Dynamics (music)
In music
Music is an art form whose medium is sound and silence. Its common elements are pitch , rhythm , dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture...

, dynamics normally refers to the volume
Loudness is the quality of a sound that is primarily a psychological correlate of physical strength . More formally, it is defined as "that attribute of auditory sensation in terms of which sounds can be ordered on a scale extending from quiet to loud."Loudness, a subjective measure, is often...

 of a sound
Sound is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies within the range of hearing and of a level sufficiently strong to be heard, or the sensation stimulated in organs of hearing by such vibrations.-Propagation of...

 or note, but can also refer 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. Dynamics do not indicate specific volume levels,

Relative loudness

The two basic dynamic indications in music are:
  • p or piano, meaning "soft".
  • ƒ or forte, meaning "strong".

More subtle degrees of loudness or softness are indicated by:
  • mp, standing for mezzo-piano, meaning "moderately soft".
  • , standing for mezzo-forte, meaning "moderately strong".

Beyond f and p, there are also
  • pp, standing for "pianissimo", and meaning "very soft",
  • ƒƒ, standing for "fortissimo", and meaning "very strong",

To indicate an even softer dynamic than pianissimo, ppp is marked, with the reading pianissimo possibile ("softest possible"). The same is done on the loud side of the scale, with ƒƒƒ being fortissimo possibile ("loudest possible").

Few pieces contain dynamic designations with more than three ƒ's (sometimes called "fortondoando") or p's. In Holst
Gustav Holst
Gustav Theodore Holst was an English composer. He is most famous for his orchestral suite The Planets....

's The Planets
The Planets
The Planets, Op. 32, is a seven-movement orchestral suite by the English composer Gustav Holst, written between 1914 and 1916. Each movement of the suite is named after a planet of the Solar System and its corresponding astrological character as defined by Holst...

, ƒƒƒƒ occurs twice in Mars and once in Uranus often punctuated by organ and ƒƒƒ occurs several times throughout the work. It also appears in Heitor Villa-Lobos
Heitor Villa-Lobos
Heitor Villa-Lobos was a Brazilian composer, described as "the single most significant creative figure in 20th-century Brazilian art music". Villa-Lobos has become the best-known and most significant Latin American composer to date. He wrote numerous orchestral, chamber, instrumental and vocal works...

' Bachianas Brasileiras
Bachianas Brasileiras
The Bachianas Brasileiras constitute a series of nine suites by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, written for various combinations of instruments and voices between 1930 and 1945...

No. 4 (Prelude). The Norman Dello Joio
Norman Dello Joio
- Life :He was born Nicodemo DeGioio in New York City to Italian immigrants. He began his musical career as organist and choir director at the Star of the Sea Church on City Island in New York at age 14. His father was an organist, pianist, and vocal coach and coached many opera stars from the...

 Suite for Piano ends with a crescendo to a ƒƒƒƒ, and Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

 indicated a bassoon solo pppppp in his Pathétique Symphony
Symphony No. 6 (Tchaikovsky)
The Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, Pathétique is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's final completed symphony, written between February and the end of August 1893. The composer led the first performance in Saint Petersburg on 16/28 October of that year, nine days before his death...

 and ƒƒƒƒ in passages of his 1812 Overture
1812 Overture
The Year 1812, Festival Overture in E flat major, Op. 49, popularly known as the 1812 Overture or the Overture of 1812 is an overture written by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1880 to commemorate Russia's defense of Moscow against Napoleon's advancing Grande Armée at the Battle of...

and the 2nd movement of his Fifth Symphony
Symphony No. 5 (Tchaikovsky)
The Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was composed between May and August 1888 and was first performed in St Petersburg at the Hall of Nobility on November 6 of that year with Tchaikovsky conducting. It is dedicated to Theodore Avé-Lallemant.-Structure:A typical...

. Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

 used ƒƒƒƒ at the end of the finale of the Firebird Suite. ƒƒƒƒ is also found in a prelude by Rachmaninoff, op.3-2. Shostakovich
Dmitri Shostakovich
Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich was a Soviet Russian composer and one of the most celebrated composers of the 20th century....

 even went as loud as ƒƒƒƒƒ in his fourth symphony
Symphony No. 4 (Shostakovich)
Dmitri Shostakovich composed his Symphony No. 4 in C minor, Opus 43, between September 1935 and May 1936, after abandoning some preliminary sketch material...

. Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler
Gustav Mahler was a late-Romantic Austrian composer and one of the leading conductors of his generation. He was born in the village of Kalischt, Bohemia, in what was then Austria-Hungary, now Kaliště in the Czech Republic...

, in the third movement of his Seventh Symphony
Symphony No. 7 (Mahler)
Gustav Mahler's Seventh Symphony was written in 1904-05, with repeated revisions to the scoring. It is sometimes referred to by the title Song of the Night , though this title was not Mahler's own and he disapproved of it. Although the symphony is often described as being in the key of 'E minor,'...

