musical notes

Sorry I've been quiet--was trying to finish a book before coming on holiday. So, 'hello' from the US, where Grover is getting reacquainted with her cousins and I only have a little editing to do in order to finish the book. (I think my honeymoon was the only non-working holiday I've had in years...)

In the interest of not distracting myself too much from that editing, I'm going to pull together some info that readers have sent me about musical terminology in the two countries. Since my years of childhood music lessons did not result in any usable skills, I've never applied myself to the making of music in the UK, and so my exposure to the terminology has been slight. But reader darcherd kindly sent me a list that he's encountered in his reading, which I reproduce here. The first item of each pair is BrE and the second AmE.

  • Breve - A note of two bars' length (a count of 8) in 4/4 time (no AmE equivalent of which I'm aware)
  • Conservatoire - Conservatory
  • Crotchet - Quarter note
  • Minim - Half note
  • Quaver - Eighth note
  • Semiquaver - Sixteenth note
  • Demisemiquaver - Thirty-second note
  • Hemidemisemiquaver - Sixty-fourth note
  • Semibreve - Whole note
  • Semitone - Half step
I'm assuming that darcherd is correct about all these. (Use the comments if you'd like to correct or expand on any of this, please.) I haven't checked all the notes terminology, but I did look up conservatoire, about which the OED says:
A public establishment (in France, Germany or Italy) for special instruction in music and declamation. (The French form of the word is commonly used in England in speaking not only of the Conservatoire of Paris, but also, with less propriety, of the Conservatorium of Leipzig, and the Conservatorios of Italy, and is even sometimes assumed as the name of musical schools in England. In the U.S. the anglicized form conservatory is used.)
Conservatory tends to be used in BrE in a deviation from this sense (also from the OED):
A greenhouse for tender flowers or plants; now, usually, an ornamental house into which plants in bloom are brought from the hot-house or green-house.

The deviation is that the conservatories people tend to speak of are glass-enclosed extensions on their homes, which allegedly raise the value of the property, but always seem to be too hot to sit in, thus requiring very elaborate systems of window blinds. (See photo, from here.)

But back to music...David Young wrote some time ago to point out this bit from the March 2009 issue of Classical Guitar magazine:
Without being too rigorous about it, Classical Guitar has generally preferred the word 'rendering' to the word 'rendition' to describe a performance of music, considering it to be American usage only. However, I discovered the word 'rendition' in an English review published in 1906. So it's been around for at least 103 years, though it lost some respectability recently, when it came to mean removing suspected terrorists to a remote country where they could be tortured without too much danger of the details being picked up by the international media.

But 'rendering' can bring to mind a coat of plaster, and is only fractionally better.[Colin Cooper, Editorial Consultant]
The dangling participle there is driving me a little (AmE) crazy/(BrE) mad, but massive quotation is the way to go if one wants to blog quickly!

One last musical note, which came up in a conversation with friends recently, is that pop music has a much broader application in BrE than in AmE. In my American high school and (AmE) college/(BrE) university, it was deeply uncool to like 'pop' music, one had to like (orig. AmE) rock or (orig. AmE) R&B or, later, (orig. AmE) indie music. (Or jazz or classical, but not pop!) But many of the British acts that we thought were cool would have been defined (or would have defined themselves) as pop in Britain. A key difference may be the fact that the British charts don't categori{s/z}e music in such strict ways. Whereas the American Billboard magazine publishes a load of genre charts each week (giving rise to the AmE phrase crossover artist for someone who charts* in more than one genre), the UK Singles Chart is not genre-specific and did not start having genre-specific versions until the 1990s.

Googling the phrase "I'm just a pop star", we find it attributed to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Björk--but in my American days I would not have described either of them in that way (especially not Pink Floyd). I would have limited its use to Britney Spears and 'N Sync or whatever the (orig. AmE) tweenies were listening to at the time. I had thought that the uncoolness of pop was what made Pop Idol into American Idol when it moved across the Atlantic--but Wikipedia tells me it was legal restrictions instead. Younger Americans can tell us if pop has redeemed itself in recent years (comments, please!).

