British and American Musical Terms

British vs. American Musical Terms

First posted June 17, 1998, by Nina Gilbert
Updated September 7, 2000 with Semihemidemisemiquaver


How to use this page:

Find a term on the Alphabetical List, and click to find its transatlantic equivalent and context.

Or skim the whole page, and e-mail me to let me know how I can make it better or more accurate. Also, please let me know if you find other sources for this information.


Categories you will find below the alphabetical list:

American note values and their British equivalents

British note values and their American equivalents

American cadences and their British equivalents

British cadences and their American equivalents

American analytical terms and their British equivalents

British analytical terms and their American equivalents

Other American musical terms and their British equivalents

Other British musical terms and their American equivalents


Alphabetical List of American (A) and British (B) Musical Terms

Alto (A)
Alto (B)
Applied music (A)
Asymmetric meter (A)
Aural training (B)
Authentic cadence (A)
Bar (B)
Barline (A)
Choral society (B)
Chromatic scale (A)
Clinician (A)
Common chord (B)
Community chorus (A)
Complex time (B)
Composite meter (A)
Concertmaster (A)
Concertmistress (A)
Contralto (B)
Cor Anglais (B)
Course director (B)
Crotchet (B)
Cue (A)
Deceptive cadence (A)
Demisemiquaver (B)
Direct (an opera) (A)
Drum kit (B)
Drum set (A)
Ear training (A)
Eighth note (A)
English horn (A)
Fermata (A)
Folk song (A)
The Forty-Eight (B)
Glee club (A)
Half-cadence (A)
Half note (A)
Half step (A)
Hemidemisemiquaver (B)
Harmonic chromatic scale (B)
Hold (B)
Hundred twenty-eighth note (A)
Imperfect cadence (B)
Intermission (A)
Interrupted cadence (B)
Interval (B)
Inverted cadence (B)
Kit(B)
Leader (B)
Leading note (B)
Leading tone (A)
Lecturer (B)
Measure (A)
Melodic chromatic scale (B)
Minim (B)
National song (B)
Non-essential notes (B)
Non-harmonic tones (A)
Orchestra (B)
Orchestra leader (B)
Parallel minor (A)
Part writing (B)
Pause (B)
Picardy third (A)
Perfect cadence (A)
Perfect cadence (B)
Practical music (B)
Primary triads (B)
Produce (an opera) (B)
Quarter note (A)
Quasihemidemisemiquaver (B)
Quaver (B)
Secondary triads (B)
Semi-breve (B)
Semi-cadence (A)
Semihemidemisemiquaver (A)
Semiquaver (B)
Semitone (B)
Singing (B)
Sixteenth note (A)
Sixty-fourth note (A)
Symphony (A)
Thirty-second note (A)
Tierce de Picardie (B)
Tone (A)
Tone (B)
Tonic minor (B)
Turn over (B)
Turn pages (A)
Turn the page (A)
Voice (A)
Voice leading (A)
The Well-Tempered Clavier (A)
Whole note (A)
Whole step (A)


Equivalents Organized by Category and Context

Note: I don't know why the rest of this page still looks like links.

American note values
British equivalent

Whole note
Semi-breve
Half note
Minim
Quarter note
Crotchet
Eighth note
Quaver
Sixteenth note
Semiquaver
Thirty-second note
Demisemiquaver
Sixty-fourth note
Hemidemisemiquaver (NOTE: Instead of actually pronouncing such a long name for such a short note, people sometimes just say "quick note")
Hundred twenty-eighth note
Quasihemidemisemiquaver (I'm not making this up: it's in Scholes' Oxford Companion to Music and elsewhere), or Semihemidemisemiquaver
Rests
Where, for example, British say crotchet rest, Americans say quarter rest (not quarter-note rest)
Dots
Dots are dots: a dotted half note, for example, is a dotted minim

Back to Alphabetical List at the top of this page

British note values
American equivalent

Semi-breve
Whole note
Minim
Half note
Crotchet
Quarter note
Quaver
Eighth note
Semiquaver
Sixteenth note
Demisemiquaver
Thirty-second note
Hemidemisemiquaver
Sixty-fourth note
Quasihemidemisemiquaver
Hundred twenty-eighth note (I'm not making this up: it's in Scholes' Oxford Companion to Music and elsewhere)
Semihemidemisemiquaver
Hundred twenty-eighth note
Rests
Where, for example, British say crotchet rest, Americans say quarter rest (not quarter-note rest)
Dots
Dots are dots: a dotted minim, for example, is a dotted half note

Back to Alphabetical List at the top of this page

American Cadences
British equivalent

Authentic cadence
Perfect cadence
Deceptive cadence
Interrupted cadence
Half-cadence (semi-cadence)
Imperfect cadence
Perfect Authentic cadence
Perfect cadence -- that is, what British call perfect
and Americans call authentic -- in which top voice is on root of final (tonic) chord, and both dominant and tonic chords are in root position so that the bass moves from the fifth to the first scale degree (no British label for that concept)
Plagal cadence
Plagal cadence (same!)
Semi-cadence (half-cadence)
Imperfect cadence

Back to Alphabetical List at the top of this page

British Cadences
American equivalent

Imperfect cadence
Semi-cadence, half-cadence
Interrupted cadence
Deceptive cadence
Inverted cadence
Cadence whose chords are not in root position (no simple American label for that concept)
Perfect cadence
Authentic cadence (there is no British equivalent for the American term perfect cadence)
Plagal cadence
Plagal cadence (same!)

