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Encyclopedia > Dynamics (music)
From left to right, the symbols for piano, mezzo-piano, mezzo-forte, and forte.
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. Fortissimo Records was originally created in 2002 whilst I was cleaning offices. ... Image File history File links Dynamics. ... Image File history File links Dynamics. ... For other uses, see Music (disambiguation). ... The horizontal axis shows frequency in Hz Loudness is the quality of a sound that is the primary psychological correlate of physical intensity. ... Sound is a disturbance of mechanical energy that propagates through matter as a wave. ...


Relative loudness

Teacher. "And what does ff mean?"
Pupil (after mature deliberation). "Fump-Fump."
Cartoon from Punch magazine October 6, 1920

The two basic dynamic indications in music are: Image File history File links Download high resolution version (1992x1350, 127 KB) Summary cartoon - Punch - Project Gutenberg eText 17397. ... Image File history File links Download high resolution version (1992x1350, 127 KB) Summary cartoon - Punch - Project Gutenberg eText 17397. ... Punch was a British weekly magazine of humour and satire published from 1841 to 1992 and from 1996 to 2002. ... is the 279th day of the year (280th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. ...

  • 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". Sheet music is written representation of music. ... A neologism is a word, term, or phrase which has been recently created (coined) — often to apply to new concepts, or to reshape older terms in newer language form. ...

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 Gyorgy Ligeti's Devil's Staircase Etude, which has at one point a ffffff and progresses to a fffffff. Norman Dello Joio (born January 24, 1913) is an American composer. ... “Tchaikovsky” redirects here. ... Excerpt from the fourth movement of Tchaikovskys Pathetique Symphony. ... The 1812 Overture (full title: Festival Overture The Year 1812 in E flat major, Op. ... Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff, also Sergey Rachmaninov or Serge Rakhmaninov (Серге́й Васи́льевич Рахма́нинов), (April 1, 1873 – March 28, 1943) was a Russian composer, pianist... Dmitri Shostakovich   (Russian: , Dmitrij Dmitrievič Å ostakovič) (September 25 [O.S. September 12] 1906–August 9, 1975) was a Russian composer of the Soviet period. ... The Symphony No. ... “Mahler” redirects here. ... The Symphony No. ... The violin is a stringed musical instrument that has four strings tuned a fifth apart. ... Carl Nielsen Carl August Nielsen (June 9, 1865, Sortelung – October 3, 1931, Copenhagen) was a conductor, violinist, and the most internationally known composer from Denmark. ... The Symphony No. ... György Ligeti (born May 28, 1923) is a Hungarian composer (now living in, and a citizen of, Austria), widely seen as one of the great composers of instrumental music of the 20th century. ...

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. Samuel Barber, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1944 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. ... A scorewriter, or music notation program, is software used to automate the task of writing and engraving sheet music. ... MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is an industry-standard electronic communications protocol that enables electronic musical instruments, computers and other equipment to communicate, control and synchronize with each other in real time. ...

Sudden changes

Sforzando notation
Sforzando notation

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. Image File history File links This is a lossless scalable vector image. ... Image File history File links This is a lossless scalable vector image. ... “Haydn” redirects here. ... Joseph Haydns Symphony No. ...

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"[citation needed] 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.

Image:Music hairpins.png

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. Hairpins in musical notation. ... In musical notation, the staff or stave is a set of five horizontal lines on which note symbols are placed to indicate pitch and rhythm. ... For other uses, see Singer (disambiguation). ...

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

Other uses of notation

In marching percussion, the directions p, mp, mf and f can also be used to instruct the performer as to the height from which the instrument should be struck. Piano implies a height of one to three inches, mezzo-piano between three and six, mezzo-forte between six and nine, and forte implies that the instrument should be struck from between nine and twelve inches away.


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. Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance, approximately 1400 to 1600. ... A composer is a person who writes music. ... Giovanni Gabrieli Giovanni Gabrieli (c. ... Music notation is a system of writing for music. ... (17th century - 18th century - 19th century - more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 18th century refers to the century that lasted from 1701 through 1800. ...

See also

Look up fortissimo, decrescendo in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

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