*This verb sense of chart hasn't made it into the OED yet, so I'm not sure where it originated.


  1. Breve (UK) = double whole note (US)

  2. In Canada I've heard breve in a university music theory course, but it doesn't come up very often so I don't know if it's the preferred term. I don't think I've ever heard "double whole note".

    I would definitely say semitone before half step but for the rest, the American terms are what I know.

  3. As a younger(?) American whose Internet life is mostly spent talking about pop music, I certainly use the word in the expansive British sense, and have always self-consciously meant to do so. I'm not actually sure if it's gaining currency or if I run in particularly Anglophilic circles online; it's my impression that whenever I hear "pop" offline it's usually derogatory.

    But then I think Britney Spears, NSync and whatever the kids are into today (Lady Gaga, apparently) are interesting in their own right; so my impressions should be taken with the traditional grain of salt.

  4. I've never heard "double whole note" either (in the US), and I've played the flute for about 20 years.

    I agree about the generally negative connotation of "pop" here in the US. The few things classified as such in my itunes library are all cheesy "one hit wonder" type songs that can be fun at parties and that, when released, were aimed at the tween set.

  5. Other than conservatoire and, perhaps, crotchet and mimim, I have heard of all of the versions of the words in that musical term list. I was never under the impression that any one was specifically identified as BrE over AmE. I always just assumed (I think) that one was just the original Latin/Italian word versus the more plain English word.

    And when it comes to semitone, I always just assumed it was a global synonym for half step (i.e. one is for the more technically inclined, while the other is for novices).

    Am I really that immersed in Internet communication that I can no longer distinguish between AmE and BrE? Or is it just my obsession with The Beatles that has caused the BrE music terms to fit in my AmE head just fine? I suppose either is a possibility....

  6. I learned both terms (breve and double whole note) while studying at the College of Music at the University of Colorado. However, I'm not surprised that some people have heard only one or the other, or none at all, because it's so rare to come across these notes outside of some early music contexts.

  7. Hi Lynne,
    There are a couple of even more obscure ones -- see page 250 of my Brit/Am diffs book -- but you found way more than I did!


  8. VP-- I agree.
    Jeremy-- double whole note is used in music theory in the US. Pictures here:
    It's a rare term, but that's because they're rarely used. And I've never seen them cross two bars-- usually they're used in 4/2 or 8/4 (etc.) time.

  9. Not to step too far from the main topic, but I in AmE, we would call that glass room a "Sunroom". Although, I wouldn't expect an all-glass ceiling. Just wrap-around windows.

  10. I also use/hear “double whole note” (I’m in the US).

  11. A conservatory with a solid roof (what Hodge would call a sunroom) is, I think, a "garden room" in BrE

  12. Re "Breve"
    According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (Oxford University Press, 1996), it is defined as, "Double whole-note. Formerly the short note of mus. but as the longer notes have fallen into disuse and shorter ones have been introduced it has become the longest (twice length of the semibreve or whole-note)...Still occurs in vocal mus. but rarely in instr. scores where it has been replaced by 2 tied whole-notes."

    So perhaps I was misinformed and it is not so much a Briticism as simply an arcane musical term.

  13. The term "conservatory" for a glass-enclosed room suitable for growing plants is familiar to we Americans thanks to the board game Clue, as in, "I suspect Col. Mustard with the lead pipe in the Conservatory". But I agree that nowadays such a room would be most likely described as a "sunroom" in the U.S.

  14. I was taught the British (or "English", as they were called) terms in music theory, but never used them in anger. Semitone and double whole note, certainly. I can't usefully comment on pop.

    Looking at the etymology of the terms, most of the British terms come from the terminology of Latin plain chant. In particular, beyond the breve, or short, there is the longa, which I suppose would be called a quadruple whole note if anyone used them any more. The American terms, however, are calques of the German ones, and I believe most European languages have made similar calques. (This sort of thing is not uncommon: the French preface has been in English since the 15th century, whereas the apparently plain Saxon term foreword is a mid-19th-century calque of German Vorwort.) Australia, and probably the rest of the Commonwealth, use the British terms.

