dynamics (music)

Enlarge picture
From left to right, the symbols for piano, mezzo-piano, mezzo-forte, and forte.
In music, dynamics normally refers to the softness or loudness of a sound or note, but also to every aspect of the execution of a given piece, either stylistic (staccato, legato etc.) or functional (velocity). The term is also applied to the written or printed musical notation used to indicate dynamics.

Relative loudness

The two basic dynamic indications in music are:
  • p or piano, meaning "soft" and
  • f or forte, meaning "loud" or "strong".
More subtle degrees of loudness or softness are indicated by:
  • mp, standing for mezzo-piano, and meaning "medium-quiet" or "moderately-quiet" and
  • mf, standing for mezzo-forte, and meaning "medium-loud" or "moderately-loud".
Beyond f and p, there are also
  • ff, standing for "fortissimo", and meaning "very loud" and
  • pp, standing for "pianissimo", and meaning "very quiet".
To indicate even more extreme degrees of intensity, more ps or fs are added as required. fff and ppp are found in sheet music quite frequently. No standard names for fff and ppp exist, but musicians have invented a variety of neologisms for these designations, including fortississimo/pianississimo, fortissimento/pianissimento, forte fortissimo/piano pianissimo, and more simply triple forte/triple piano or molto fortissimo/molto pianissimo. ppp has also been designated "pianissimo possibile".

A few pieces contain dynamic designations with more than three fs (sometimes called "fortondoando") or ps. The Norman Dello Joio Suite for Piano ends with a crescendo to a ffff, and Tchaikovsky indicated a bassoon solo pppppp in his Pathétique symphony and ffff in passages of his 1812 Overture and the 2nd movement of his 5th symphony. ffff is also found in a prelude by Rachmaninoff, op.3-2. Shostakovich even went as loud as fffff in his fourth symphony. Gustav Mahler, in the second movement of his Seventh Symphony, gives the violins a marking of fffff, along with a footnote directing 'pluck so hard that the strings hit the wood.' On another extreme, Carl Nielsen, in the second movement of his Symphony No. 5, marked a passage for woodwinds a decrescendo to ppppp. Another more extreme dynamic is in György Ligeti's Devil's Staircase Etude, which has at one point a ffffff and progresses to a fffffff.

Dynamic indications are relative, not absolute. mp does not indicate an exact level of volume, it merely indicates that music in a passage so marked should be a little louder than p and a little quieter than mf. Interpretations of dynamic levels are left mostly to the performer; in the Barber Piano Nocturne, a phrase beginning pp is followed by a decrescendo leading to a mp marking. Another instance of performer's-discretion in this piece occurs when the left hand is shown to crescendo to a f, and then immediately after marked p while the right hand plays the melody f. It has been speculated that this is used simply to remind the performer to keep the melody louder than the harmonic line in the left hand. For some music notation programs, there might be default MIDI key velocity values associated with these indications, but more sophisticated programs allow users to change these as needed.

Sudden changes

Sforzando (or forzando), indicates a strong, sudden accent and is abbreviated as sf, sfz or fz. The notation fp (or sfp) indicates a sforzando followed immediately by piano. One particularly noteworthy use of this dynamic is in the second movement of Joseph Haydn's Surprise Symphony. Rinforzando (literally "reinforcing") indicates that several notes, or a short phrase, are to be emphasized.

Gradual changes

In addition, there are words used to indicate gradual changes in volume. The two most common are crescendo, sometimes abbreviated to cresc., meaning "get gradually louder"; and decrescendo or diminuendo, sometimes abbreviated to decresc. and dim. respectively, meaning "get gradually softer". Signs sometimes referred to as "hairpins" are also used to stand for these words (See image). If the lines are joined at the left, then the indication is to get louder; if they join at the right, the indication is to get softer. The following notation indicates music starting moderately loud, then becoming gradually louder and then gradually quieter.

Hairpins are usually written below the staff, but are sometimes found above, especially in music for singers or in music with multiple melody lines being played by a single performer. They tend to be used for dynamic changes over a relatively short space of time, while cresc., decresc. and dim. are generally used for dynamic changes over a longer period. For long stretches, dashes are used to extend the words so that it is clear over what time the event should occur. It is not necessary to draw dynamic marks over more than a few bars, whereas word directions can remain in force for pages if necessary.

For more quick changes in dynamics, molto cresc. and molto dim. are often used, where the molto means a lot. Similarly, for slow changes poco a poco cresc. and poco a poco dim. are used, where poco a poco translates as bit by bit.

Words indicating changes of dynamics

  • al niente: to nothing
  • calando: becoming softer
  • crescendo: becoming louder
  • decrescendo or diminuendo: becoming softer
  • perdendo or perdendosi: losing volume, fading into nothing, dying away
  • morendo: dying away
  • marcato: stressed, pronounced
  • sotto voce: opposite of marcato, in an undertone (literally "beneath the voice")
  • in rilievo: indicates that a particular instrument is to play slightly louder than the others so as to stand out (be "in relief") over the ensemble


The Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli was one of the first to indicate dynamics in music notation, but dynamics were used sparingly by composers until the late 18th century. Bach used the terms piano, più piano, and pianissimo (written out as words), and in some cases it may be that ppp was considered to mean pianissimo in this period.

