).

Jazz Glossary – J

Jam

Jam sessions are a fun way for musicians to get together to improvise on whatever they feel like playing over whatever musical material is available.

Jazz

A major form of musical expression since the 1920s. Jazz is regarded as a traditional and popular form of music. It was born out of an African rhythm ritual, with its roots in European harmony.

Jazz Standard

A “jazz standard” is a piece of music that is commonly used in jazz repertoire.

Jazz Glossary – K

Key

A key is the main group of pitches that form the harmonic foundation of a piece of music. Jazz music is often played in flat keys – B♭, E♭, F, A♭ and Db. Also known as “key signature.”

Jazz Glossary – L

Lead Sheet

The basic concept of a lead sheet is to provide a quick sketch of a tune that allows the musician to play the song if they know how to interpret chord changes. Typically, the melody (aka lead line) is written in musical notation, with corresponding chord changes written above.

Left Hand Rootless Voicing (LHRV)

Refers to how a pianist voices the chords with the left hand. LHRV will omit the root of the chord from being played, and leave it up to the bass player to play the root.

Legit

Meaning the real deal.

Lick

A stock melodic pattern or phrase often used in solos, melodic lines, and accompaniment.

Line

A string of notes either ascending or descending over a chord or chord progression.

Lit

Means that something is exciting.

Locked

When the band members are playing together and the music feels really good, the music is locked.

Loop

Meaning to continuously repeat a section of a song.

Lydian

A Lydian sound is mainly characterized by a major triad with a ♯11. The overall feeling of the sound is like the sunrise.

Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization

The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization is the foundational book that helped to revolutionize jazz theory. George Russell’s work proposed that all music is based on the gravity of the Lydian Mode.

Lydian Dominant

A dominant sound with a ♯11. This particular sound is derived from the 4th degree of a Melodic Minor scale.

Jazz Glossary – M

Mainstream

The popular music usually heard in the top 40 and sometimes heard on the radio. It’s known by the general public.

Major sound

A sound that’s characterized by the root, 3rd, 5th, and 6th.

Making Paper

Slang for making a lot of money.

Melodic Minor Scale

A common scale used in jazz for the tonic minor. Modes of the melodic minor scale are often used as a foundation for voicing altered chords.

Melodic statement

Short melodic phrase that feels like the period at the end of a sentence.

Melody

There are three main aspects of music: Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm. The melody is a series of notes played in a way that is memorable and recognizable.

Meter

Music that has meter has a repetitive pattern of strong and weak beats. Meters are usually classified by the number of beats between one strong beat and the next. You’ll find the key signature and meter of a tune are established at the onset.

Methodical

Used to describe a particularly specific manner or follow a certain procedure of doing something.

Metric Modulation

Tempo can also be modulated just as you can modulate to a different pitch or a different musical key. One way to alter the tempo is by gradually changing the tempo, either faster (Accelerando) or slower (Ritardando). This form of altering the tempo of the music is called metric modulation.

Milking

Playing the same musical phrase a up or down a certain musical interval. Jazz musicians often use this technique when playing phrases over a ii-V-I. Typically, a minor sounding phrase is played for the ii chord. Then the same phrase is played a minor third up for the V chord.

Minor sound

Characterized by a root, ♭3, and 5. There are many different types of minor sounds, where the 7 can be a minor 7 or major 7.

Modal

A style of Jazz developed in the late 1950’s characterized by sparse chord changes where a single chord can last for many bars. Strong focus on ‘modality’ over ‘tonality’ and use of quartal harmony.

Mode

When musicians refer to modes, they’re typically referring to modes that are relative to the major scale, melodic minor scale, or harmonic minor scale. While relative modes have the same set of notes as the parent scale, different moods and chords are created by starting the scale on a different scale degree.

Modulation

Change of tonality to another, or change of tempo to another.

Monk

You’ll often hear Thelonious Monk (a highly influencial jazz pianist and composer) referred to as just “Monk”.

Monster

A beast. Someone that has a very high level of skill on their instrument.

Montuno

In Afro-Cuban Jazz, a montuno where a pianist plays a certain rhythm for an entire tune, while playing the chord changes.

Movement

The change of voicings from one chord to another.

