Any non-musician who has hung out with a group of musicians talking has probably experienced a crisis of cognition when confronted with musical parlance. They will be dumbfounded to learn that (for example) “oh, that hairpin before the railroad tracks takes me by surprise every time!” is NOT referring to that musician's commute to work. I've selected a few words to define which have been repurposed for musical use without, apparently, the permission of the general population.
This word has many good uses in the English language, from describing a summary of a story to describing auto tires that have been rejuvenated. In music, it is an abbreviation of the word “recapitulation,” an unwieldy word which denotes the return of the original theme of a piece after that theme's development. Most musical movements composed between 1650 and say, 1910 are formatted on an “ABA” form, e.g., A =exposition, B=development, and A=recapitulation. The recap will usually only have the same material as the exposition for a short while before more development takes place, which leads to the next word-
The coda is literally, from the translation of the Latin “cauda,” the tail-end of a piece of music. It is the point where the music begins to either intensify to an ecstatic conclusion, often speeding up, or wind down to a peaceful settlement in anticipation of following movements. A musician who “had trouble in the coda” therefore has not been involved in an accident in Bismarck, they have merely discovered that there were more notes than they were aware of in a piece that was longer than they thought. If you are still confused, just remember that the final studio album by Led Zeppelin is entitled Coda.
Leave it to those clever musicians to come up with a word from the Walgreen's Hair Care aisle to describe the shape of a musical direction. A volume swell in the music can be indicated by the words “crescendo” and “diminuendo,” (or “decrescendo”), but inasmuch as a picture speaks a thousand words, the use of sideways “vees” to indicate this swell is much more obvious when reading the music. The widest part of the hairpin is the loudest. Note the similarity...
hairpins, in red
a red hairpin
Obviously, for a very lengthy increase or decrease lasting for multiple lines of print, these “wedge” notations are not practical, and the actual words “crescendo” and “diminuendo” are used with a series of hyphens to indicate their duration. While we're on the subject of crescendos….
A crescendo (pronounced “creche-endo”) is the PROCESS by which the music gets louder. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've seen in print something like the following:
The crowd noise had reached a crescendo.
I could buy that phrase's author a new dictionary. Arrggh. Friends, a crescendo is not something you reach. It is a way of reaching something. Not an end, but a means to an end. The crowd noise may be increasing, but when it gets to its loudest point, please call it a fortissimo, or a cacophony, but not a crescendo!
5) railroad tracks
Again, musicians are very good at “calling 'em the way they see 'em.” When a composer wants an unexpected pause in the music, they write two short, vertical parallel lines at the top of the staff to indicate it. The technical name is caesura, or if you're a classicist, cǽsura. In any case, the directions are to stop at the railroad tracks, like any normal human being would. This is not a long pause, roughly just one or two seconds, so there's not time to rosin your bow or fix your crooked tie. It's a way that composers stop the flow of the music to fool the audience-- and sometimes the performers!-- for dramatic effect. Often overlooked due to its small size, an oft-used piece of sheet music will have many additional, thickly-penciled markings to warn players of oncoming silence, and a crisp, new part soon will.
caesura after the first note
This is a many-splendored word. The most splendid meaning denotes the tub you sit in at the Y after a workout. It is pronounced “zits,” like the comic strip, or the bane of an adolescent's existence. In music, however, the word is an abbreviation of the German word sitzprobe, a word which at first glance evokes any number of scary thoughts. It is used to define the first rehearsal of an opera or musical where the cast and the orchestra are brought together for the first time. It is usually no soak in a warm tub, as the musical flow is still unfamiliar to many. The cast of such a production are, as a rule, seated in chairs, hence the term “sitz.”
Okay, one more pet peeve. "Staccato clapping" is a term that many sports writers and broadcasters use to describe the rhythmic clapping that fans do when they "want some action" in a game. Musically speaking, staccato describes notes that are detached from one another- short notes that aren't connected to other notes. The opposite of staccato is legato, notes that are smoothly slurred, or at least having uninterrupted sound. Clapping is by nature something that can only be done in a staccato manner- have you ever succeeded in clapping smoothly? I didn't think so. I hereby deem "staccato clapping" to be redundant.