Glossary of terms

Using the appropriate terms can define you as an industry professional.


  • A / D Analog to digital Converter
  • A/D Analog to Digital Conversion: An electronic device that converts analog signals from a microphone or line level source into digital signals (digitizing or sampling them) so they can be stored to any number of storage media like hard drives, ADAT, computer ROM chip, or processed in a sampler, digital signal processor or digital recording device.
  • Accidental
  • A symbol in front of a note that indicates a change of pitch from the expected note.
  • Additive Synthesis
  • Additive Synthesis is a method of synthesis that builds complex waveforms by combining sine waves with independently variable frequencies and amplitudes. Envelope shapers and filters can further process these waveforms. Hammond organs and similar instruments make the most use of simple additive synthesis.
  • ADSR
  • ADSR – Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release are the four stages of an envelope that describe the shape of a sound over time.
  • ADT
  • Automatic double-tracking. A tape delay is used to simulate double-tracking using only one recording.
  • Aliasing
  • Unwanted artefacts that occurs when the audio sample rate during the analogue to digital conversion has been set too low e.g as low as 5kHz, CD audio is sampled at 44.1kHz
  • Articulation
  • The amount of separation between successive notes. If there are no gaps the music is legato, while if notes are shortened to leave gaps between them, it is staccato. The attack and dynamic of each note also play a role in the articulation of music


  • Balance
  • The relative volume levels between instruments.
  • Bouncing or Bouncing Down
  • The process of mixing-down material from several tracks and re-recording it on one (or two) new tracks, in order to free up more tracks on a multitrack tape.


  • Call and Response
  • The performance of alternate musical phrases by different soloists or groups, so that one seems to answer the other (known in art music as antiphony)
  • Canon
  • A musical device (sometimes an entire piece) in which a melody in one part fits with the same melody in another part even though the latter starts a few beats later. The device occurs in the type of song known as a round
  • Chord
  • Two or more notes played at the same time to create harmony. Often denoted by symbols eg, Cm F#7
  • Chorus
  • 1. A section of a song which returns several times 2. A group of singers 3. An electronic effect used to thicken a sound by combining slightly altered versions of sound with the original signal. 4. MIDI controller 93, which is used to adjust the chorus (thickening) level applied to a sound.
  • Chromatic
  • Notes outside the current key, that are used for their colour rather than for modulation
  • Clef
  • A musical symbol the determines the musical notes used and the range of those notes
  • Clipping
  • Signal that exceeds the maximum volume of a given device. Digital clipping produces an unpleasant sound but clipping in an analogue device is sometimes acceptable.
  • Close-mic
  • The art of recording singers or instruments with the microphone very close to the sound source. In this way many extra details are picked up (eg breath of a singer or the string noise of a guitar. Producers can also have greater control in the final balance than is possible in an ambient recording
  • Coincident Pair
  • A stereo microphone technique in which two separate microphones are placed so that their diaphrams occupy approximately the same point in space. They are angled apart and placed so that one is directly on top of the other, also known as a Crossed Pair.
  • Compression
  • A method of squeezing the dynamic range of a signal by reducing the signal level above a user-defined threshold by a user defined ratio. The resultant signal is normally boosted so that the whole signal is perceived to be louder.
  • Condenser Microphone
  • A Microphone that works on the principle of variable capacitance to generate an electric signal
  • Cross-rhythm
  • Different rhythmic patterns performed simultaneously.
  • cutoff frequency
  • The nominal value at which a filter has an audible effect on the frequency range of a sound. Normally applies to Low Pass Filters in which case the cutoff frequency describes the highest audible frequency.


  • Delay
  • A time domain effect in which the original signal is repeated one or more times. There is normally a decrease in volume and high frequency content with each repeat.
  • DI (Direct Injection)
  • The direct connection of an electric instrument such as a bass guitar to a mixing desk. This is often done via a DI box which matches the electrical characteristics of the source signal to the input level required.
  • Dive Bomb
  • Dive bomb is a guitar technique in which the tremolo bar is used to rapidly lower the pitch of a note, creating a sound considered to be similar to a bomb dropping
  • Double Tracking
  • The process of recording two different performances of the same material to thicken a musical line. similar to ADT
  • Dry / Wet
  • A dry signal is an unprocessed original signal. A wet signal has been effected in some way.
  • Dynamic Microphone
  • A mic that generates an electrical signal when acoustic pressure waves cause a conductive coil to vibrate in a stationary magnetic field.


