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Words in Chinese That Describe Musical Concepts

Language students working jointly at a library table.

Music is an international language, but to talk about it effectively, one needs to understand the specific vocabulary used to describe its concepts. In Chinese, there are numerous terms used to illustrate musical ideas. Here, we provide a closer look at some of these terms, their definitions, and examples in context to help language learners better understand and use these words in conversation.

音乐 (yīnyuè) – Music
This word is the umbrella term for music in Chinese, encompassing all forms of musical expression.
(She loves music very much.)

旋律 (xuánlǜ) – Melody
Refers to the sequence of notes that is musically satisfying and is the main part of a piece of music.
(This song has a very catchy melody.)

和声 (héshēng) – Harmony
The combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions having a pleasing effect.
(Harmony adds depth to the music.)

节奏 (jiézòu) – Rhythm
The systematic arrangement of musical sounds, principally according to duration and periodic stress.
(This piece of music has a strong rhythm.)

调子 (diàozi) – Tune/Key
The term can refer to a tune or the key in which a piece of music is played.
(We need to tune the song to the key of G.)

音符 (yīnfú) – Musical Note
The written or printed sign used to represent the relative duration and pitch of a sound.
(Each musical note has its unique time value and pitch.)

伴奏 (bàn​zòu) – Accompaniment
Music that is played to support the main voice or instrument.
(She played the piano to accompany his singing.)

音阶 (yīn​jiē) – Scale
A series of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch.
(Before practicing the guitar, I need to review the scales.)

协奏曲 (xié​zòu​qǔ) – Concerto
A musical composition generally composed in three parts or movements, in which one solo instrument is accompanied by an orchestra.
(He performed a concerto at the concert.)

乐谱 (yuèpǔ) – Sheet Music/Score
The written form of music notes and rhythms on paper using symbols.
(I can play the piano according to the sheet music.)

即兴 (jí​xìng) – Improvisation
The act of composing and performing music spontaneously without preparation.
(Jazz music is full of improvisation.)

音高 (yīn​gāo) – Pitch
The quality of a sound governed by the rate of vibrations producing it; the degree of highness or lowness of a tone.
(The pitch of this note is higher than the others.)

Understanding and using these terms correctly in the context of Chinese conversations about music can greatly improve communication and demonstrate an appreciation for the musical culture. Whether you’re a musician, a music enthusiast, or just learning the language, knowing this vocabulary will help you to articulate your thoughts on music with precision.

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