Electronic Music Terminology

Imagine making music without instruments or musicians. That’s what is happening in today’s computer-driven world. Music as we know it has changed. It has become a series of digitally enhanced electronic sounds and effects that are produced by programmed equipment. Following is a glossary of electronic musical terms to help the novice and the experienced better understand the new “sound of music.”

ADPCM—Adaptive Differential Pulse Code Modulation—a means of transforming analog sound to low bit-rate signals with the help of a linear sampling algorithm.

Aftertouch—a form of control data created by striking one or multiple synthesizer keys once they are reposing on the keyboard.

Algorithm—a system created to achieve a desired result or resolve a particular problem.

Aliasing—unwelcome that are generated when concordant elements within the acoustic signal being tested by a digital recording device or produced inside a digital sound source are higher than the Nyquist frequency

Amplitude— the measure of a signal, such as an acoustic signal’s volume or the degree of concurrent in an electrical communication

Analog—non-digital data

Attack—a musical note’s initial sound

Attenuator—an electronic appliance that lowers a signal’s power but does not alter the wave’s shape

Bandwidth—a collection or group of frequencies

Bank—a connected set of objects or filters that combine to produce one signal

Baud rate—how fast digital information is transmitted

Bpm—the number of beats in a minute

Brick-wall filter—keeps frequencies higher than the Nyquist limit from becoming encrypted by the converter

Buffer—a block of memory for recording or editing information before it is saved in a more lasting manner

Byte—an assembly of eight bits or in the case of MIDIs ten bits

Carrier—one signal being regulated by another

CD-ROM—a compact disc that can amass various data forms

Cent—means of measuring the disparity of two pitches in an equal-tempered scale

Channel pressure—a MIDI control communication that is bestowed uniformly to every note on a specific channel

Chorusing—combining a time-delayed and original signal

Companding—a signal is compacted upon entry and enlarged to its original shape on release

Compression—reduces an audio signal’s amplitude range by lowering the high levels and elevating the low ones

Crossfade looping—a section of data at the start of a loop combines with data at the loop’s end resulting in an even changeover

Cross-stitching—in a synthesizer two sounds are set at opposing velocities

Cutoff frequency—the place within the frequency spectrum past which a synthesizer's filter lowers the signal being transmitted

Data dump—transferring data between locations or to a memory card

Daughterboard—a tiny circuit board that when affixed to a bigger board possesses additional aptitudes

Decibel— measures audible power

Detune alters the pitch of one sound source as it relates to another

Digital-to-analog converter (DAC) —converts digital output into analog

Dynamic voice allocation—permits voice channels to be automatically redirected to play other notes

Early reflections—a reverb algorithm that imitates sound recoiling off of partitions in an acoustic space

Echo—a distinct repeating tone

Envelope—a form that is altered by time

Event editing—when a sequencer changes a single musical occurrence

FFT—Fast Fourier transform—a fast way to conduct a Fourier analysis on a tone

Filter—an instrument that removes specific frequencies from a signal’s tone

FM synthesis—a method that employs a frequency’s modulation (FM) to produce intricate sound waves

Formant—a powerful point in a frequency’s range

Fourier analysis—permits acoustic waveforms to be explained numerically as parts of sine waves at different frequencies and breadths

Frequency modulation (FM) gain—encrypting a carrier wave by altering its frequency to comply with an incoming signal

General MIDI description (GM)—MIDI device standards that guarantee regular playback on GM instruments

Glide—portamento—when the pitch slides evenly from note to note

Global—oversees the working of a musical instrument

Graphic editing—revising visuals exhibited on a monitor or screen

Hard disk recording—computerized recording that changes sound to digital data for computer storage

Harmonic—one frequency that is a multiple of another

Headroom—how much signal beyond the minimum amount of input that can be transmitted to or from a computerized device before deterioration starts

Inharmonic—possesses frequencies which are not multiples of the original

Interface—links multiple devices

Keyboard scaling—when a tone can be changed evenly along a keyboard

Layering—to place or stack numerous tones on a single keyboard location resulting in a thicker tone

LFO—low frequency oscillator specifically designed for applications lower than the discernible frequency span

Loop—a musical section that repeats continuously

Lowpass filter—one whose frequency reply remains level until it reaches a particular frequency before fading out

Mapper—interprets MIDI data from in “real time”

Matrix modulation—joining modulation origins to end points so a single source can be transferred to any mixture of end points

Memory—a means of saving data

MIDI—(Musical Instrument Digital Interface)—guidelines for conveying facts regarding an application’s tone or digital instrument to a synthesizer chip

MIDI clock—synchronizes instruments joined by MIDI

MIDI Mapper—an assigned digital mechanism, attached processor or CPU algorithm that gives a data byte’s value a new value

