Using Musical Terms: Capitalization

Capitalization and lower case terms

Use lower case for…

Tonalities: modes, pentatonic, major and minor, except when they are part of a title:

Mozart modulates to C major…

Sonata in C Minor (a title)

Genre names, except when they refer to a specific title:

sonata


symphony

string quartet

chanson

suite

Musical forms and sections of forms are not capitalized:

sonata form

binary form

concerto form

overture

motet

recitatives and arias

exposition, development and recapitulation

Liturgical words, especially those that begin a movement or section, are capitalized:

Mass, Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus dei

Requiem, Dies irae

Dynamics, endings and other musical instructions use lower case and italics.  Complete words are preferable to abbreviations, but when shortened, italics are still required.

forte            f

pianissimo            pp

a cappella

da capo           

Tempo markings are capitalized only when they refer to the beginning of a movement:

In the Adagio movement…

Pitches, chords and time signatures

In written text, pitches are capitalized and chords are given in roman numerals, or their use, whichever is more logical.

“Happy Birthday” begins on C and on the tonic chord, but moves to a V7. 

4/4, 9/8, 3/2 (do not use fractions with one number over the other)

Musical periods are generally capitalized:

Middle Ages, but medieval music

Renaissance period

Baroque period

Classical era

Romantic composers and romanticism

Impressionist era

twentieth-century music, contemporary music

centuries are lower case

twentieth-century music

nineteenth-century Lieder (hyphenate the two adjectives)

sixteenth-century motets

in the seventeenth century (no hyphen)

Instrument and voice names are lower case:

violas

timpani

flutes

french or english horns (non-literal meaning of the nationality)

soprano, alto, tenor, bass


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