Style and artistic expression are important aspects of music that sometimes get lost in the mix of all the pitches and rhythms you have to learn and play.
Markings like the dynamics are critical for true musicianship beyond notes and rhythms.
It’s also the changes in volume of the music that make each musical performance unique.
Butwhat are the dynamics in music?
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Dynamics in music tell us the volume of a sound or how loud or soft to play the music. These include written and unwritten rules. There are “static” dynamics like forte and piano, which are meant to stay generally the same, and “moving” dynamics which get louder and softer.
Let’s look ahead for a discussion of all the dynamic markings in music, what they mean, and some examples throughout.
Table of Contents
What Are Dynamics (Music Theory)?
Another word for dynamics is volume.
They essentially mean the same thing.
Much of the time, dynamics are written into the musical notation, but there are many times when professionals will add dynamic shifts to make the music more interesting.
Dynamics are also relative to the part called for.
For example, I play the tuba, and when I see aforte, I play strong (like you’re supposed to).
But my forte sounds different if I’m supporting a trumpet melody than a clarinet melody as this instrument is softer.
This is called a textual indication.
It also depends on the group too.
So the answer isn’t so clear.
For the main dynamic terms used in music, check out this handy chart.
Italian Word/Music Term Marking/Abbreviation What It Means Triple piano ppp Super soft Pianoissimo pp Very soft Piano p Soft Mezzo piano mp Medium soft Mezzo forte mf Medium strong Forte f strong Fortissimo ff Very strong Triple forte fff Super strong Crescendo cresc. or < Get louder Decrescendo decresc. or > Get softer Diminuendo Dim. or > Get softer
Fun fact:The instrument called the piano was first called the pianoforte.
It was called this because it was the first keyboard instrument to be able to play both loud dynamics and soft dynamics (thus the name “soft-loud.”
History Of Dynamics In Music
When music and sheet music were first used, there weren’t really any dynamic markings.
At the most, you’d get a set of instructions before the music tells you how to play it.
It was up to you or the common practice for the type of music you were playing most of the time.
In the 16th century, dynamics started to be added in, but there weren’t standard music terms for how to play; it was in the language the music was written in.
During the 17th Century, Italy became the clear center of the musical world.
Performers from all over the known world came to study music here.
As such, their musical terms became the standard, and they’d start to show up in the musical score.
This is where the terms from above come into play.
(They are Italian words, after all!)
How To Show Or Indicate Dynamic Changes In Music
Static Dynamics And Markings
The static dynamic markings are the ones most people think about.
They cover the dynamic range of your voice or instrument.
These are the ones from the table and graphic earlier on, but we’ll go through them again here in a little more detail.
In music notation, you’ll generally see the markings marked as abbreviations of the main Italian dynamic terms.
Three main ones are:
- Forte (f) = Strong
- Mezzo (m) = Medium
- Piano (p) = Soft or quiet dynamic
All the other static, dynamic markings are combinations of these three terms.
On the quieter end, we have:
- Mezzo piano = Medium-soft
- Piano (p) = Soft sounds
- Pianissimo (pp) = Very soft
- Double pianissimo/Triple piano* (ppp) = Even softer
*This isn’t an actual dynamic term that would have been used.
But it’s risen in popularity with modern school band music.
For different dynamics on the louder end we have:
- Double fortissimo/Triple forte** (fff) = Even louder
- Fortissimo (ff) = Very strong
- Forte (f) = Strong
- Mezzoforte (mf) = Medium-strong
**This is the same as the triple piano; it’s not a real term.
Note:There is no “mezzo” dynamic.
It’s either mezzopiano or mezzoforte.
Mezzoforte is used to mark a true medium in many cases.
Moving Dynamic Markings
Moving dynamic markings indicate a broader change in dynamics.
- Crescendo (long <) = Gradual increase
- Decrescendo (long <) = Gradually gets softer
- Diminuendo (dim.) = Gradual change to the softer end
- Fortepiano (fp) = Play the note loud and then get instantly quieter
Crescendo decrescendo may be in different ways, such as marked by the word, the shortened version of the word, or by the marking.
If using the marking, you follow the direction of the marking for as long as the marking is written.
For example, if you see a crescendo marking stretched over 4 beats, you get louder for all 4 beats.
If using the term itself, it may be followed by a line or some dots.
Do the dynamic change for as long as you see dots.
If there are no dots indicating the length, get louder or softer until the next marked dynamic (or the next rehearsal letter or number).
Diminuendo is the same as a descrescendo, but it doesn’t have a marking (other than the same one).
Diminuendo is sometimes marked with its abbreviation (dim.).
Other accents and style marking may indicate a brief change in intensity and volume level, but they don’t necessarily make up true dynamics.
Fun fact: It was in the Romantic Period of music that more of these gradual dynamics were used.
Before this, it was usually terraced dynamics that just switched from loud to soft with sudden emphasis with each section of music.
