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Key: Style: All Styles Focus: Reference Difficulty: Absolute Beginner

  Understanding Music Notation Lesson 15 – Dynamics  
Christopher Schlegel Tutorial 018 - Learning To Read Music (Page 15 of 17)

Christopher Schlegel

Understanding Music Notation Lesson 15 – Dynamics

Music notation shows how loudly or quietly to play the notes in a piece of music in order to indicate the dynamics.

There are a wide variety of dynamic markings. The most basic ones are obviously the ones to learn first. They involve the volume level of the music. Most words used in music notation are Italian. The word piano is Italian for quiet and the word forte is Italian for loud. In notation these are indicated by simply using the letters p and f usually in italics (and sometimes also in bold face).

One can add p's and f’s in order to indicate more quietly and more loudly like this:

  • pp means pianissimo or more quietly.
  • ff means fortissimo or more loudly.

    There are also other letters that refer to other levels of volume (and various qualities). These other letters are also frequently the first letter (the initial) of some Italian word that has been traditionally used in music notation. Here’s a list of notation dynamic markings for your reference. It is a good idea to memorize them.

  • p is piano, indicates “quiet”.
  • f is forte, indicates “loud”.
  • pp is pianissimo, indicates “more quietly”.
  • ff is fortissimo, indicates “more loudly”.
  • mp is mezzo-piano, indicates "medium-soft".
  • mf is mezzo-forte, indicates "medium-loud".
  • sfz is sforzando, indicates “a strong, sudden accent”.
  • fp is forte-piano, indicates “a sforzando followed immediately by piano”.

    There are also words used to indicate dynamics that are gradual in change and occur over a period of several notes or measures. For example:

  • crescendo indicates "get gradually louder".
  • decrescendo indicates "get gradually quieter".

    These indications are sometimes accompanied by symbols called "hairpins". The purpose of the “hairpins” is to show where the gradual changes take place.

    It is important to note that if you are creating your own notation or reading some modern notation that it is perfectly acceptable to simply mark “Loud” instead of using the traditional Italian term “Forte”. Throughout music history composers have departed from the Italian words frequently using their own native language. The point is simply to indicate in some clear manner what your intention is. Like all written languages (music included) the purpose is to properly identify and communicate some information. So as long as you get your point across that’s good enough!

    But remember, if you intend to have other people play, read, use, and understand your music you might want to use whatever language is the most widely used. Also if you are going to practice music professionally or academically you must be prepared to “talk in the native language” and that is frequently music notation in Italian.

      Understanding Music Notation Lesson 15 – Dynamics  
    Christopher Schlegel Tutorial 018 - Learning To Read Music (Page 15 of 17)

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