    In New York City, we have the Conservatory Gardens in Central Park, a formal garden on the site of a former conservatory (= greenhouse) demolished in 1934. But on the other hand we have the New York Conservatory of Music, and on the third hand we have the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory. The obsolete meanings of conservatory given by the OED are rather neat, I think: 'preservative', 'repository', 'ice-house', 'reservoir (of water)', 'foundling hospital'. It's the last sense which gives rise to the musical sense, because the foundling hospitals in Italy provided a musical education.

    The OED describes the 'rendering' sense of rendition as "orig. U.S.", meaning that it is now in use elsewhere, but apparently without warrant: all its quotations are American except one, and that one says "strange words and phrases such as 'rendition' ". The grim modern sense that appears in extraordinary rendition, on the other hand, has deep English roots: the first such quotation in the OED is from Milton's Eikonoklastes, 1649, a propaganda work justifying the execution of Charles I, and refers to the King's "rendition afterwards to the Scotch Army".

  15. Apologies in advance if there is too much musical jargon.

    In my experience whole/half/quarter notes appear in children's and beginners' music books but generally people make a transition to semibreves, minums and crochets fairly early. I think important thing to note is that the fraction-note system is only valid in one group of time signatures (common time, cut common time), those where the bars are four quarter notes long. However a lot music isn't so quarter notes and the like don't make much sense. Which is why the more archaic system continues. A crochet is always a crochet, whereas a quarter note really should change depending on the music.

    As for breve (which is brieve in my head, but I'm not a very good speller at the best of times), I've only encountered them in some old hymn music which all the note lengths seemed doubled anyway. As a side note, the third notation on the wikipedia page (sort of a oo) would confuse me. I'd read it as two voices (eg. tenor and bass) singing the same note. But I digress.

    I think we use pop music in Australia in the American sense but also our charts are cross genre. Strangely enough I think pop music is a genre in its on right, identified by highly computer corrected singing. But I'm not a reliable source on the matter.

  16. I think in British usage pop can be used either as a very broad genre or a specific sub-division alongside e.g. rock, soul, hip-hop etc. I'm sure Lynne can tell us non-linguists the technical term for a word with a dual role of this sort.

    Am I right in thinking that the broader use in the UK is not just a function of the sales chart not being subdivided, but also that most radio stations have a broader playlist than the norm in America?

    Come to think of it, the term classical can function in a similar way to pop - I remember at university refering to something as classical among musically literate friends causing one of them to explain to others that plebs like me (not his words!) would lump baroque, classical and romantic together as classical.

  17. Conservatories can make lovely summer sitting-rooms - my parents certainly use theirs as such.

    And as an Englishwoman, the glass room is what I would think of when I heard "Conservatory", rather than school of music - and I have never heard musical notes referred to in terms other than semi-demi-hemi-quaver and so forth!

    @ datcherd - and that game is called Cluedo over here!

  18. An American member of my choir uses all the variants that you list, and also refers to a bar as a 'measure'.

    Do we also differ on the names of instruments or players? I know the UK uses flautist where AmE has 'flutist' - I prefer flute-player as a compromise. And the leader of the orchestra (chief of first violins) is referred to as the concert-master in US I believe.

    I've not heard of any music Conservatoires in the UK; children usually have lessons in school or at the home of their teacher until it's evident that they are pretty serious or very talented, then they may attend a music school/college/academy, either once a week or as a boarder. The Yehudi Menuhin School is the only one I can think of in England.

  19. @Shaun C: The technical term is 'auto-hyponymy' or 'vertical polysemy'--i.e. a word that has more than one meaning, in which one meaning is a subcategory of another of the meanings.

    You're right about the UK radio playlists, I think. Grover recently went through an obsession with the radio (replaced now by an obsession with a "Wheels on the Bus" CD, alas), and I remember commenting to Better Half more than once about the weird combinations that we'd heard on Radio 2 and our local commercial station (Juice FM Brighton). Of course, I cannot for the life of me remember what they were. But the Radio 2 ones were really weird.

    @darcherd: In my American experience, I always assumed that the conservatory in Clue(do) was a music room, not a greenhouse-type thing. And I see from this photo of the card, that's what I was supposed to assume.

