Glossary of Terms | NewMusicalsInc

glossary of terms

To search for specific terms,
use CTRL+F
A cappella

Singing which is without any accompaniment.


AABA

A refrain structure in which an initial A section is followed by a second A section of identical musical material, followed by a section of contrasting musical material, and concluded with a repetition of the initial A section. Lyrics change in each section, but there is usually a repeated lyric in the same location of each A section (e.g., lyric is repeated either the beginning or the end of the A sections). Generally this corresponds to a refrain of typically 8-bar sections. AABA refers to the structure of the Refrain, not the structure of the song. Examples include: Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Climb Every Mountain, Bewitched Bothered and Bewildered, Cock-Eyed Optimist, The Sound of Music


ABAB

A refrain structure in which an initial A section is followed by a section of contrasting musical material (“B section”), followed by a repetition of the initial A section, and concluded with a repetition of the “B section”. Lyrics change in each section, but there is usually a repeated lyric in the same location of each A section (e.g., lyric is repeated either the beginning or the end of the A sections). Generally this corresponds to a refrain of typically 8-bar sections. ABAB refers to the structure of the Refrain, not the structure of the song. An example is: Que Sera Sera (Livingston/Evans).


ABAC

A refrain structure in which an initial A section is followed by a section of contrasting musical material (“B section”), followed by a repetition of the initial A section, and concluded with new material (“C section”). Lyrics change in each section, but there is usually a repeated lyric in the same location of each A section (e.g., lyric is repeated either the beginning or the end of the A sections). Generally this corresponds to a refrain of typically 8-bar sections. ABAC refers to the structure of the Refrain, not the structure of the song. Examples include: When October Goes (Johnny Mercer), Anyone Can Whistle, and There’s a Parade in Town.


Accent – agogic

Agogic refers to duration. Agogic accents are a result of notes which are noticeably longer (or shorter) than the notes around them.


Accent – dynamic

Dynamic accents are a result of notes which are noticeably louder than the notes around them. Dynamic accents can be created by notation (placing accent marks over notes), by syncopation, or by observing the natural accents created by regular meter in which accented syllables fall on accented beats).


Accent – harmonic

A change in the expected harmony causes harmonic accents, or change in the harmonic rhythm. Perhaps a pattern has been established wherein the chords change only and always on the downbeat, so that when this harmonic rhythm is altered, an accent results. Or an deviation from the use of standard tonal harmony might cause an accent (e.g., a key change; an unexpected or unusual chord in the middle of standard tonal harmony; revoicing of a chord; etc.)


Accent – tonic

Tonic accents are a result of notes which are noticeably different in pitch than the notes around them: either higher or lower. A higher pitch may be perceived as emphasized; likewise, a lower pitch may be perceived as emphasized.


Allegory

An extended or continued metaphor, in which the metaphor is consistent throughout the entire plot, such as in Urinetown, Pippin, Candide, Animal Farm, and Lord of the Flies.


Alliteration

The repetition of initial consonant sounds in a passage.


Alto

The lowest female voice, generally heavier than other women’s voices. Often associated automatically with worldliness, power. Changes timbre below about G and above an A. Examples include:

Anita (West Side Story)
Pennywise (Urinetown)
Cleo (Most Happy Fella)
Petra (A Little Night Music)


Anapest

A three-syllable unit comprised of two unstressed syllables followed by an stressed accent. Such as:

Are you lonesome tonight?
Do you miss me tonight?


ANMT

Academy for New Musical Theatre. The academic branch of New Musicals Inc. They offer classes, workshops, readings and other support for writers studying the craft of musical theatre.


Anthimeria

The substitution of one part of speech for another. (using nouns as verbs, or adjectives as nouns, etc.) Such as:

Can you text my cellphone with directions to your house?
Google the restaurant to find their address.
He encyclopediaed me all evening until I felt like an idiot.
Summer me, winter me.
The buffalo nooned in the shade, switching flies.


Apostrophe

A figure of speech addressing an absent person or personified abstraction.  Such as:

Death, where is thy sting?
America, God shed his grace on thee.
Love, look away.


Arc

A character’s change from beginning to end. Also referred to as “throughline.”


ASCAP

A service organization which collects and distributes royalties on behalf of songwriters in film, television, theatre, etc. www.ascap.org


Assonance

The repetition of vowel sounds in a passage.