Back to Alphabetical List at the top of this page

American analytical terms
British equivalent

Asymmetric meter, sometimes called Composite meter
Complex time -- meter such as 7/8 that mixes simple and compound pulses
Chromatic scale
Melodic chromatic scale: written with sharps on the way up and flats on the way down (see harmonic chromatic scale)
Composite meter, more often called Asymmetric meter
Complex time -- meter such as 7/8 that mixes simple and compound pulses
Half step
Semitone
Leading tone
Leading note (names of other scale degrees, such as tonic, supertonic, etc., are common to both sides)
Non-harmonic tones
Non-essential notes
Parallel minor
Tonic minor (but relative minor = relative minor)
Picardy third
Tierce de Picardie
Tone
Note (for some uses of American "tone")
Voice leading
Part writing
Whole step (noun)
Tone (but as an adjective, whole-tone scale = whole-tone scale)

Back to Alphabetical List at the top of this page

British analytical terms
American equivalent

Common chord
Triad whose fifth is perfect -- major or minor, not augmented or diminished (no equivalent American label)
Complex time
Asymmetric meter, sometimes called composite meter -- meter such as 7/8 that mixes simple and compound pulses
Harmonic chromatic scale
Chromatic scale written to include notes of major and tonic minor scales, plus the augemented fourth and minor second; the harmonic chromatic scale built on C, for example, goes C / D-flat / D / E-flat / E / F / F-sharp / G / A-flat / A / B-flat / B / C.
Leading note
Leading tone (names of other scale degrees, such as subdominant, dominant, etc., are common to both sides)
Melodic chromatic scale
Chromatic scale written American-style, with sharps on the way up and flats on the way down (see harmonic chromatic scale)
Non-essential notes
Non-harmonic tones
Note
Tone (for some uses of American "tone")
Part writing
Voice leading
Primary triads
I, IV, and V -- the triads that are major in a major key (some Americans also use this term)
Secondary triads
ii, iii, and vi -- the relative minors of the primary triads
Semitone
Half step
Tierce de Picardie
Picardy third
Tonic minor
Parallel minor (but relative minor = relative minor)
Tone
Whole step (noun) (but as an adjective, whole-tone scale = whole-tone scale)

Back to Alphabetical List at the top of this page

Other American musical terms
British equivalent

Alto (female singer)
Contralto, sometimes alto
Applied music
Practical music
Bar, barline
Barline (line between bars)
Clinician
Lecturer, course director (a "clinic" is a group of medical patients)
Community chorus, glee club
Choral society, though there are differences everywhere among the various terms for choral organizations
Concertmaster, concertmistress
Orchestra leader, or just "leader"; as a verb, the orchestra is "led by So-and-so," meaning that So-and-so is what Americans would describe as a concertmaster or concertmistress. "Concertmaster" can refer to a male or a female.
Concertmistress, concertmaster
Orchestra leader, or just "leader"; as a verb, the orchestra is "led by So-and-so," meaning that So-and-so is what Americans would describe as a concertmaster or concertmistress. "Concertmaster" can refer to a male or a female.
Cue
Lead (noun); cue (noun or verb)
Direct an opera
Produce an opera
Drum set
Drum kit, kit, sometimes drum set
Ear training
Aural training
English horn,
Cor anglais
Fermata
Hold, pause, fermata
Folk song
National song, folk song
Glee club, community chorus
Choral society
Intermission
Interval
Measure (sometimes "bar")
Bar, meaning the metrical unit; "twelve-bar blues" is always "twelve-bar blues," however
Symphony, also "symphony orchestra" or "orchestra"
Symphony orchestra or orchestra, but the term "symphony" alone is not used as a noun meaning orchestra
Turn pages, turn the page
Turn over (Someone who offers "Shall I turn over?" is offering to turn pages for you)
Turn the page, turn pages
Turn over (P.T.O. -- "please turn over" -- means "turn this page" in music and elsewhere)
Voice
Singing, as in "singing lessons"
The Well-Tempered Clavier
The Forty-Eight

Back to Alphabetical List at the top of this page

Other British musical terms
American equivalent

Alto
Often a male alto or countertenor, see Contralto
Aural training
Ear training
Bar
Measure, sometimes bar; "twelve-bar blues" is "twelve-bar blues" everywhere
Contralto
Female alto singer, referred to as an alto or a contralto
Cor anglais
English horn
Choral society
Glee club, community chorus
Course director, lecturer
Clinician
Drum kit, kit
Drum set
The Forty-Eight
The Well-Tempered Clavier
Hold, pause
fermata
Interval,
Intermission
Kit, drum kit
Drum set
Lead
Cue (noun), or, serve as concertmaster (verb)
Leader, Orchestra leader
Concertmaster or concertmistress
Lecturer, course director
Clinician
National song, folk song
Folk song
Orchestra, symphony orchestra
Symphony, orchestra, or symphony orchestra
Orchestra leader
Concertmaster, concertmistress
Pause, hold
fermata
Practical music
Applied music
Produce an opera
Direct an opera
Singing
Voice, as in "voice lessons"
Turn over
Turn pages, turn the page

Back to Alphabetical List at the top of this page

Please e-mail me with any comments, corrections, additions, or advice.

This is an informal list, based on two years of teaching within a British-based school system, about eight years of actively seeking these terms, advice from Sir David Willcocks and the late Walter Collins, and the "American musical terms" entry in the old Oxford Companion to Music. Thanks to Professor Christopher Hunt (Mohawk College, Hamilton, Ontario) for adding some Canadian perspective!


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