Unwritten Dynamic Rules In Music
If figuring the right rhythm, pitch, key, style, phrasing, dynamics, etc., wasn’t tough enough, there are even some unwritten rules in music you should probably know about around dynamics.
A lot of these have to do with the context of the music as you play.
This is part of what makes a big difference between the pros and amateurs.
Here are a few of the most common ones:
- When you have a long note, it needs to grow toward the end unless otherwise marked.
- If you have long notes, get softer at the beginning of the note to allow the melody to shine through.
- With three or more repeated notes, either get louder or softer depending on how it feels best with the music.
- If you have the melody, add some dynamics getting louder or softer or both to make it more interesting.
- When a melody plays higher, get louder. When it plays lower, it gets softer (in most cases).
- If you don’t have a dynamic marked and another section does, follow them and do what they do (just not as extreme).
- Do what the conductor conducts, even if the written dynamics are different.
- When performing a crescendo, save the bulk of the growth for the last 30% of the crescendo. Don’t get too loud right away.
- Unless written, crescendo or decrescendo to the next dynamic mark (crescendo from piano to mezzo-piano, for example).
- Start a crescendo softer to allow for more contrast in the music.
Examples Of Dynamics In Music
A lot of this information on dynamics is easier to understand through practice and listening.
Listening to music, in general, is the best way to improve your understanding (outside of practice).
Here are a few of my favorite pieces to listen to with a wide contrast in their dynamics:
- In The Hall Of The Mountain King– Gradual crescendo the entire time.
- Hungarian Dance No. 5– Widely changing sections with dynamics.
- “Surprise” Symphony– Mostly piano with a surprising forte!This is a very famous piece of the Baroque period.
- Stars And Stripes Forever– The trio gets very quiet (pianissimo).
- Pictures At An Exhibition: The Hut On Fowl’s Legs– Two varied sections at forte and piano.
- …and more in myclassical music song examples with dynamics article.
Popular music changes subtle degrees of loudness rather using the extreme range of the volume of music possible.
This is partly due to the nature of popular music.
The song was meant to played on the radio or listened to with headphones.
If it gets wildly loud or soft, you’ll be adjusting your volume for the entire piece .
This is why we have more subtle changes here.
Though things do usually get louder in the second time we hear a verse and chorus.
What Does SF in Music Mean?
A lot of folks sort the sforzando (also spelled sforzato, forzando, or forzato) into the dynamics category.
I don’t totally agree with this, but it works for most people.
In general, when you see this, you want to play the note suddenly louder.
So in a way, this is a dynamic marking.
But I feel it’s more like a style marking, such as the accent.
These do affect the dynamics, but that’s not all it entails.
It’s more about the sudden change than the volume itself.
Plus, they only really affect a single note.
Sforzando is marked as sf, sfz, and fz at times.
What are the types of
The two basic dynamic indications in music are: p or piano, meaning "soft or quiet". f or forte, meaning "loud or strong".What are the dynamics in piano? ›
There are eight general dynamics in piano: pianissimo (pp) very quiet, piano (p) quiet, mezzo forte (mf), moderately loud forte (f) loud, fortissimo (ff) very loud, sforzando (sf) a sudden, forced loud, crescendo gradually getting louder, and a decrescendo gradually getting quieter.What are dynamics in music piano forte and why they are important? ›
The two basic dynamics are piano and forte. Piano means to play quietly or softly, which creates a low and light intensity in the music. Forte means to play loudly and strongly, creating a high intensity in the music.Is forte a music dynamic? ›
Forte is a musical term that means 'loud'. Forming part of a piece's dynamic range, forte is usually abbreviated to a lowercase letter 'f' on a musical score and placed below the stave (or staff) it applies to.What is the dynamic term of forte? ›
forte (loud) ff. fortissimo (very loud)What dynamic level is forte? ›
The main dynamic levels are: p or piano, which means “soft” f or forte, which means “loud”What are the 5 dynamics in music? ›
- Pianissimo (pp) – very quiet.
- Piano (p) – quiet.
- Mezzo forte (mf) – moderately loud.
- Forte (f) – loud.
- Fortissimo (ff) – very loud.
- Sforzando (sfz) – a sudden, forced loud.
- Crescendo (cresc) – gradually getting louder.
- Diminuendo (dim) – gradually getting quieter.
For grand staff instruments, such as piano or harp, dynamics are usually placed between the two staves, but can be placed both above and below when each staff requires separate dynamics. In general, dynamics are not placed within the staff, as hairpins in particular become very hard to read.Where do dynamics go on piano sheet music? ›
Dynamics are placed below the staff for instruments, where they can be read alongside the notes, and above the staff for voices. This way, they do not clash with lyrics placed below the staff, and are still close enough to the notes to be read simultaneously.