B-section

A contrasting section of a song, often with different lyrical ideas. This term is different from the “bridge” of a a pop song: a “bridge” exists between pop’s verses or choruses; a B section in musical theatre refers to a portion of the refrain itself. (See AABA.)


Ballad

A ballad is a song with a serious lyrical intention that is characterized by the legato feeling of the melodic line. That is, the content of the song is usually something we take seriously and the music is smooth and flowing. It is the legato feeling of the music that really defines the song. In other words, a bouncy tune with serious words isn’t a ballad, whereas a smooth, flowing melody with a lighter content very well could be a ballad.

Ballads are used for many dramatic reasons, but the most common is probably a love song of some kind or other. Examples abound, and you can select your favorites. “If Ever I Would Leave You” is a typical ballad of the love song variety. Although the song is performed in the show Camelot with a very strong rhythmic pulse, the melody is very legato in style. Notice, also, how the words are arranged to make this possible. The only consonant that could be considered harsh in the opening title phrase is the “v” in ever and leave, and neither sound prevents the easy motion of the lyric. Say the phrase, “If ever I would leave you.” One word blends into the next effortlessly – making this very easy to sing in the legato style of the music. Also, the phrases tend to end with round, open sounds – “Knowing how in spring I’m bewitched by you soooooooo” – so the singer can sustain the ends of phrases with an attractive sound. If a ballad is defined by the character of the music, the definition must be supported by the sound and content of the words.

Certainly not all ballads are boy-meets-girl love songs. One of the most interesting is from Oklahoma! The song “Lonely Room” is used to humanize a character. Jud is the villain, but rather than the evil, leering gent of earlier melodramas, he’s characterized as a psychologically disturbed murderer who craves physical love. Here the song really helps the audience understand and even fear the character. The words are effective, and the music is sometimes balladic and legato, other times abrupt and staccato, reflecting the schizoid nature of both the song’s content and the character.

Another interesting use of a ballad is the song “Far From The Home I Love” in Fiddler On The Roof. This song explores the drama with a simple eloquence and causes the central character to re-examine his priorities when his daughter sings it. Again, the lyrics support the style of the music with soft consonants – “Far from the home I love/Yet there with my love, I’m home.”

Examples of Ballads

Classic:

“If Ever I Would Leave You” (Camelot)

“Lonely Room” (Oklahoma)

“Far From the Home I Love” (Fiddler on the Roof)

“Send in the Clowns” (A Little Night Music)

Contemporary:

“Home” (Bat Boy)

“Fine Fine Line” (Avenue Q)

“I Am Here for You” (Book of Mormon)


Baritone

The middle-ranged male voice, generally thicker and more resonant than a tenor. Often associated automatically with maturity, physicality. Changes timbre below C and above F.


Bass

The lowest male voice. Often associated automatically with character roles, either sinister or comic. True “bass” is very rare in musical theatre. Changes timbre below a low G and above middle C. Examples include:

Judd (Oklahoma)
Czolgosz (Assassins)
Mufasa (Lion King)
Caiaphas (Jesus Christ Superstar)
Green Goblin (Spiderman)


Belter

The loudest female voice, generally more forceful than other women’s voices. Often associated automatically with aggression, strength . A soprano belter changes timbre below about E and above a D. An alto belter changes timber below about an A and above a C. Examples include:

Elphaba (Wicked)
Evita (Evita)
Adelaide (Guys and Dolls)
Ado Annie (Oklahoma)
Mama Rose (Gypsy)
Ethel Merman, Betty Buckley, Patti LuPone, Idina Menzel


Black box theatre

A simple performance space, usually square or rectangular, with black walls and no “wings”; often used for experimental theatre, or early development of shows and musicals.


BMI

A service organization which collects and distributes royalties on behalf of songwriters in film, television, theatre, etc. www.bmi.org


Book

Refers to the dialogue AND storyline/structure of the musical. The “book” is often conceived of by the entire collaborative team, although the actual dialogue might be written by one person alone, the bookwriter.


Bow music

Music composed specifically to accompany bows; often in short “reprises” corresponding to the characters’ songs.


Breaks, Fillers, Endings and Introductions for Popular Piano Playing

by Marvin Kahn and Murray Arnold. New York, Mills Music. 1953.


Bridge

A contrasting section of a song, often with different lyrical ideas. This term is usually used in context of a pop song, rather than musical theatre songs.


Button

A musical punctuation to indicate the definitive end of a song. A button could be a single note, loud or soft, or a chord, or a short musical phrase. The button’s main function is to assure the audience it’s time to applaud.