  • EQ
  • 1. Equalisation is a method of compensating for deficiencies in the frequency response of recording and playback equipment. 2. EQ is used as a way of cutting or boosting the levels of specific frequencies within a sound without effecting the rest of the sound.
  • Expander
  • The opposite function to that of a compressor, raising any signal below a user-defined threshold by a user-defined ratio.


  • Feedback
  • Guitar feedback occurs when the sound from the amplifier “feeds back” to the still vibrating strings
  • Flange / phaser
  • Forms of modulation, similar to chorus, but the original and delayed signals are combined in different ways to create different audible effects. Sometimes referred to as a sweeping sound where the delayed signals are constantly changing.
  • Foldback
  • An audio signal sent from the mixer to the studio area for replay to the performers (usually on headphones)
  • FX
  • Short for ‘effects’. Processes applied to a signal to alter its sound quality in some way, or the devices used to do so. Common effects include reverb, delay, chorus, distortion, flange and phasing.


  • Gain
  • The stage of a pre-amplifier that boosts the level of a signal at the beginning of the signal path, A term commonly applied to any volume boost in the signal path.
  • Gating
  • An extreme form of expansion in which signals below a user-defined threshold are cut.
  • General MIDI (GM)
  • General MIDI. An extension to the MIDI specification, which standardises sounds and controllers


  • Hammer On
  • A note sounded by “hammering” down with a left hand finger, often performed in conjunction with a note first plucked by the right hand on the same string.
  • Harmonics
  • Harmonics give off a Chime-like sounds this can be achieved in two ways on an electric guitar:

    Natural Harmonics – by touching a string directly above the fret with left hand, and striking hard with the right-hand fingers or pick near the bridge where there is more string resistance.

    Artificial Harmonics – touching a string with the index finger of the right hand twelve frets higher than any fretted note and plucking the string with either the thumb or third finger of the right hand.

  • Harmony
  • The combination of chords used in a piece of music. To study harmony we look at the vertical aspects of the music e.g. the chords and how they change instead of the horizontal aspects e.g. the melody and how it evolves.
  • High Pass Filter (HPF)
  • A High Pass Filter utilizes capacitors, as the impedance of a capacitor decreases for HIGH frequencies, this enables it to ensure the passage of higher frequencies, and stop the passage of more powerful, lower frequency signals.

    The High frequencies are maintained whilst the lower frequencies are reduced, the amount is controlled by a cut off parameter.


  • Input
  • The first part of the recording chain. Inputs come from Live instrumentation, vocals and pre programmed events. Inputs can be delivered through one of the following cables: XLR, Jack, MIDI or USB cables


  • Jack
  • A type of plug / connector with either a tip and sleeve (TS) or Tip, Ring, and Sleeve (TRS). Commonly available in three sizes: 6mm (quarter inch), 3.5mm mini jack and 2.5mm.


  • Key
  • Key or Key signature is a term used to describe both the tonality of the music and the tonic note (root or first position).


  • Limiter
  • A compressor with an extremely high ratio setting
  • Lo-fi
  • Low Fidelity, the imitation of old-fashioned technology. Lo-fi deliberately reproduces poor quality sounds often containing distortion, clipping or vinyl noise. These sounds contain a limit frequency response, reduced sample rate and bit depth.
  • Loop
  • A repeated passage. Often used to refer to samples that are imported into a sequence and repeated.