  20. Interesting copy of the card that you have there, because in all copies of the game I've ever played have had the Conservatory looking like a sun room.

  21. Indeed, Mrs Redboots, Clue (US) = Cluedo (UK). The name "Cluedo", which is the game's original name, alludes to the children's game Ludo, a game of the pachisi family. Ludo is tamer than Parcheesi.

    Some more transpondian differences in music terminology:

    concertmaster (US) = leader (UK)
    measure (US) = bar (UK)
    authentic cadence (US) = perfect cadence (UK)
    deceptive cadence (US) = interrupted cadence (UK)
    half-cadence (US) = imperfect cadence (UK)

    In the UK, no orchestra, whatever its name, is called a symphony. The London Symphony Orchestra might be referred to as the LSO but not The London Symphony.

  22. I understand "measure" as the formal term in American English, but "bar" is also used informally, especially in nonclassical contexts. It might also be used informally in classical contexts, but that's outside my experience.

  23. The pictures on UK Cluedo games are of a sun-room type room. At least, they are on our set!

    @ biochemist - I suppose the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music aren't technically Conservatoires, although I suppose some might consider them as such.

  24. More knowlegeable people have already commented on the musical terminology, leaving only the Pop issue to discuss.

    I (AmE) cannot comment on the BrE usage of "Pop", but in the US I believe that for most younger people, "Pop" is a catchall for what less-discerning "others" like to listen to. They themselves will descibe what they like to listen to by using genre terms. These terms may help to more narrowly define the music, but sometimes have cultural connotations that to me have little to do with the sound. Further, there is has been so much cross-pollenization of musical ideas that the genre boundaries are blurry at best.

    However practical it may be to lump all music with large sales volumes under the Pop label, you would be hard pressed to find anyone here that would admit that their favorite music is Pop. Each of these fuzzy genres has its tribal membership, and the members (and the music industry) are quite happy with the arrangement.

    That said, there is a smaller tribe that embraces the term Pop. These are fans of what is often termed "Power Pop" (NB I count myself in this group). This music deliberately hearkens back to Pop music of the 1960's and '70's -- when Pop was not considered a dirty word. Wikipedia has a pretty good article about Power Pop.

  25. You're right that pop music in the UK means any kind of popular music. It's the generic word for everything of that kind - rock, R&B, pop itself, dance, drum&bass, rap, country, heavy metal.

  26. My American experiences: Bar or measure, semitone or half-step, interchangeably; minims, breves, and longs only when studying early notation; "conservatory" perfectly understandable either as music school or as glasshouse.

    I will have to remember "auto-hyponomy or vertical polysemy" for a word that refers to two nested items. And Shaun's "classical" parallel to the use of "pop" seems exact.

  27. @Sili: "a performance of music, considering it to be American usage only"

  28. I suppose I'm young enough to comment on the American pop issue. The term 'pop' seems to have two meanings.

    The first meaning is the sort of bubbly genre that has all but died out to most listeners, but continues to live on through the Disney channel. This childish attribute is probably part of the negative connotation that pop holds.

    The second meaning is more nebulous because it isn't really a genre. Instead, a band can be considered 'pop' if they appear to have sold out musically in order to make more money or gain a wider audience. Obviously, this is not seen as a good thing.

    I think a good example of the latter would be the Black Eyed Peas. Apparently their earlier music was pretty good, but everything they've made lately is, to put it bluntly, watered-down crap.

  29. The deviation is that the conservatories people tend to speak of are glass-enclosed extensions on their homes, which allegedly raise the value of the property, but always seem to be too hot to sit in, thus requiring very elaborate systems of window blinds.

    Well I guess that explains why approximately 1/3 of all Cash in the Attic episodes are devoted to people wanting to build a conservatory or fix their conservatory. I was wondering why people so hot for indoor gardening usually didn't seem to have more than a couple houseplants in there.

    I don't think I've ever seen a US house with such a thing except on TV (and then only in fabulous mansions), though as others have pointed out a US sun room is functionally the same. Which is to say they aren't very functional at all. Just one giant draft factory in winter.

