British Vs. American Musical Terms: What Are They

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

While music is universal and transcends different languages, the words we use to describe it vary from country to country. If you’ve ever heard someone refer to a quaver and wondered what on earth that is, you’re not alone!

In this post, we’re going to be diving into all the different musical terms in both British and American English and what their differences are. Let’s get started.

Note Values

To start, one of the biggest differences between American and British musical terms is the names of the note values. If you’ve ever seen words like minim, quaver, and crotchet, then the table below will explain what’s what.

American Term For NotesBritish Term For Notes
Double Whole NoteBreve
Whole NoteSemibreve
Half NoteMinim
Quarter NoteCrotchet
Eighth NoteQuaver
Sixteenth NoteSemiquaver
Thirty-Second NoteDemisemiquaver
Sixty-Fourth NoteHemidemisemiquaver

Rest Values

Of course, because the note values have different names, it means that the rests also have different names. Below are all the American and British terms for musical rests

ImageAmerican Terms For RestsBritish Terms For Rests
Double Whole Note RestBreve Rest
Whole Note RestSemibreve Rest
Half Note RestMinim Rest
Quarter Note RestCrotchet Rest
Eighth Note RestQuaver Rest
Sixteenth Note RestSemiquaver Rest
Thirty-Second Note RestDemisemiquaver Rest

Intervals And Scale Degrees

Another key difference is how the intervals between notes are described. In British English, they use Semitones and Tones, and in the US, they use Half Steps and Whole Steps.

American TermsBritish Terms
Half StepSemitone
Whole StepTone
Leading ToneLeading Note
Picardy thirdTierce de Picardie


The next difference between the two is how Cadences are described. While some are the same (like plagal cadences), the words used to describe some of the other types are different. Here they are.

Roman NumeralsAmerican TermsBritish Terms
V – IAuthentic CadencePerfect Cadence
I – VHalf CadenceImperfect Cadence
IV – IPlagal CadencePlagal Cadence
V – VIDeceptive CadenceInterrupted Cadence


And lastly, we have some miscellaneous terms used to describe some of the other musical concepts that are different between the two nations.

American TermsBritish Terms
Bar, BarlineBarline

Summing Up

So there you have it—all the differences between the British and American musical terms. We hope it helps make sense of everything.

If you have any questions about any of the terms covered in this post, please get in touch, and we’ll be happy to help.

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Written by Dan Farrant
Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.