MIDI mode—one of many response methods to entering MIDI data

Mixer— combines various tones before releasing them in monochromatic or stereo sound

Modulation—transmitting a control signal to an audio source to alter the nature of the tone

Mod wheel—a controller typically attached to the keyboard’s left side and played with the that hand

Mono mode—a MIDI device’s fundamental methods of reception

Monophonic—able to create a single tone

MPC—Multimedia Personal Computer— describes basic computer hardware specifications

Multisample—dispersing related samples at various tones on a keyboard

Multitimbral—makes multiple tone color (timbre) simultaneously

Normalize—increases a waveform’s level to its highest before it becomes distorted

Nyquist frequency—the maximum frequency that can be duplicated precisely when a signal is digitally encrypted at a designated rate

Operator—the software version of an oscillator, envelope producer and envelope-regulated amp

Oscillator—source of an electronic resonance

Overdub—record supplementary tracks along with (or merged with) previously recorded ones

Overtone—a multiple of a tone’s basic frequency

Parallel interface—links several hardware components that have multiple data lines transporting information simultaneously

Parameter—controls a particular aspect of a device's operation

Patch—synthesizer-generated tone that is saved in a PC’s RAM. Usually

PCM—pulse code modulation—common means of encrypting analog sounds into digital

Pitch-bend—A unremitting controller that can be applied to synthesized tones typically with a joystick

Pitch-shift—modifying a tone’s pitch but not its length

Pole—part of a filter track

Polyphonic—producing multiple notes simultaneously

Port—a specific electrical connector, such as SCSI, MIDI or serial ports

Pot—potentiometer— modifies a facet of the signal being transmitted

Pressure sensitivity—when an instrument reacts to pressure imposed on the keyboard once the first key has been depressed

Programmable—endowed with software for producing new tones

Quantization—notes played at abnormal times are "rounded off" to a standard rhythm

Real time—happening simultaneously with an individual’s actions

Reconstruction filter—levels the alterations in voltage caused by the converter

Release—the part of an envelope that starts once the key is released

Resolution—the quality of a sensing or programming system’s components

Resonance—the frequency that causes an object to vibrate

Reverb—a digital indicator that creates a constant echoing noise

Rolloff slope—the sharpness of a filter's cutoff frequency

Sample—a sound that is recorded digitally

Scrub—manually going back and forth through a sound’s waveform

Sequence—a sequencer’s music performance instructions

Serial interface—computer data moves through a single line bit by bit

Sine wave—an oscillator’s signal that causes the voltage to ascend and descend evenly

Song position pointer (SPP)—MIDI information indicating the number of sixteenth-notes that played since the selection started

Sostenuto pedal—maintains notes held down when the pedal is depressed

Status byte—a MIDI byte denoting the connotation of the data bytes that come after it

Sustain—the third of an ADSR envelope’s four parts

Subtractive synthesis—starts with a single sound to produce an elaborate tone before deleting the harmonics

Sync—synchronization—devices are synchronized when play the same time

Synthesizer—produces electonic tones

Timbre—a tone’s quality that diffrentiates it from those with similar pitch and amplification

Time code—a signal that stores data regarding time

Track—where a musical section can be recorded and replayed

Tremolo—a recurring switch in amplitude

VCA—voltage-controlled amplifier—reacts to a switch in voltage by changing the increase of a signal it is transmitting

VCF—voltage-controlled filter—modifies its cutoff frequency by shifting how much voltage is transmitted

VCO—voltage-controlled oscillator—alters its frequency by how much voltage is transmitted to its control input

Velocity—MIDI data that shows how fast a key was depressed

Velocity sensitivity—when a keyboard determines the speed at which a key descends

Vibrato—a vibrating result created by small and fast changes in sound

Voice—refers to a specific musical line for voice or instrument

Voice channel—a signal path consisting of at least one oscillator and a VCA that can create notes

Voice stealing—when a synthesizer is programmed to play more sounds than accessible voices shuts down some present voices so new tunes can be played

Waveform—an electronically-produced signal

Wavetable synthesis—creating electronic sound via a synthesizer or computer

Wavetable lookup—interpreting a wavetable’s digits and transmitting them to a voice channel

Wheel—a controller usually located on the left side of the keyboard and played with that hand

Workstation—a synthesizer or sampler where some functions relating to producing music electronically can be accomplished via various parts of one device

Zero crossing—where the polarity of an electrical or sampled signal goes from positive to negative (or the reverse) as it moves through “zero.” This offers a suitable location for meshing two sounds since the splice point levels are identical at zero volts

Zone— an adjacent set of keys on a keyboard. Generally, a sole sound or MIDI channel is allocated to a particular zone