  30. @ Elizabeth - I don't know what it is like in America, but in the more gentle climate of the UK, conservatories are well-used! Certainly in my family, where those members who have one, spend most of their time indoors in daylight in there! They are supposed to add value to a house - I don't know about that, but they certainly add value to the inhabitants' lives!

  31. In US. at least the church choirs I've been in, the British terms were the formal terms and the American, the general terms. Certainly, I remember the word hemidemisemiquaver in grade school, possibly because of its coolness factor.

    WV: joust - the back-and-forth among the variations of English.

  32. Conservatoire/Conservatory: my earlier posting failed to make the points not only that music colleges in the UK are never called Conservatoires, but also that I believed the UK system of musical education for school-aged children is usually domestic until they apply to a college such as those mentioned by Mrs Redboots - and the Scottish and Northern equivalents... then I remembered Chetham's School of Music in Manchester, which does take 8-18 year-olds for a conservatoire-style education as in European countries. There must be several in the whole UK I guess.

    As to the conservatory or sun room, I'm with Mrs Redboots there too. Even in midsummer in the UK, the sun is not as high in the sky or as intense as in Detroit, for example, where houses seem to be constructed to avoid sunlight. There was a vogue for 'passive solar heating' when I lived in Detroit - this referred to what we would now know as the greenhouse effect, where house walls can become quite warm inside a glass enclosure, but of course there is an inevitable payback when the sun goes in, and in the UK most modern conservatories have heaters for the winter months, when the sun's rays enter almost horizontally....

  33. Surely conservatoires are higher education, the equivalent to our Royal Academy/College? Certainly I have always assumed them to be so, and if you enter it in Wikipedia, it takes you to "College or university school of music". I certainly wouldn't think they took under-18s in any country!

  34. Thanks.

    Not that I can see what's wrong about it.

    I guess one has to be a native.

  35. @Mrs Redboots

    Was I over personalizing that? Probably. Not living in a house I haven't had a sun room since I lived in my mother's house. She did use her's as a place to keep her cactus collection in summer, but it was so cold in winter that the door had curtained off.

    Once upon a time, in the days before I was born, the family that lived in the two bedroom apartment of the two family house I grew up in had 8 children. There were children sleeping in every room but the kitchen, bathroom, and dining room. Including the sun room! Every time I had to go in there in winter I'd think of that poor girl.

  36. @biochemist:
    Even in midsummer in the UK, the sun is not as high in the sky or as intense as in Detroit, for example, where houses seem to be constructed to avoid sunlight.

    This is correct; the entire Continental US is further south than the entire UK, so the summer sun is higher in the former, though evenings are longer in the latter. Thus the conservatory is a useful approximation of a warm dry outdoor world when the real thing is unavailable.

    Wikipedia's Note value article allows "breve" or "double whole note" for the US. There's also the even longer and rarer "longa" note.

    I disagree about "pop", at least in Ireland. To me it certainly has denigratory juvenile connotations. A near synonym is "Chart music", i.e. the singles chart, as opposed to the Album chart. This may be a recent trend. The BBC TV chart show was called "Top of the Pops"; while in the 60s it spanned the full range of Popular Music, by the 2000s it was Dance and Bubblegum. The RnB genre was de-ghettoized earlier in the US than the UK, where a lot of it would long have fallen under "pop" [now MOBO, music of black origin].

    I would interpret "I'm just a pop star" by Gilmour, and possibly Bjork, as a jokey self-deprecation, along the lines of Dylan's famous "I'm just a song-and-dance man". In Irish music stores, the main section is called "Rock/Pop", which shows two things: that neither term is a subtype of the other, and that the gap between the two is too blurred to allow them to be neatly split into separate categories. Other sections will be "Jazz", "Classical", "Country", "Folk", "Traditional" [Irish], "World", "Easy Listening"; probably "Metal", "Dance", "Indie", "Alternative"; and other things in a big store like Tower on Wexford Street or more specialist boutiques.

  37. In my Canadian music education in the 60s and 70s, the fractional notation was used and the descriptive terms were mentioned as mostly an historical curiosity, much like a snood.