This means that in the music, a section would be played at certain volume level, then the next section at another volume, without any graduations or subtle changes in between. A great example of this is in Vivaldi's “Spring” from the Four Seasons.What is forte in piano music? ›
The expression fortepiano (sometimes called forte piano) is a sudden dynamic change used in a musical score, usually with the abbreviation fp, to designate a section of music in which the music should be played loudly (forte), then immediately softly (piano).Is forte a loud dynamic? ›
Forte – loud. Mezzo forte – medium loud. Mezzo piano – medium quiet.What is an example of a forte? ›
When it comes from the French adjective meaning strong, it is a noun referring to something in which one excels. For example, an accountant's forte might be math, and a novelist's forte might be inventing characters.What is forte in music simple? ›
: a musical tone or passage played loudly.Is Mezzo Forte a dynamic? ›
Mezzo forte means "medium loud" and is a very common dynamic marking in music.What are the dynamic terms? ›
Dynamics are terms or symbols that define the level (from soft to loud) in which the music is to be played. Dynamic Variances are terms or symbols indicating change in the level of play. These terms are used to indicate the direction, or flow of play.What are the three basic related terms of dynamics? ›
Other basic terms relating to Dynamics are: Crescendo: gradually getting LOUDER Diminuendo (or decrescendo) : gradually getting QUIETER Accent: "punching" or "leaning into" a note harder to temporarily emphasize it.What do dynamics mean in music? ›
Dynamics in Music. In music, dynamics are defined as the different volume levels of a piece of music at any given moment. Dynamics markings and symbols are written to show a performer how loud to play and when to change volume.What is the tempo and dynamics of music? ›
Dynamics are how loud or soft the music is or should be played. Tempo is the speed at which a passage of music is or should be played. Use the musical terms from the Word Box to best describe the tempo, or speed, of each animal below on the line provided.
The typical range proceeds as follows, from softest to loudest: pianissimo (pp), piano (p), mezzo-piano (mp), mezzo-forte (mf), forte (f), fortissimo (ff).What is the dynamic symbol of the piano? ›
Musical symbols known as dynamics tell us how loud or soft to perform music. The dynamic symbol for loud is called forte (FOR-tay), and looks like the letter f. The dynamic symbol for soft is called piano (Pe-AH-no, the same as the musical instrument) and looks like the letter p.What are the 6 concepts of music dynamics? ›
The 6 Concepts of Music are, in alphabetical order Duration, Dynamics & Expressive Techniques, Pitch, Structure, Texture and Tone Colour.What musical element is dynamics? ›
Dynamics: Volume (amplitude)—how loud, soft, medium, gradually getting louder or softer (crescendo, decrescendo). Tempo: Beats per minute; how fast, medium, or slow a piece of music is played or sung.What is the difference between the piano and the fortepiano? ›
The modern piano covers seven and one-half octaves compared to five octaves on the fortepiano. The naturals are slightly wider and longer and the sharps are slightly narrower on the modern piano. One travels twice the distance in height going from the naturals to the sharps on the modern piano.What do piano and forte indicate in music? ›
The words for the dynamic symbols are all Italian. Now you know five Italian words: forte (loud), piano (soft), fortissimo (very loud), pianissimo (very soft), and mezzo (medium).What is it called when you go from forte to piano? ›
The expression fortepiano (sometimes called forte piano) is a sudden dynamic change used in a musical score, usually with the abbreviation fp, to designate a section of music in which the music should be played loudly (forte), then immediately softly (piano).What is the difference between forte piano and modern piano? ›
The fortepiano has leather-covered hammers and thin, harpsichord-like strings. It has a much lighter case construction than the modern piano and, except for later examples of the early nineteenth century (already evolving towards the modern piano), it has no metal frame or bracing.What is the use of dynamics in a song? ›
Dynamics means how quietly or loudly a piece of music should be played. Dynamics are an important way of conveying the mood of a piece and your use of dynamics is a marked element of your performance. Composers use dynamics to change the mood.How many keys does a fortepiano have? ›
Fortepiano keyboards were usually shorter than our standard 88-key pianos today; most were only 5 or 6 octaves (66 to 80 keys). The keys themselves on the early fortepiano, compared to our modern piano, were shorter as well as slightly narrower so that large intervals were easily reached.
The typical range proceeds as follows, from softest to loudest: pianissimo (pp), piano (p), mezzo-piano (mp), mezzo-forte (mf), forte (f), fortissimo (ff).What are the dynamics of sound? ›
Dynamics are the variations in loudness that occur in a passage of music. That might sound simple, but dynamics is a broad concept that comes into play at all the different stages of music production. Dynamics in music can refer to: Written dynamics markings in a musical score.What is the opposite of forte piano? ›
The opposite of forte is piano which is the musical term for soft.How does a piano forte work? ›
Unlike the earlier harpsichord, the strings of the fortepiano were struck instead of plucked. The leather-covered hammers produced a sound whose volume could be varied depending upon how the keys were played. Christofori's hammer mechanism was a brilliant innovation, one that would have a tremendous impact on music.