Chord symbol

A chord symbol is a letter and/or accidental which indicates a root pitch on which a chord is to be built and other symbols which indicate the composition of the chord.


Chorus

The Chorus is particular type of refrain, usually shorter than the traditional refrain, often bearing repetitive phrases, often designed for chorus (or audience) to sing along. The musical theatre chorus is distinguished from the chorus in pop music. In pop music, the structure is typically verse/chorus, verse/chorus…which is equivalent in musical theatre to verse/refrain, verse/refrain. The chorus in musical theatre is much shorter, and most closely resembles the “na na na na” section of a pop song (like “Hey Jude” or King George’s “ba da da” from “Hamilton”). Musical theatre songs with singalong chorus include: “You’ll Be Back” (Hamilton) and “Shmuel Song” (The Last Five Years).


Collaboration

The process of two or more people working together to produce or create something. In musical theatre, this refers both to the writers of the musical, and later to the artistic team necessary to get the musical produced


Comedy song

A comedy song is defined as a song in which the lyrics make us laugh out loud more than once. Comedy songs are generally complaints, and very often indulge in self-pity. Self-pity is only attractive when it makes us laugh.

Ballads and uptempo songs are characterized by the style of the music, but in comedy songs the words take precedence. Frequently the music to a comedy song is very attractive and charming, but the audience seldom cares as long as it supports the lyrics, which make us laugh out loud.

Topics for comedy songs are usually in the nature of a complaint of some kind, may be dripping with self-pity and always are rooted in some sort of problem. In “I’m Just A Girl Who Cain’t Say No,” Ado Annie thinks she has a terrible disease. She believes that the other girls don’t have the feelings she experiences when she’s with a “feller.” “Adelaide’s Lament” in Guys And Dolls is that her perpetual cold is probably psychosomatically induced by her unwed status. In Brigadoon, a young girl’s search for “The Love Of My Life” thinly disguises her questionable virtue. Tevye’s “If I Were A Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof is mainly about his misconceptions of wealth. In each case there is an element of complaint – and something real to complain about: poverty, lack of virtue, chronic sniffles or the painful realities of puberty. Normally a complaint is not attractive and writers eschew self-pity like the plague – and they ought to! Except when writing comedy songs.

Comedy songs are much harder to write than they are to define. However, there’s at least one in every successful score, and two or three are to be hoped for. Audiences love to laugh. When attending a musical, the audience’s expectation is that a fair amount of entertainment will ensue. Originally, remember, the form was called “musical comedy”, and the responsibility to help an audience laugh remains strongly a part of the genre.

Examples of Comedy Songs

Classic:

“I’m Just A Girl Who Cain’t Say No” (Oklahoma)

“Adelaide’s Lament” (Guys and Dolls)

“The Love Of My Life” (Brigadoon)

“If I Were A Rich Man” (Fiddler on the Roof)

Contemporary:

“The Internet is for Porn” (Avenue Q)

“Sex is in the Heel” (Kinky Boots)

“You and Me (But Mostly Me)” (Book of Mormon)


Consonance

The repetition of consonant sounds internally in a passage. (Vowels are usually shifting)


Creative Arranging at the Piano

by Bill Holcomb. New Jersey, Musicians Publications, c. 1980.


Creative Keyboard Sounds

by Artie Butler. New York, Warner Bros. c. 1980.


Crossover

Music composed to accompany a brief moment in between scenes when characters literally cross from one side of the stage to another


Cue

A cue is the dialogue or action which precedes/triggers music. Confusingly, a cue is also the term used to describe a piece of music within the show: Cue #12, Cue #13.


Dactyl

A three-syllable unit comprised of a stressed accent followed by two unstressed syllables, such as:

(I’m) called little Buttercup
dear little Buttercup


Dance break

Music composed for moments when dialogue stops and action is expressed through dance.


Diegetic music

Music which occurs within the actual world of the characters. e.g., the characters are in a nightclub where there’s music, or they put a quarter into a jukebox, or pick up a guitar and start to sing.


Dramatic action

The exercise of a character’s will in the face of an opposing force. Examples include:

Mama Rose standing up to: her father, the agents, Herbie, etc.
Tevye’s daughters standing up to their father.
Maria teaching the Von Tropp children to sing against their father’s will.
Sweeney Todd exacting his revenge upon the Judge.