, gives the celli and basses a marking of ƒƒƒƒƒ, along with a footnote directing 'pluck so hard that the strings hit the wood.' On another extreme, Carl Nielsen
Carl Nielsen
Carl August Nielsen , , widely recognised as Denmark's greatest composer, was also a conductor and a violinist. Brought up by poor but musically talented parents on the island of Funen, he demonstrated his musical abilities at an early age...

, in the second movement of his Symphony No. 5
Symphony No. 5 (Nielsen)
Symphony No. 5, Op. 50, FS 97 is a symphony composed by Carl Nielsen in Denmark between 1920 and 1922. It was first performed in Copenhagen on 24 January 1922 with the composer conducting. It is one of the two of Nielsen's six symphonies lacking a subtitle....

, marked a passage for woodwinds a diminuendo to ppppp. Another more extreme dynamic is in György Ligeti
György Ligeti
György Sándor Ligeti was a composer of contemporary classical music. Born in a Hungarian Jewish family in Transylvania, Romania, he briefly lived in Hungary before becoming an Austrian citizen.-Early life:...

's Études No. 13
Études (Ligeti)
The Hungarian composer György Ligeti composed a cycle of 18 Études for solo piano between 1985 and 2001. They are generally seen as one of the major creative achievements of his last decades, and one of the most significant sets of piano studies, combining virtuoso technical problems with...

 (Devil's Staircase), which has at one point a ƒƒƒƒƒƒ and progresses to a ƒƒƒƒƒƒƒƒ. In Ligeti's Études No. 9
Études (Ligeti)
The Hungarian composer György Ligeti composed a cycle of 18 Études for solo piano between 1985 and 2001. They are generally seen as one of the major creative achievements of his last decades, and one of the most significant sets of piano studies, combining virtuoso technical problems with...

, he uses pppppppp. In the baritone passage Era la notte from his opera Otello, Verdi uses pppp. Steane (1971) and others suggest that such markings are in reality a strong reminder to less than subtle singers to at least sing softly rather than an instruction to the singer actually to attempt a pppp. Usually, the extra f's or 'ps written reinforce either ff or pp, and are usually only for dramatic effect.

In music for marching band, passages louder than ƒƒƒ are sometimes colloquially referred to by descriptive terms such as "blastissimo".

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
Samuel Barber
Samuel Osborne Barber II was an American composer of orchestral, opera, choral, and piano music. His Adagio for Strings is his most popular composition and widely considered a masterpiece of modern classical music...

 Piano Nocturne, a phrase beginning pp is followed by a diminuendo 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 ƒ, and then immediately after marked p while the right hand plays the melody ƒ. 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.
In some music notation program
A scorewriter, or music notation program, is software used for creating sheet music.A scorewriter is to music notation what a word processor is to text.-Comparison with multitrack sequencer software:...

s, there are default MIDI
Musical Instrument Digital Interface
MIDI is an industry-standard protocol, first defined in 1982 by Gordon Hall, that enables electronic musical instruments , computers and other electronic equipment to communicate and synchronize with each other...

 key velocity values associated with these indications, but more sophisticated programs allow users to change these as needed.

Sudden changes

Sudden changes in dynamics are notated by an s prefixing the new dynamic notation, and the prefix is called subito. Subito is Italian as are most other dynamic notations, and translates into "suddenly". It is usually used along with forzando (Italian for "forcing"), to make subito forzando, or what most people refer to as just sforzando. Other common uses of subito are before a regular dynamic notation, like in spp, sf, or sff.

Sforzando (or sforzato), indicates a forceful, sudden accent and is abbreviated as sƒz. Regular forzando (fz) indicates a forceful note, but with a slightly less sudden accent.

The fortepiano notation ƒp (or subito fortepiano; sƒp) indicates a forte followed immediately by piano. This notation is usually used to give an unusual strong (and sudden if subito) accent.

One particularly noteworthy use of forzando is in the second movement of Joseph Haydn
Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn , known as Joseph Haydn , was an Austrian composer, one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the Classical period. He is often called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these forms...

's Surprise Symphony
Symphony No. 94 (Haydn)
The Symphony No. 94 in G major is the second of the twelve so-called London symphonies written by Joseph Haydn. It is usually called by its nickname, the Surprise Symphony, although in German it is more often referred to as the Symphony "mit dem Paukenschlag" .-Date of composition:Haydn wrote...

. Rinforzando, rƒz (literally "reinforcing") indicates that several notes, or a short phrase, are to be emphasized. Rinforte () is also available.

Gradual changes

In addition, two words are used to indicate gradual changes in volume. These words are crescendo and diminuendo. Crescendo, sometimes abbreviated to cresc., literally translates "to become gradually stronger", but is interpreted as louder gradually, and the correct Italian diminuendo -- abbreviated as dim., means "to become gradually softer". The alternate and made-up English word decrescendo, abbreviated to decresc., also means "to 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
Staff (music)
In standard Western musical notation, the staff, or stave, is a set of five horizontal lines and four spaces that each represent a different musical pitch—or, in the case of a percussion staff, different percussion instruments. Appropriate music symbols, depending upon the intended effect,...