See also

Fortissimo Records is a record label and promoting collective from Milton Keynes, England.

Taking their name from the Italian musical term for "very loud" (see Dynamics (music)), Fortissimo was formed in 2002, arranging gigs at Bletchley Youth Club, in Milton Keynes.
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Loudness is the quality of a sound that is the primary psychological correlate of physical strength (amplitude).

Loudness, a subjective measure, is often confused with objective measures of sound pressure such as decibels or intensity.
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Sound is a disturbance of mechanical energy that propagates through matter as a wave (through fluids as a compression wave, and through solids as both compression and shear waves).
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note has two primary meanings: 1) a sign used in music to represent the relative duration and pitch of a sound; and 2) a pitched sound itself. Notes are the "atoms" of much Western music: discretizations of musical phenomena that facilitate performance, comprehension, and analysis
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Sheet music is a hand-written or printed form of musical notation; like its analogs -- books, pamphlets, etc. -- the medium of sheet music typically is paper (or, in earlier times, parchment), although the access to musical notation in recent years includes also presentation on
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neologism is a word, term, or phrase which has been recently created ("coined") — often to apply to new concepts, to synthesize pre-existing concepts, or to make older terminology sound more contemporary.
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For the show jumper, see Norman Dello Joio (equestrian).

Norman Dello Joio (born Nicodemo DeGioio on January 24, 1913; the spelling "Gioio" was later anglicized to "Joio") is an American composer.
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Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильич Чайкoвский, Pjotr Il’ič Čajkovskij
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Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Pathétique, Op. 74 is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's final symphony. It was premiered nine days before his death in 1893. Tchaikovsky said of it, "Without exaggeration, I have put my whole soul into this work.
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The 1812 Overture (full title: Festival Overture "The Year 1812" in E flat major, Op. 49; French: Ouverture solennelle 1812) is an orchestral overture by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, used as the opening for Pushkin's celebrated comedy 1812 which centers on
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Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff (Russian: Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов,
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Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich listen   (Russian:
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The Symphony No. 4 in C Minor (Opus 43) by Dmitri Shostakovich was begun in 1934. However, Shostakovich was dissatisfied with the original ideas for his Fourth Symphony, scrapping his initial work.
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Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860 – May 18, 1911) was a Bohemian-Austrian composer and conductor.

Mahler was best known during his own lifetime as one of the leading orchestral and operatic conductors of the day.
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The Symphony No. 7 by Gustav Mahler was written from 1904 to 1906.

The symphony is sometimes known as The Song of the Night, a name Mahler did not approve of. This name is not as commonly known as those of other Mahler symphonies ( No.1 - Titan, No.
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''For the Anne Rice novel, see Violin (novel)

The violin is a bowed string instrument with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest and highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which also includes the viola and
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Carl August Nielsen (June 9, 1865 – October 3, 1931) was a conductor, violinist, and composer from Denmark. His works are primarily known in Denmark, where cultural institutions, particularly since in the first years of the 21st century, have sought to promote the
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The Symphony No. 5 (Op. 50, FS 97) by Danish composer Carl Nielsen was completed on 15 January 1922 and first performed in Copenhagen on 24 January 1922 with the composer conducting. It is one of only two of Nielsen's six symphonies lacking a subtitle.
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György Sándor Ligeti (IPA: [ˈɟørɟ ˈliɡɛti]) (May 28, 1923 – June 12, 2006) was a Hungarian composer born in Romania who later became an Austrian citizen.
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Samuel Osborne Barber II (March 9, 1910 – January 23, 1981) was an American composer of classical music ranging from orchestral, to opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings became his most famous composition and can be heard in films such as
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A scorewriter, or music notation program, is software used to automate the task of writing and engraving sheet music. A scorewriter is to music notation what a word processor is to written text.
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MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface; IPA: /ˈmɪdi/) is an industry-standard protocol that enables electronic musical instruments, computers and other equipment to communicate, control and synchronize with each other.
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Franz Joseph Haydn[1][2] (March 31 1732 – May 31 1809) was one of the most prominent composers of the classical period, and is called by some the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet".
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The Symphony No. 94 in G major (Hoboken 1/94) is the second of the so-called twelve London symphonies (numbers 93-104) written by Joseph Haydn. It is usually called by its nickname, the Surprise Symphony.
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In musical notation, the staff is a set of five horizontal lines and four spaces, on which note symbols are placed to indicate their relative pitch. The lines and spaces are numbered from bottom to top; the bottom line is the first line and the top line is the
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A singer is a musician who uses their voice to produce music. Often the singer is accompanied by musicians and instruments. While many people sing for pleasure, vocal skill is usually a combination of innate talent and professional training.
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Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance, approximately 1400 to 1600. Defining the beginning of the era is difficult, given the lack of abrupt shifts in musical thinking during the 15th century.
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composer is a person who writes music. The term refers particularly to someone who writes music in some type of musical notation, thus allowing others to perform the music. This distinguishes the composer from a musician who improvises or plays a musical instrument.
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Giovanni Gabrieli (c. 1554/1557 – August 12, 1612) was an Italian composer and organist. He was one of the most influential musicians of his time, and represents the culmination of the style of the Venetian School, at the time of the shift from Renaissance to Baroque idioms.
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