A musical cue is a section of a piece of music that is intended to signal the time for a performer to carry out a certain action. This can be used in many different mediums such as in a play or during a musical performance. Musical notes that appear on the staff as smaller than the rest of the notes are a musical cue, which is intended to inform a performer when they are supposed to re-join a piece. Likewise, a certain part of a piece of music played during a theater production could be a signal for an actor to run across stage, or deliver a line.
Understanding the term “cue” is vital to understanding what a musical cue is. A cue is essentially a signal for somebody to do something, like a reminder. Cues are used in various different mediums, but the most common is during stage performances and other acting performances. An actor’s cue to enter a scene may be a certain line of dialogue or a crescendo in a song that is playing. A cue could be anything, as long as the recipient knows what signal he is waiting for.
In orchestras, certain instruments often have an extended break, during which period they are not required for the music. This can result in the player missing the spot that he is supposed to continue playing. The conductor may point to the section or the particular player that is supposed to join in, but they can also be informed through a musical cue. A certain fill played by the violins, for example, may be included in small musical note form on the player’s sheet music so it can serve as a musical cue for him to commence playing.
Acting is a profession dependent on timing, and performing set actions at designated times is vital for the pace of the production. Ordinarily, actors will use a particular line of dialogue as a cue to enter a scene, but a musical cue can also be used. This is particularly common in stage performances, where music has to be played aloud if it is to be included in the performance. An actor wouldn’t be presented with a piece of sheet music, but will be informed of the part of music during which he should enter the scene. This could be anything from a crescendo or diminuendo to a crash of cymbals.