Moving inner voice

Chord voicings in the middle of a chord moving to another chord voicing in the middle of a chord.

Mutant

Another word for “beast.” Term used to describe someone that’s so good at a particular thing.

Jazz Glossary – N

Natural Major

The natural major of A minor is C major.

Natural Minor

The natural minor of C major is A minor.

Neo-bop

A style of jazz that gained popularity in the 1980’s that contains elements of bebop, hard-bop, and modal jazz.

Non-Functional Harmony

The term non-functional harmony refers to any system that doesn’t fit the tension and release cycle that is pervasive in functional harmony cadences.

Number System

A way of labeling sounds (notes and chords) using numbers instead of note letterings.

Jazz Glossary – O

Open voicing

Meaning when chord voicings are spaced far apart. This creates an open sound.

Ostinato

A repeating rhythm, motif, or phrase. Often other musicians will play over an Ostinato.

Out

Play notes that are distant from the tonic center.

Outer voice

The lowest or highest voice in a chord.

Outro

Section of a song that takes a song to its ending.

Jazz Glossary – P

Pedal

Another word for “Pedal Point.” It’s when a note is sustained over a long duration. Bass players will often pedal while chord changes are still being played by other musicians. This creates a form of tension in the music.

Pentatonic Scale

A 5-note scale.

Perfect Pitch

Same as “Absolute Pitch.” It’s the ability to hear and recognize a note without any prior reference.

Phrase

A group of notes or rhythms can create a phrase.

Pickup Note

Note or notes that lead up to the beginning of a tune.

Planing

Playing a chord shape and moving the same exact chord shape around in different intervals. Since the chord shape is maintained, outside notes are inevitable.

Play Outside

“Outside Playing” in jazz improvisation is when a musician plays lines, phrases, or chords that are harmonically distant from the key center. There are many techniques for playing outside, including side-stepping or side-slipping, superimposing of Coltrane changes, and polytonality.

Pocket

The groove. Playing “in the pocket” is a way of saying that you’re in the groove.

Polytonality

When more than one key is sounded simultaneously.

Progression

Same word for “Chord Progression.” Chords that are changing are progress toward a resolution.

Jazz Glossary – Q

Quality

Often refers to kind of chord you are hearing. Chords can be major, minor, dominant, or augmented in quality.

Quartal Harmony

Voicing chords primarily in fourths instead of thirds.

Quavers

Another word for eighth notes.

Quote

A recognizable melody or melodic phrase. Jazz musicians will sometimes insert a quote the middle of their solos to catch the listener’s ear.

Jazz Glossary – R

Relative Pitch

Ability to comprehend pitch, notes, and chords with the use of a reference or the previous sound that was played. This is a very useful skillset in music improvisation.

Repertoire

A collection of musical pieces.

Resolution

A note, chord, or beat that feels like home base.

Rhumba Clave

Different than a Son Clave in that the ‘and of 4’ is emphasized.

Rhythm

A combination of strong and weak beats create rhythm.

Rhythm Changes

A common set of chord changes derived from the tune “I Got Rhythm,” by George Gershwin.

Rhythm Section

The group of musicians that provide the underlying rhythm and harmony that support the lead melody or singer.

Riff

Another word for a repeated melodic or chordal pattern.

Root

The first note of a scale.

Run

An extended melodic (often scalar) line.

Jazz Glossary – S

Samba

A style of Brazilian Jazz. The bass drum as ride patterns have a unique relationship that propel this style of music.

Scalar

Notes moving scale-wise.

Scale

An organized set of sequential notes.

Scale Degree

Any note of a scale is a scale degree.

Scat

Form of jazz improvisation where the vocalist uses their voice like an instrumentalist to create wordless phrases and articulated sounds.

Serious

Slang word for someone that is the real deal.

Shape

A set of notes, either a chord or melodic phrase can be a musical shape.

Sharp

Meaning to raise a note by a step. Represented by a “♯”.

Shed

Means to practice. It can also mean the practice room, depending on the context.

Shell

Meaning “Shell Voicing.” The sound of a chord is mainly created with the root, 3rd, and 7th. These voicings make up a shell voicing.