  • MIDI
  • Musical Instrument Digital Interface. A standard for connecting and remotely operating electronic instruments and related devices such as computers and effects units
  • MIDI Channel
  • One of 16 possible instrumental tracks of data that can be accommodated from a single MIDI Port.
  • MIDI Controller
  • 1. A MIDI input device such as a keyboard or electronic wind instrument or Mixing desk. 2. A type of MIDI message, which can be used for controlling aspects of the sound such as volume, velocity, pitch-bend, panning, reverb etc..
  • MIDI Data
  • Information. Data can take different forms such as audio, Video, MIDI and text
  • MIDI File
  • A computer data file which stores sequences of MIDI information
  • MIDI Port
  • A device in (or attached to) a computer which allows it to communicate with MIDI instruments
  • MIDI Programme Change
  • A MIDI message that indicates the selection of a new sound or voice on a particular MIDI channel.
  • MIDI System Message
  • A category of MIDI messages which is either used for synchronising many devices together (eg. MTC) or for sending information that is specific to the equipment of one manufacturer.
  • Mixing
  • The process of combining sounds. A master mix is the final result of the combination of all the component signals after they have been processed and combined.
  • Modulation
  • 1. A musical term for a change of key. 2. A technical term relating to one signal being modified by another, often when a sound is altered in pitch by another waveform. 3. A MIDI controller message type 1, which controls the amount of vibrato
  • Mono
  • Mono or Monophonic is a signal carried on a single channel. On a stereo system the signal would be duplicated.
  • MTC – MIDI Time code
  • MIDI Time Code. An extention to the MIDI specification that allows time (in hours, minutes, seconds and frames) to be transmitted, enabling synchronisation with SMPTE (standard timecode for motion pictures and video equipment) devices.


  • Normalising
  • The process of boosting an audio signal so that the loudest point registers as 0db.


  • One Shot
  • Is a single sample that when triggered plays all the way through before stopping. This is the opposite of re-triggering a sample
  • Overdub
  • The process of adding additional tracks to a sequence or recording.


  • Panning
  • Placing a sound in the stereo field e.g in the left or right speaker
  • Phase
  • Audio phase occurs when two or more microphones are recording the same audio signal.

    In Phase means that the replicated audio tracks are exactly the same resulting in louder audio.

    Phase Cancellation means that the replicated audio signal is exactly the opposite position in the cycle to the original. The outcome is that the signal is cancelled out completely
    Out of Phase means the replicated audio is slightly in front of or behind the original signal resulting in a complicated wave form

  • Plugin
  • A computer program designed to extend your sequencer package with extra effects, audio processing or instrumentation.
  • Power chord
  • A chord consisting of the first (root), fifth and eighth degree (octave) of the scale. Power chords are typically used in rock music.
  • Pull off
  • The opposite of a hammer-on. Performed by plucking a note with a finger on a higher note and pulling parallel to the fret to sound a lower note on the same string.


  • Quantise
  • On sequencers the process of automatically adjusting data to fit within defined limits. Commonly used to shift note-starts to (or nearer to) their rhythmically exact positions, although it can also be used to modify note-lengths and velocity levels.


  • Re-trigger
  • Is a single sample that when triggered will stop only if the trigger is re-activated. This is the opposite of a one shot sample.
  • Resonance
  • The accentuation of a specific frequency, normally applied in context with the cutoff frequency in filters.
  • Reverb
  • Reverb or reverberation is the natural reflection of sounds from surfaces giving the impression of space. This can be produced electronically by reverb units emulating aspects of natural reverb.


  • Sample
  • A sample is a short pre-record sound. A digital recording of a naturally occurring sound.
  • Sampling
  • Sampling is actually emulating the sound of an acoustical instrument by digitizing (converting to digital sound) the waveforms produced by the instrument. There are hardware samplers and software samplers, such as Tascam’s Gigastudio.
  • Sample Rate
  • This is the rate at which samples of a waveform are made and must be twice the highest frequency one wishes to capture. Commercial compact discs use a rate of 44,100 samples per second. (Se Nyquist Theory)
  • Scratching
  • Scratching was originally achieved with vinyl spun and reversed on a turntable / deck. A modern method of creating a scratch sound is by the use of sampling or CDJ’s which are CD equivalents of record decks.

