top of page

Byrd Glossary

If you're new to early music, you may comes across terms for musical style and genres that are you are not yet familiar with.  Here's few we thought of - let us know on Twitter/Instagram @ByrdCentral if there are other words you'd like to see added to this list and we'll add an explanation!



Anthem - English-texted sacred music, often performed before the sermon in a church service


Canon - all the parts play or sing the same tune, but starting at different times. They may play the tune at the same pitch,  or start on a different note (usually an octave, fifth or fourth above or below)






Homophonic - when multiple parts play the same rhythms at the same time, moving together in chords (like in a church hymn)

I / J

Imitation - when each part enters separately starting with the same initial melodic idea (each subsequent part imitates the melody of the first part)




Madrigal - a type of Italian part song that became fashionable in England in the late sixteenth century. Initially settings of Italian madrigals in were published with new or translated English texts, but English composers soon began to write English madrigals. Madrigals are identifiable through their use of lots of different musical textures, often pastoral settings, and extensive use of word-painting.

Motet - song with a Latin text, usual sacred, but not an essential part of the liturgy



Psalm -  setting of the biblical psalms of David. Musical settings of the psalms could be elaborate motets or simpler settings of metrical psalms for congregational or domestic singing (precursors to modern church hymns)

Polyphonic - a piece of music that is made from combining multiple parts, all with independent melodic lines


Recusant - someone who failed to attend their parish church during the reign of Elizabeth I. Catholics often refused to attend the Protestant parish churches and could be fined and even arrested to failing to attend.




Viol - a family of string instruments common int he sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Look similar to to violins/violas/cellos, but have C-shaped sound holes and have frets like a guitar.

Word-painting - a musical device in which the composer attempts to illustrate the meaning of a particular word using a music figure. For example, they might set the word 'heaven'  with high notes or 'running' with fast notes.


bottom of page