Music can move us, sometimes eliciting tears. It can galvanize us, making an interminable drive go by much faster. It can also bring us together, uniting thousands under the same roof. But what many don’t know is that music also contains GRE vocabulary. Not literally of course (though a GRE vocab rap would be interesting!). Below are words that relate to the quality of musical sound.
This word comes from the Latin to flow like honey. Music that is mellifluous sounds sweet to the ear. You may be prone to humming a mellifluous tune throughout the day (or you may not be able to get the tune out of your head!). Of course music is highly subjective, so what is mellifluous for me (a Schubert sonata) may not be mellifluous for you.
One way to come up with the opposite of mellifluous is to bang your hands against the piano. Another is to say the word discordant, a word that sounds discordant. That’s right, discordant is harsh sounding and unpleasant. Like many words it can be applied in different contexts. Something that is discordant clashes. Someone’s outfit can be discordant (a pink tie with a mustard yellow blazer); discordance between two people suggests conflict.
If you thought discordant sounded jarring, try pronouncing cacophonous. The first two syllables sound like someone expectorating. Even more so than discordant, cacophonous is about harsh sound. Instead of striking random piano notes with your fingers, imagine doing so with your fist. Unlike discordant, cacophonous refers more to music and sound, though figuratively can mean clashing, as in a cacophony of differing opinions.
Something that is deep sounding and resonant is sonorous. A voice that is very low and full sounding is sonorous. The base (that upright violin looking instrument) is a sonorous instrument; Pavarotti, the opera singer, was known for his sonorous voice. Sonorous, however, doesn’t apply to much beyond sound and voices.
This word doesn’t only relate to music. It can relate to anything that touches you emotionally. A movie can be poignant; witnessing a family embrace after years apart can be poignant; and music can be poignant. Whether it is Billy Holiday crooning Strange Fruit, the modern day diva Adele sultrily intoning about heartbreak, or the opening bars of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings music is filled with poignancy: that quality that can touch us at the deepest emotional level.