    Scratching can also be achieved with software like ‘Final Scratch’

  • Sequencer
  • A MIDI sequencer, whether it is a software program or a stand-alone sequencer, arranges melodic and harmonic patterns in successive positions, sequentially. Storing MIDI information such as note-on and note-off events in memory and playing them back in the most fundamental task of a sequencer.
  • Sibilance
  • High frequency whistling or lisping sound that affects vocal recordings, due either to poor microphone technique or excessive equalization.
  • Side-chain
  • One signal is processed with a second signal. A common side-chain is to use a compressor to control when the process acts e.g a sustained string pad has a side-chained compressor applied to it and routed to a bass drum. As the bass drum is hit the string pad volume ducks causing a pulsing sound rather than a flat sustained sound.
  • Signal to noise ratio
  • The level of wanted signal compared to the level of unwanted noise. A good signal to noise ratio is where the wanted signal is as loud as possible without clipping and the unwanted noise is inaudible.
  • Skanking
  • Skanking is an off the beat strumming pattern where the upbeat is more prominent than the down stroke. Commonly used in Reggae music
  • Slap Back Echo
  • Used extensively on vocals during early 1950s rock n roll recordings. Slapback echo is a single repeat with a fast delay time. In early recordings this was achieved using analogue tape passing tape through a record and playback head.

    For modern recordings this effect is achieved using a software plugin or digital delay.

  • Slide guitar
  • Slide guitar also called bottle neck guitar. A plastic or glass tube placed over the third or fourth finger of the left hand and used to play “slide” or glissando effects in rock and blues and other forms of traditional music.
  • Sound Module
  • Another term for MIDI sound generator, this refers to the synthesis component in a device such as a keyboard that produces the sound such as a violin or piano.
  • Stereo
  • Stereophonic is a signal carried on two channels, left and right to represent a sound image for the human ears.
  • String bend
  • The act of pushing or pulling a string sideways across a fret to raise the pitch of a note by a half to full tone or more. Used extensively in rock and blues playing as well as in jazz.
  • Subtractive Synthesis
  • The process of creating a new sound by filtering and shaping a raw, harmonically complex waveform.
  • Syncopation
  • An off beat pattern where the weaker beats e.g 2 and 4 and now the strong beats in a bar and beat 1 is almost nonexistent.
  • Synthesizer
  • A synthesizer is a device driven by a microprocessor which contains a programmable chip. Originally, a synthesizer produced an audio signal by the direct manipulation of electrical signals. Now MIDI sound-generating circuitry utilises mathematical functions which alter a stream of digital numbers.


  • Tempo
  • How fast or slow a piece of music is. 60bpm (beats per minute) is a tempo of 1 beat per second.
  • Texture
  • The sound quality of a piece, dependent on features like the number of parts, the tone quality of the instruments and or voices, and the spacing between the parts.
  • Timbre
  • The quality of a sound that distinguishes it from other sounds of the same pitch and volume. It is the distinctive tone color of an instrument or a singing voice.
  • Tonality
  • The use of major and minor keys in music and the ways in which these keys are related. Note all music is tonal.
  • Tone Generator
  • This is essentially a synthesizer without a keyboard. A keyboard-less device which outputs audio signals in response to MIDI commands. Both the Edirol SD-20 and the SD-80 are tone generators.
  • Track
  • In software, tracks generally contain audio and MIDI layers. There are many kinds or tracking devices e.g. multi-track software/ hardware, stereo (2 track), 4 track, 8 track…, MIDI sequencing etc.. Tracks are nothing more than an organising tool commonly, most sequencers allow an unlimited number of tracks within each song.
  • Transient
  • Usually the brief initial (or attack) portion of a waveform. Transients provide important cues that help our ears recognise sounds, but they are often difficult for an audio system to reproduce because of their high amplitudes and short rise times.


  • Unbalanced
  • A type of connection or cable with two signal wires only. One of which is also connected to earth (ground).


  • Virtual Modelling
  • Is when a software instrument tries to imitate a hardware version e.g. Roland V-drums imitates the sound of various vintage acoustic drum kits
  • Velocity
  • The second data byte of a MIDI note, which represents the loudness of the note measured from 0 – 127.


  • Waveform
  • A sound signal which has a particular shape when displayed on an oscilloscope.
  • WAV file
  • A commonly used file for storing digital audio information. More common on PC-based computers


  • XLR
  • A 3-pin male to female connector that is commonly used to carry balanced analogue audio signals for microphones.


  • Y Leads
  • The most common use is to separate the two wires coming from a TRS jack and send them to two mono connectors.


  • Zenith
  • In analog tape recording, refers to the tilt of the tape head in the direction perpendicular to the tape travel.