    I've never heard "rendering" in a musical context before. To me it would be used for a drawing, especially a computer-created one, or for the process of obtaining fat from animal parts.

  38. A dangling participle in: "Classical Guitar has generally preferred the word 'rendering' to the word 'rendition' to describe a performance of music, considering it to be American usage only"?
    Eh? Where?

    Taking it that you're referring to the clause beginning with the word "considering", I don't see that as a case of a dangling participle -- although there is potentially a problem with the reference of the word "it". A has preferred X to Y, considering it to be Z. So is it X or Y that A considers to be Z? However, simply replacing "it" by "the former" or "the latter" would have solved that difficulty without touching the participle.

    No, for me, a "dangling participle" is what occurs in a sentence like "Speaking as aa American, Hitler never convinced me of that".

  39. I've never played Cluedo, but I gather it's based on the traditional English whodunit, so I would expect the conservatory to be the old-fashioned wrought-iron-and-glass construction containing plants.
    I have an album of newspaper cuttings compiled by my grandfather in the early 20th century, in which reports of village entertainments always refer to singers having "rendered" musical items. This usage is very old-fashioned to modern British ears.
    Kate (UK)

  40. Sili and Kevin: I also find the first sentence in the quoted passage rather poor and unfocussed, since the two instances of 'it' refer to different things. This gives the impression of dangling participles.

    Without being too rigorous about it, Classical Guitar has generally preferred the word 'rendering' to the word 'rendition' to describe a performance of music, considering it to be American usage only.

    Without being too rigorous about it, Classical Guitar has generally preferred the word 'rendering' to describe a performance of music. We consider the word 'rendition' to be American usage only.

    I have encountered 'rendition' more frequently than 'rendering' in UK radio and writing, usually fairly formally: 'Fischer-Dieskau's masterly rendition of the lieder' although this usage also lends itself to parody. Nowadays, we would expect to hear just which aspect (interpretation, vocal style, musicality) was so good. For me, 'rendering' definitely has links to fluids such as stucco or beef dripping!

  41. Gosh, to Canadian me "rendering" is primarily some industrial procedure related to the processing of animal fats. I use it also in some semi-fossilized ways like "rendered unfit for human habitation" and "render unto Caesar."

    I learned to call them quarter and eighth notes, but was advised at the time about the "old fashioned" terms with the quavers.

    I've heard of Conservatory and Conservatoire, but the presence of Québec muddies the water here when French terms are concerned.

  42. About six or seven years ago, I began learning music at school. Despite being BrE (as am I), my teacher taught us the AmE terms for musical notes first, because he explained that they made far more sense and were easier to remember. Quarter note and half note are far simpler and more intuitive than crotchet and quaver. However, as another commenter pointed out, this only really works for 4/4 time, which was fine when we were still beginners and did EVERYTHING in that time signature. Once we got into 3/4, 6/8 etc, he taught us the BrE terms, which worked quite well as we already understood the concepts by that point.

  43. Addendum: My music teacher's method of starting with the AmE terms and then moving to the BrE also enjoyed success for the simple reason that, to a fourteen-year-old, saying 'hemidemisemiquaver' is waaaaay more fun than saying a 'sixty-fourth note', so we embraced the BrE terms gladly.

  44. In Australia, a school of music is called a conservatorium. To my surprise, I find that this word is apparently not used anywhere else.

  45. I did not know that sunrooms were known as such in (at least parts of) the U.S., but that is certainly what they are called here in Australia, where they are very popular.

  46. As for rock vs pop, I know that "pop" derives from popular, but I've always associated the term with music in which the beat is dominated by a staccato "pop pop pop pop pop pop" sound from the bass guitar (as opposed to the drum-dominated beat of rock).

  47. Since the use of a "whole note" is no longer defined as "the entire measure/bar", but means "4 counts in an x/4 time signature, 2 counts in an x/2 time signature, 8 counts in an x/8 time signature,", I believe that quarter (a quarter of a whole note), half, eight, sixteenth, etc, do still make sense. In a 6/8 piece of music, you will not see a whole note denote 6 beats - you will see a dotted half (3/4 of a whole note).

    While I have heard quaver, semi-quaver, etc., I have never heard them used in practice - but I don't play or sing for a professional musical organization - only for fun.