Duet

A song in which two singers sing simultaneously, at least for a portion of the song.


Eleven o’clock number

A high-energy number placed very late in the show, usually comic. It refers to the traditional (long ago) when the number would happen around 11:00pm, to rouse the audience just before it was time to go home.


Ensemble song

A song in which more than two singers sing, usually simultaneously, but perhaps in counterpoint.


Euphony

An harmonious succession of words having a pleasant sound. Such as:

I’m simply drowned in the sight
And the sound and the scent
And the feel of a real live girl.

my jauntily, sauntering, ambling shambler.

Whatever the boat I row, you row.
Whatever the row I hoe, you hoe.
And any I.O.U. I owe, you owe
No, we owe - together.


Exposition

Exposition is the information the audience needs to know in order to understand who the characters are in relationship to one another, and information they need to know in order to understand what has happened to them before your story begins.  See Neighbor Exposition as well as Stranger Exposition (below).


Falsetto

A technique of singing with the “head” voice to create notes above an actor’s normal range; usually refers to a male voice. An example would be “Bring Him Home” (Les Miserables).


Feminine rhyme

Perfect rhyme in which the accent involves two syllables; the first syllable is accented, the second is unaccented. Such as:

fatal/natal
screaming/steaming
daughter/water


Format

Standard formatting guidelines for script, also for score.


Golden age of musical theatre

A period from approximately 1943-1963 which includes many of the most popular shows of Broadway.


Iamb

A two-syllable unit comprised of a unstressed syllable followed by a stressed accent.

I know a dark secluded place.


Incidental music

Music which is designed to play underneath the action and/or dialogue of the show.


Integrated script

A combination of script and score, with running page numbers, prepared for rehearsal purposes, in the following order: book, lyric, music, book, lyric, music, etc.


Jerry Herman – the Lyrics; a Celebration

by Jerry Herman.


Jukebox musical

A show which fashions a new story around existing songs, often grouped by common composer or genre.


Lead sheet

A sketch of a song, including melody, lyrics, chord symbols, tempo, and possibly a hint of an introductory groove, on a single staff, without any realization of an accompaniment.


Legitimate singing

Full, classical, almost operatic sound with power and dynamic control throughout the entire vocal range.


Linear prosody

The alignment of phrases of music with units of meaning in the lyric. (See prosody; linear prosody refers to horizontal, forward motion created either by the lyric or the music). Such as:

Now as the sweet imbecilities tumble so lavishly onto her lap
Now there are two possibilities:
A) I could ravish her
B) I could nap.


List song

The list song is a song whose prime characteristic is lyric which features a list centered on a topic. Secondary characteristics vary, but might include: rapid tempo or pace, clever rhymes, minimal grammar and a sense of absurdity. But not all list songs are rapid, and some are serious. Often the raison d’etre of a list song is to feature a performer or to show off a clever lyricist. Examples include: “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” (Pirates of Penzance); “The Elements” (Tom Lehrer); “Tchaikovsky and Other Russians” (Ira Gershwin); “You’re the Top” (Cole Porter); “My Favorite Things” (The Sound of Music).


Lyrics (Preface)

by Oscar Hammerstein II


Lyrics on Several Occasions

by Ira Gershwin.


Making Musicals

by Tom Jones. New York, Limelight Editions, 1998.


Masculine rhyme

Perfect rhyme in which the accent is a a final single accented syllable. Such as:

mat/cat
jacks/tacks/relax
tree/knee/Tennessee/Peggy Lee


Metaphor

Metaphor is an implied comparison identifying the two things compared with each other. Note: A metaphor is a different grammatical construct from the simile. The simile deliberately and obviously says to the listener, “I am comparing X to Y, and telling you that they are alike” (“crazy like a fox”; “Life is a cabaret”). However, a metaphor is not a simile with the “like” or “as” missing. A metaphor uses imagery or language from one idea and inserts it into the other idea…from which the listener must infer the comparison.

Simile: My father is as steady as a ship.

Metaphor: My father navigates this family through the tempests of our lives.


Metonymy

Substitution of some attributive or suggestive word for what is actually meant. Metonymy differs from synecdoche in that synecdoche references an actual piece of the original; metonymy is about an attribute or something related to but not part of the original. Such as:

crown for royalty
mitre for bishop
wealth for rich people
brass for military officers
bottle for wine
pen for writer


Mixed metaphor

Using more than one metaphoric scheme in the same expression.