Shout Chorus

A high energy part of a big band chart where everybody plays together. That’s why the “shout.”

Shuffle

A specific rhythmic feel created by an 8th note rhythm alternating a long and short note.

Sick

Meaning awesome.

Side-slipping

Play a diatonic melodic phrase, then repeat the same phrase a chromatic step below or above.

Steal and Incorporate

Apply a musical idea to a different context, making it your own.

Step-wise

Moving by a combination of half-step and whole-step.

Stop time

A musical device in which accompanying instruments plays melodic rhythms with sharp accents. This exaggerates the rhythm which, despite its name, doesn’t stop. “Charleston” rhythm is the most famous of kind of stop-time figure.

Straight 8s

Eighth notes that are played with even durations.

Stride

A style of piano playing that came from ragtime players and consists of fast tempos and the left hand playing a wide range.

Strings of notes

A lot of notes.

Subdominant

The V of a V chord. In other words the secondary dominant. This is often used to create more movement in a chord progression.

Substitution

A substitution replaces a chord for another chord while still maintaining the overall harmonic function.

Syncopation

Syncopation (also known as syncopated phrasing) is when the rhythm has unexpected upbeats resolving to a strong beat.

Jazz Glossary – T

Tag

Used to signify that a song is ending. Jazz musicians will often tag (repeat) the last few bars of a song.

Tail-Note

Additional note or notes at the end of a phrase, used to embellish or add some style to the musical phrase.

Take it to the bridge

Means to go the the bridge of the song.

Target Note

The note of resolution is often the target note. Target notes are approached by surrounding notes that are either diatonic or chromatic.

Tension and Release

A term used to describe tension that is created in the music and then resolved.

Tetrachord

A chunk of four notes. A common tetrachord is 1, 2, 3, and 5. The order of these notes doesn’t matter.

Tertiary Harmony

Chordal harmony that is built in thirds.

Through-Composed

A jazz composition that is long in form and doesn’t have any sections.

Tight

Slang for something that’s really nice, particularly emotional or technically excellent.

Timbre

The sound quality of the tone of an instrument.

Time feel

The way the rhythm feels. Different musicians have different time-feels. Some may play the time loosely, while others may have a more metronomic time-feel.

Top

The beginning of the tune.

Trading 4s (or 8s, 2s)

In jazz, musicians will often take turns with solos, trading a few bars each time.

Transcribe

While transcribing usually means writing something down, in music it typically just means to figure out a line, rhythm, or harmony from a recording. Writing down the notes is not always part of the process.

Transpose

Play a line, melody, or chord progression in a different key.

Tritone Substitution

A common substitution in jazz where a chord that is a tritone away is used as a substitute.

Tumbao

In Afro-Cuban jazz and Latin music, the tumbao is a foundational rhythm that’s played on the bass that emphasized the beat ‘and of 2’ and beat ‘4’.

Turnaround

A musical passage at the end of a section that leads to the next section. Often times, the chord progression in a turnaround will involve a cycle of fourths.

Jazz Glossary – U

Upper structure

Extensions of a chord beyond the octave.

Jazz Glossary – V

V of V

Another way of saying Secondary Dominant.

Vamp

A section of a tune that’s repeated. It could be one chord or a few chords in length.

Voice

One of the notes in a chord.

Voice-leading

When the voices of the current chord are diatonically or chromatically close to the voices of the next chord.

Jazz Glossary – W

Walk

A line that’s played by the bass player, characterized by quarter notes.

Waltz

Time-feel that’s in 3/4 time signature.

Woodshed

Place that you practice your instrument.

Jazz Glossary – X

X

The number of times that you play something. This is something you’ll often see written in a chord chart when one or more choruses are played. e.g.: “10X Chorus” means to play 10 choruses of the tune.

Jazz Glossary – Y

You’ll hear it

Musicians will often say this as a way of saying that you should be able to catch the chord changes.

Jazz Glossary – Z

Zoney Baloney

Feeling super-tired from staying up late from a gig or recording session.

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PosidoVega

Hi! I’m Posido Vega, a multi-passionate creative. I’m an artist, bass player, jazz theory enthusiast, children’s book author and illustrator, and SEO 😅.

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