    Related to pop music, I interpret that as a style of music in the rock family that has no substance - bubblegum rock. I think the meaning has changed in the US over the last 25 years though, as I remember "Pop" being part of the standard radio station descriptions in the 80s.

    I too think of animal fat when I hear "rendering". eeewww.

  48. Americans in the UK are sometimes surprised to learn that bar (BrE) means measure (US), which I believe is an older term, also occasionally found in BrE. I believe in US Eng it means barline(BrE), the vertical line dividing the staff into bars.

    We could also throw in whole step(US) = tone(BrE). Again, you occasionally hear whole-step and half-step as alternatives in BrE.

    Theoretically there is also a "hundred twenty-eighth note" or semihemidemisemiquaver or
    quasihemidemisemiquaver. NB The corresponding rests do not repeat the word "note", so crotchet rest = quarter rest, not quarter-note rest.

  49. Missed out a bit: "...barline(BrE), the vertical line dividing the staff(espUS, BrE usu stave) into bars."

  50. Bar is certainly used informally for measure in classical music as well as other varieties: "Let's start eight bars from the top, please."

    Amanda P.: You're right, of course, except that (anomalously) a whole rest signifies silence for a whole measure, whether the measure is 2/4, 4/4, 3/4, 6/8, 5/4, or what have you.

    In one the 1632 series of alternate-history novels and stories, some 17th-century German musicians are trying to figure out the early-21st-century (think time travel) distinction between popular music and folk music, since after all populus is just Latin for Volk....

  51. One distiction which my (american) GF was quite surprised about is that the BrE and AmE meanings of "R&B" are quite distict.

    In both cases it means "Rhythm and Blues", but in an american context it refers to music produced by black artists, whereas in BrE it refers to a very specific genre of white guitar pop: early Who, Dr Feelgood and Nine Below Zero would be candiate examples of R&B. But not The Jackson 5. Definitely not.

    Somewhere on the net there is my transaltion of the second verse of "Cool for Cats" into standard English. And don't get me started about Robyn Hitchcock...

    Hi Lynne, BTW.

  52. Some Clue's on Clue...

  53. I have covered Clue/Cluedo in another post, back here.

  54. On "pop" in BrE.

    At one extreme, "pop" is all commercial music, ie anything written to sell rather than for its intrinsic artistic merit. This is often the approach of the snobbiest classical music fan - the sort who insists on referring to it as "Western art music", and reserves "classical" to a particular period. In this sense, it would certainly encompass Gilbert and Sullivan and Katherine Jenkins, as well as the whole of jazz, swing, the entirety of musical theatre, and perhaps even (in one particularly obnoxious case of my former acquaintance), the whole canon of English-language hymns.

    A more modest, and probably more customary usage for "pop" is as a broad description for, roughly, any music in a style that has heritage from rock-n-roll and is in the form of a three (ish) minute song.

    Few Brits in my experience would have a problem with regarding blues as being part of the pop universe; earlier forms like jazz or swing are more marginal. [Country, still much more likely to be called "country-n-western" in the UK, is definitely a foreign form, and was little seen until relatively recently; we still largely don't get it].

    Musical theatre is the only popular form of music being made in the UK that is widely regarded as not pop (in the broader sense).

    Pop also has the narrower (somewhat derogatory) genre sense of "music that teenage girls scream to". Also, poppier R&B (Beyonce) or hip-hop (the Black Eyed Peas) is more likely to be admitted as pop in the narrow sense than it would be in the US; the main definition would be "pop, as opposed to rock" (where the broader sense is "pop, as opposed to classical").

    Returning to broad-sense pop, other types of music that are at the same level are classical, musical theatre (a relatively new term - show-tunes is an older equivalent), jazz, folk, world and country. Traditional hymns and Christmas carols are none of those, but don't really have a named category of their own (religious music would include some classical and some pop as well). There are other musical styles that aren't really pop, but you're liable to get people saying things like "Frank Sinatra was the first pop star"

  55. @Richard Gadsden - To me (as an American who spent too many hours of my teenage life thinking about popular music), the two most interesting points of your post are the separation of "swing" from "jazz" and the eyebrow-raising implication that either would be considered older than blues.