, 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 quicker changes in dynamics, cresc. molto and dim. molto are often used, where the molto means much. Similarly, for slow changes cresc. poco a poco and dim. poco a poco are used, where poco a poco translates to little by little.

A good example of a piece that uses both gradual changes and quick changes in dynamics is Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

's fantasy overture, Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet (Tchaikovsky)
Romeo and Juliet is an orchestral work composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It is styled an Overture-Fantasy, and is based on Shakespeare's play of the same name. Like other composers such as Berlioz and Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky was deeply inspired by Shakespeare and wrote works based on The...


Words/phrases indicating changes of dynamics

(In Italian unless otherwise indicated)
  • al niente: to nothing; fade to silence. Sometimes written as "n"
  • calando: becoming smaller
  • calmando: become calm
  • crescendo: becoming stronger
  • dal niente: from nothing; out of silence
  • decrescendo or diminuendo: becoming softer
  • fortepiano: loud and accented and then immediately soft
  • fortissimo piano: very loud and then immediately soft
  • in rilievo: in relief (French en dehors: outwards); indicates that a particular instrument or part is to play louder than the others so as to stand out over the ensemble. In the circle of Arnold Schoenberg
    Arnold Schoenberg
    Arnold Schoenberg was an Austrian composer, associated with the expressionist movement in German poetry and art, and leader of the Second Viennese School...

    , this expression had been replaced by the letter "H" (for German, "Hauptstimme"), with an added horizontal line at the letter's top, pointing to the right, the end of this passage to be marked by the symbol " ".
  • perdendo or perdendosi: losing volume, fading into nothing, dying away
  • mezzoforte piano: moderately strong and then immediately soft
  • morendo: dying away (may also indicate a tempo change)
  • marcato: stressed, pronounced
  • pianoforte: soft and then immediately strong
  • sforzando piano: with marked and sudden emphasis, then immediately soft
  • sotto voce
    Sotto voce
    Sotto voce means intentionally lowering one's voice for emphasis. The speaker gives the impression of uttering involuntarily a truth which may surprise, shock, or offend...

    : in an undertone (whispered or unvoiced)
  • smorzando: dying away


The Renaissance
Renaissance music
Renaissance music is European music written during the Renaissance. Defining the beginning of the musical era is difficult, given that its defining characteristics were adopted only gradually; musicologists have placed its beginnings from as early as 1300 to as late as the 1470s.Literally meaning...

A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 Giovanni Gabrieli
Giovanni Gabrieli
Giovanni Gabrieli 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.-Biography:Gabrieli was born in Venice...

 was one of the first to indicate dynamics in music notation, but dynamics were used sparingly by composers until the late 18th century. Bach
Bạch is a Vietnamese surname. The name is transliterated as Bai in Chinese and Baek, in Korean.Bach is the anglicized variation of the surname Bạch.-Notable people with the surname Bạch:* Bạch Liêu...

 used some dynamic terms, including forte, piano, più piano, and pianissimo (although written out as full words), and in some cases it may be that ppp was considered to mean pianissimo in this period.

During the Baroque
The Baroque is a period and the style that used exaggerated motion and clear, easily interpreted detail to produce drama, tension, exuberance, and grandeur in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music...

 period, the use of terraced dynamics was common. This meant a sudden change from full to soft, with no crescendo or decrescendo. The terraced dynamic was used for musical effect, to create an echo effect: a passage is played forte, then repeated piano as an echo. However, a major reason for the use of terraced dynamics is that the harpsichord
A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It produces sound by plucking a string when a key is pressed.In the narrow sense, "harpsichord" designates only the large wing-shaped instruments in which the strings are perpendicular to the keyboard...

, which was the principal keyboard instrument of the period, was incapable of gradations of volume. The harpsichord can be played either loud or soft, but not in between.

The fact that the harpsichord could play only terraced dynamics, and the fact that composers of the period did not mark gradations of dynamics in their scores, has led to the "somewhat misleading suggestion that baroque dynamics are 'terraced dynamics'," writes Robert Donington. In fact, baroque musicians constantly varied dynamics. "Light and shade must be constantly introduced... by the incessant interchange of loud and soft," wrote Johann Joachim Quantz
Johann Joachim Quantz
Johann Joachim Quantz was a German flutist, flute maker and composer.-Biography:Quantz was born in Oberscheden, near Göttingen, Germany, and died in Potsdam....

 in 1752.

In the Romantic period, composers greatly expanded the vocabulary for describing dynamic changes in their scores. Where Haydn and Mozart specified six levels (pp to ff), Beethoven used also ppp and fff (the latter less frequently), and Brahms used a range of terms to describe the dynamics he wanted. In the slow movement of the trio for violin, waldhorn and piano (Opus 40), he uses the expressions ppp, molto piano, and quasi niente to express different qualities of quiet.

See also

  • Glossary of musical terminology
  • Accent (music)
    Accent (music)
    In music, an accent is an emphasis placed on a particular note,either as a result of its context or specifically indicated by an accent mark.Accents contribute to the articulation and prosody of a performance of a musical phrase....

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