You’re missing the boat because you’re jumping the gun.
Changing horses mid-air.


Montage

A series of scenes compressed into a single sequence, usually for the purpose of collapsing time.


Motif

A short musical idea or succession of notes which gets repeated and/or embellished, usually with additional layers of meaning.


Musical Scene

A musical scene is defined as a moment in a musical when an entire scene is musicalized. This may mean that the sequence contains one or more songs and/or reprises, including underscored dialogue (if necessary, but not required). The section being musicalized must be a complete scene, with a beginning, middle, and end, and including a dramatic action.

Definitions of dramatic action will keep you awake nights, but the one we use is: The exercise of a character’s will in the face of an opposing force.

Musical scenes are useful when there are multiple conflicting forces on stage at the same time (Think “Tonight” from West Side Story), but they’re not merely crowd scenes. The focus of a musical scene is generally on one character who is working through a problem or confronting a conflict, though there could be multiple characters in action.

Ballads, rhythm/uptempo songs and comedy songs can all serve as the basis for musical scenes. “Tonight” from West Side Story is an example of a musical scene arising from a ballad.

Another example of a musical scene (even though it only involves one character) is “Soliloquy” from Carousel. It begins as a reflective moment and contains elements of charm in the songs “My Boy Bill” and “My Little Girl”. But at the end of the song, the young father-to-be realizes what his responsibilities will be. Consider the final lyrics: “I never knew how to make money/But I’ll try, by God, I’ll try/I’ll go out and make it or steal it or take it/Or die!” The reflection has caused him to make a decision, and we know he will act on it. Definitely a musical scene.

Not all musical scenes need to have such dire consequences as “Soliloquy” does to qualify. “You Must Meet My Wife” from A Little Night Music is a comedic musical scene. During the song, Frederick gives Desiree permission to hate his wife, Anne, by revealing her to be a perfectly horrible little simp, which she is, and Desiree announces her decision, albeit cleverly and comedically, to do the little witch in.

A caution: don’t create a musical scene simply by adding underscoring or vamps to a scene in a book. You want your music to have a dramatic function, and not simply mark time in order to make a scene feel as though it’s a whole musical sequence.

Examples of Musical Scenes

Classic:

“Tonight” (West Side Story)

“Tevye’s Dream” (Fiddler on the Roof)

“You Must Meet My Wife” (A Little Night Music)

“I’m Going Back” (Bells Are Ringing)

“A Weekend in the Country” (A Little Night Music)

Contemporary:

“The Money Song” (Avenue Q)

“That Horrible Woman” (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder)

“Gay or European” (Legally Blonde)

“Schuler Defeated” (Hamilton)


NAMT

National Alliance for Musical Theatre. Member-based support organization for theatres and producers of musicals, based in New York. www.namt.org


Near rhyme

Syllables which are close to rhyming, but do not pass both rules of rhyme. Near rhyme is encouraged in pop music, but frowned upon in musical theatre.


Neighbor exposition

Information exchanged between characters who know one another.  Compare to stranger exposition (below). The concept here is that characters who already know each other often can’t be used to deliver backstory/exposition, because they already know this information and wouldn’t explain it to each other.  Two people who know one another don’t have to reiterate information which they both know.  You don’t have to say to your father, “Hey, Dad, have you heard from my sister Stella, your youngest daughter?” or “Dad, we’re having a Fourth of July party to celebrate the Fourt of July, which is a national holiday which falls on the Fourth of July, the anniversary of the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence.”


NMI

New Musicals Inc. They study, develop and produce new musicals. www.nmi.org


Parable

An extended metaphor in the form of an anecdotal narrative generally focused around a single set-piece/action, designed to teach a moral lesson. Examples include: Tortoise and the Hare, Boy Who Cried Wolf, Prodigal Son, Emperor’s New Clothes.


Pastiche

A musical score fashioned from many many different styles: e.g., ragtime, pop, hip-hop, an Elvis number, and a good-ol’-fashioned Broadway kickline.


Pentameter

A line of poetry with five feet such as The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.


Periphrasis

Substitution of a proper name as a descriptive (associated with that proper name). Such as:

He was a Quixote of the fishing world, with delusions of catching a swordfish with a homemade fishing pole.
The Herculean task of cleaning the garage.
A Sondheimean rhyme scheme


Personification

Investing abstractions or inanimate objects with human qualities or abilities. Such as:
The ground thirsts for rain.
The dew winked in the morning sun.
Ol’ Man River, he mus’ know sumpin’.