  56. In Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, Philip Marlowe first encounters his client General Sternwood sitting in his conservatory (sic), which is full of tropical plants and correspondingly hot and humid, so this suggests the BrE usage right in the heart of Southern California. Of course, citing Chandler is always going to be tricky in this respect; he spent his youth in Britain, was educated at Dulwich College where, I'm told, he bowled useful leg-breaks from the cricket team, and wrote his classic Americana in British English.

    The music I grew up with – that would be from immediately pre-Beatles onwards, was all pop, understood to be short for "popular" and to be contrasted with "classical". There was "rock and roll", meaning what Jerry Lee Lewis and the Big Bopper had done in an earlier age, and there was "soul" which was what Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin did, but it was all pop to me and my contemporaries. Later, when I started to listen to John Peel's show on a Sunday afternoon, there was a new and more challenging pop which we called "heavy" or "progressive" pop, but it was still pop – "progressive" in this sense not necessarily to be confused with what was later called "progressive rock". I didn't encounter the term "rock" until well into the 1970s. It came as a surprise many years later that Van Morrison's Them were/was a "Garage band".

    In another forum which I participate in (Hello Jonathan Bogart ) a clear distinction seems to be made between "pop" and "rock", the latter being defined by the performers playing their own instruments and writing their own material, and being more inclined to actually perform it live instead of miming to the recording. Since I tend to favo[u]r the latter I have been label[l]ed "rockist", which in some circles is considered derogatory.

    One clearly AmE phrase I have encountered in recent years, and which tends to make me bristle, is "British Invasion" used to define a whole raft of (1960s BrE) groups/(AmE and later BrE) bands which emerged in Britain in the mid 1960s. We didn't invade ourselves, you know!

  57. I haven't read all comments so I apologize/apologise in advance if this link has already been provided. an interesting discussion of the various sources of the terms.

  58. Andy Holyer

    One distiction which my (american) GF was quite surprised about is that the BrE and AmE meanings of "R&B" are quite distict.

    Rhythm and blues, abbreviated to R&B was a marketing label from 1949, just as Blues was a marketing label from 1914. (Unlikely-sounding, but true).

    It was Billboard magazine that established the term so that there could be a sales chart of the music. The heading was Best Selling Retail Rhythm & Blues Records.

    It seems likely that they were responding to the difference between records made with acoustic instruments in the style of the earlier 40's and the 30's before that. That's certainly how the terms Blues and Rhythm & Blues were understood by British fans in the 50's.

    We were familiar with blues as played by jazz bands and as sung to the accompaniment of acoustic guitar and/or piano and/or harmonica. Records by Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and people were similar, but with the very different twist that resulted from guitar amplification. At the time, that's what R&B was in America, and to us the idiom is much as it was sixty years ago.

    (There was total consternation when Muddy first toured Britain in 1958. The jazz-fan audience had never heard blues that was anywhere near as loud. Just a few years later he had a British fan base.)

    Meanwhile in the States, the R&B chart was defined by the record-buyers and record companies. Their tastes changed; ours didn't.

  59. I've just bought what will be the final box-set volume of a series called The History of Rhythm and Blues. It finishes at 1962.

    The reason, they explain, is that Bilboard R&B charts were discontinued in 1963 because Black and White markets were becoming confused.

    An R&B chart was reintroduced in 1965, but from this side of the Atlantic it doesn't look like exactly the same idiom.

    The History of Rhythm and Blues series is, of course, produced by a British record company.

  60. Breves / double whole notes are very rare in music written since around 1600. However, they do feature in very famous piece of twentieth-century music: Barber's Adagio for Strings. If you take a look at the beginning of the score, you should be able to see that the very first note is a breve (like a semi breve/whole note but surrounded by vertical lines).

  61. vp

    Not coincidentally, time signatures like


    are also extremely rare now.

    Either could be cause, and either could be effect. My money is on the time signature. (The absence of, that is, causing the absence of breves.)

  62. There's a historical account of the terminology by rosie on another thread click here


The book!

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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)