A basic glossary of French language musical terms

Glossaire simple des termes de musique de la langue française

bémol b
dièse #
bécarre ♮
French children learn music singing do-ré-mi; wrt note names (though usually not chords) solfège is ubiquitous.
‘Do’ may be relative to a key (D=do, E=ré, F#=mi) or absolute. When using the (academy rather than classroom)
'absolute' approach ‘Do’ always means ‘C’ etcetera. You must get Do(C) (D) Mi(E) Fa(F) Sol(G) La(A) and Si(B) internalised!
The ‘accidentals’ are [flat: bémol= b] [sharp: dièse= #] and [natural: bècarre= ♮] (sometimes ♮ is called ‘juste’)
accord‘A chord’: Usually written in ABC notation eg ‘Dm’, but it may still be said as ‘ré mineure’!
une gammeA scale ‘gamme : eg ré dorienne’ For the classic Greek modal names, simply change vowel a to e viz : lydian/lydienne
fondamentaleFundamental: Either chords or scales may then name their other notes in terms of being Nième degré, du fondamentale
[the intervals]Tonique: deuxième/neuvième, tierce/troisième, quatre/quatrième, cinq/cinquième, six/sixième, sept/septième, onze(11) treize(13), quinze(15)
Intervals then may be further qualified : eg ‘neuf bémol’ .. ‘dièse cinq’ .. six juste .. ‘ré bécarre’
Major / minor – essentially the 3rd 'tierce' in a chord
dominanteVery common word in Stage Impro! You’ll also hear ‘dominante de dominante’, ‘dominante alterée’
tritonThe three tone interval: tri-tone, ‘devil’s’ interval; The basis of cadence eg B/F in the G7 dominant chord (btw: this word also means: newt)
un note A note: but French uses a very literal terminology
croche [hook]

noire [black]

noire pointée

blanche [white]

ronde [minim]
la partitionVariously the stave, or ‘mélodie’/’morceau’ as a tune written out on paper
une mesureA bar in music. French commonly uses à la mesure for as you go along. You’ll also hear phrase = phrase for an motif in improvisation
repriseRepeat: eg |: Bb7 - | Eb7 - | F7 - | Bb F7 :|
arpègeArpeggio: often in the context of ‘spelling out’ the notes of a chord as basic improvisation
anatoleA progression of chords, where each is 5th of the succeeding chord (may be dominants/triads/major/minor)
christopheclassical minor into minor move. It seems these terms stem from 30’s swing music
rythmeRhythm, as in rythme binaire2/4 time. There is also rythme ternaire = 3/4, and various rythmes asymétriques such as 7/8, 11/8
en trioletPlaying in triplets .. or in triple time over an even time signature
Augmented/diminished (wrt intervals or chords)
coolCool! Listen also for music terms like notes bleu(s): blue notes (b9, #4, m7).
Street cool words in French are often borrowed (as per English). Another common argot word is vachement: ‘very’ (vulgar)
boeufA (musical) session where anything goes. Essentially ‘making an animal’
la grilleThe melody's (or session tune's) chord sequence: the 'riff'
chorusYour Solo! NB opposite of a common English usage of the word where ‘chorus’ = ‘singing together’
Modale, tonale, tonique, mélodique, harmonique, pentatonique, chromatique, symétrique are ‘the same’
foutuCockney rhyming: ’Donald Ducked’! As in the nototious advice ‘tous foutu: joue Blues for when one’s chorus/solo collapses!

© Chris Ryall, Liverpool UK ; November 2014> www.chrisryall.net/french