Poetic Meter and Poetic Form

by Paul Fussell. New York, Random House, 1965.


Professionalism

At NMI, we try to treat our members as professionals. Some would say that the difference between a professional and an amateur is a paycheck. But here are some more useful ways of thinking about the differences:

Professionals arrive for rehearsals a few minutes ahead of time; amateurs allow themselves to be late.

Professionals show up prepared; amateurs show up unprepared.

Professionals take responsibility for their work ethic and creative process; amateurs often look for someone to blame.

Professionals seek out constructive feedback; amateurs get defensive and think of feedback as criticism and judgment.

(etc.  You get the idea.)


Progression

An underlying organization which gives shape or movement to the idea of the lyric. A lyric with progression will begin the listener at one point and deliver him to a different point at the end. Examples include: “I Cain’t Say No” (Oklahoma) and “Memory” (Cats).


Proscenium theatre

A theatre in which the audience directly faces the stage and views only one side of the scene. Typically raised higher than the audience. Proscenium” refers to the framing arch surrounding the opening of the stage, although an actual arch is not required in modern vernacular to use this term.


Prosody

The alignment of stresses in music with stresses in the lyric for the purpose of clarity of meaning.


Pure rhyme

Two rules of Rhyme - both of which must be true: 1. From the accented syllable to the end of the phrase, sounds are identical. and 2. At the moment of the accent, sounds are different.


Reading Lyrics

by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball. New York, Pantheon Books, 2000.


Recitative

Passages which are sung, but not part of a structured song. (pronounced REH-suh-tah-TEEV)


Reprise

Repetition of a section of a previously-heard musical number, usually with dramatic or ironic effect, usually truncated. (pronounced re-PREEZ)


Revue

A musical show without a narrative storyline, usually without ongoing characters, which can contain scenes as well as songs.


Rhythm Uptempo Song

Note: We used to call this kind of song a “charm” song; many composers still do. We have found, however, that the commodity “charm” has gone out of fashion in musical theatre, and songs which used to be considered charming are now rather old-fashioned and approach parody. The artistic elements of a rhythm/uptempo remain the same, however.

Rhythm/Uptempo songs are defined by the rhythm – not merely the rhythm in the accompaniment, but also and especially the rhythmic syncopation of the melodic line.

The lyrics to a rhythm/uptempo song are usually optimistic and not as serious or ambitious as those of a ballad, and the words will contain lots of good, hard consonants and rhythmic phrases that lend themselves to syncopation.

The quintessential rhythm/uptempo song must surely be “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top” from Oklahoma!. The lyric is narrative and percussive, the tune is rhythmic and reflects the content of the words, and the effect in the theatre is uptempo beyond belief.

Rhythm/uptempo songs are not hard to find. They are the mainstay of a score, outnumbering ballads and comedy songs by at least two to one. Consider just a couple and examine how the words and music work together to create the rhythmic unity that produces such a high degree of charm in the theatre.

Examples of Uptempo Songs

Classic:

“The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” (Oklahoma!)

“Getting to Know You” (The King and I)

“I Feel Pretty” (West Side Story)

“She Loves Me” (She Loves Me)

“Wouldn’t it Be Loverly?” (My Fair Lady)

Contemporary:

“If You Were Gay” (Avenue Q)

“My Major is Joan” (Fun Home)

“Man Up” (Book of Mormon)


Rubato

In contemporary musical theatre, this term means “freely”, or “follow the singer’s tempo changes.” Traditionally, this term refers to internal slowing and quickening within a phrase or even a measure, even though the overall pace of a passage is steady.


Safety

A brief section of musical (usually 1-2 bars) with an optional repeat which may be played or ignored to time the music to the action on stage.


Score

Refers to the piano-vocal version of a musical. In developmental phases, the score contains all the dialogue which happens while music is being played; in publication, dialogue is often truncated and incomplete.


Simile

A figure of speech involving a comparison between two unlike entities, explicitly indicated by the actual or implied words “like” or “as.”

somber like a cathedral
Love is like a river
I’m as corny as Kansas in August

Note that the words “like” or “as” do not have to present for the phrase to be a simile.

Life is a cabaret
You’re the cream in my coffee


Solving Your Script

by Jeffrey Sweet. New Hampshire, Heineman, 2001.


Song spotting

The process of determining possibilities for sung passages.


Soprano

The highest female voice, generally lighter than other women’s voices. Often associated automatically with innocence, purity, youth. Changes timbre below about middle C and above high F. Examples include:

Maria (West Side Story)
Luisa (Fantasticks)
Hope (Urinetown)
Ann (A Little Night Music)


Sources for scores and books

If you are looking for scores and librettos, you might try: Brand Library (Glendale); Samuel French Bookstores; USC Music Library; UCLA Music Library; Santa Monica Public Library; Beverly Hills Public Library; Los Angeles Public Library (www.lapl.org)


Spondee

A two-syllable unit comprised of two stressed accents, such as: Flim flam, cut-throat, no-good, riff-raff


Stranger exposition

Information exchanged between characters who know little or nothing about one another.  See Neighbor exposition (above).  Because strangers don’t know much about each other, they’re useful to the bookwriter to deliver information which neighbors/friends wouldn’t exchange.  It makes perfect sense for a stranger to mention that he has a sister, Stella, who is the youngest daughter in his family; or to explain a custom or bit of history to someone who is unfamiliar with it.


Subplot

A secondary storyline which happens often in contrast to the main characters’ plot.


Subtext

words which are unspoken; the meaning which is implied but not said by a character


Swing rhythm

musical notation in which notes with the same value are performed with unequal durations, usually as alternating long and short. If the word “swing” does not appear, these notes are played with even values.


Synecdoche

A figure of speech in which a part stands for the whole. Such as:

Classification of a noun standing for the noun itself:
vessel for ship
weapon for sword
creature for man
arms for rifles

Noun standing for the classification:
bread for food
cutthroat for assassin

Part substituted for the whole:
sail for ship
hands for helpers
roofs for houses
Noun itself used for what is derived from it:
silver for money
canvas for sail
steel for sword


Tag

A brief section of music which concludes a scene, usually designed to cue audience applause or a scene shift. A tag can include singing or it can be instrumental.


Tenor

The highest male voice, generally lighter than other men’s voices. Often associated automatically with youth, romance. Changes timbre below about an E and above a G. Examples include:

Tony (West Side Story)
Henrik (A Little Night Music)
Phantom (Phantom of the Opera)
The Emcee (Cabaret)
Anthony (Sweeney Todd)


Tessitura

The range which comprises most notes of a vocal range; the general range of a character.


Tetrameter

A line of poetry with four feet, such as Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.


The Art of Writing Great Lyrics

by Pamela Philips Oland.


The Complete Rhyming Dictionary and Poet’s Craft Book

by Clement Wood. New York, Doubleday & Company, 1936, 1991


The Dramatist’s Toolkit

by Jeffrey Sweet. New Hampshire, Heineman, 1993.


The Making of a Musical

by Lehman Engel. New York, Limelight Editions, 1986.


The Musical from the Inside Out

by Stephen Citron. Chicago, Elephant Paperbacks, 1997.


The Singer’s Musical Theatre Anthology

by Richard Walters. MN, Hal Leonard Publishing Corp., 1986.


Through-composed

A musical with music which plays without a break throughout the entire show, from beginning to end, pausing only for intermission.


Thrust stage

A stage that extends into the performing area so that the audience is seated around three sides.


Trimeter

A line of poetry with three feet, such as As long as he needs me.


Triple rhyme

Perfect rhyme in which the accent involves three syllables; the first syllable is accented, the second and third are unaccented. Examples include: clamoring/hammering; fatefully/gratefully; devious/in a previous


Trochee

A two-syllable unit comprised of a stressed accent followed by an unstressed syllable, such as When I take you out tonight with me.


Underscoring

Music which is designed to play underneath the action and/or dialogue of the show.


Vamp

A section of music which is repeated a variable number of times, usually to time the music to the action on stage. Often a vamp is followed by shorter section called a safety to fine-tune the timing.


Vocal range

Refers to the highest and lowest notes sung by each character.


Words with Music: the Broadway Musical Libretto

by Lehman Engel. New York, Schirmer Books, 1982.


Writing a Musical

by Richard Andrews. London, Robert Hale, 1998.


Writing Musical Theater

by Allen Cohen and Steve L. Rosenhaus. Palgrave, Macmillan, 2006.


Writing the Broadway Musical

by Aaron Frankel.


Writingmusicaltheatre.com

Online instruction in the craft of musical theatre; affiliated with sister organization the Academy for New Musical Theatre. www.nmi.org