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Italian Piano Commands
Italian Musical Glossary for Piano & Notation
By Brandy Kraemer, About.com Guide

More Italian Terms:

• AD • MR
• EL • SZ


 - a piacere: “to your pleasure/at your will”; indicates that liberties may be taken with certain aspects of the music, usually tempo. See ad libitum.

 - a tempo: “in time; back in tempo”; indication to return to the original tempo after an alteration such as tempo rubato.

 - a tempo di menuetto: to play “in the tempo of a minuet”; slowly and gracefully in triple meter.

 - al coda: “to the coda [sign]”; used with the repeat commands D.C. / D.S. al coda.

 - al fine: “to the end [of the music, or until the word fine]”; used with the repeat commands D.C. / D.S. al fine.

 - al niente: “to nothing”; to make the volume fade very gradually into silence. See morendo.

 - (accel.) accelerando: to “accelerate”; gradually speed up the tempo.

 - accentato: accentuate the musical passage until otherwise specified.

 - accompagnato: indicates that the accompaniment will follow the tempo (or overall playing style) of the soloist. See concerto.

 - adagietto: indicating a tempo near that of adagio, adagietto remains somewhat ambiguous; may be interpreted as slightly slower or faster than adagio. Traditionally, its tempo is between adagio and andante.

 - adagio: to play slowly and calmly; at ease. Adagio is slower than adagietto, but faster than largo.

 - adagissimo: to play very slowly and calmly; slower than adagio.

 - affettuoso: “affectionately”; encourages a performer to express warm emotions; to play affectionately with love. See con amore.

 - affrettando: a rushed, nervous accelerando; to hastily increase the tempo in an impatient manner.

 - agile: to play swiftly and confidently; sometimes signifies a switch to double speed.

 - agitato: to play quickly with agitation and excitement; often paired with other musical commands to add a rushed, vibrant element, as in presto agitato: “very quick and with excitement.”

 - alla breve: “to the breve” (where breve refers to the half-note); to play in cut time. Alla breve has the 2/2 time signature, in which one beat = one half-note.

 - alla marcia: to play “in the style of a march”; to accentuate the downbeat in 2/4 or 2/2 time.

 - (allarg.) allargando: to “widen” or “broaden” the tempo; a slow rallentando that retains a full, prominent volume.

 - allegretto: to play somewhat quickly; slower and slightly less lively than allegro, but faster than andante.

 - allegrissimo: faster than allegro, but slower than presto.

 - allegro: to play in a quick, lively tempo; faster than allegretto, but slower than allegrissimo.

 - amoroso: to play in a loving manner; similar to con amore.

 - andante: a moderate tempo; to play in a light, flowing manner; faster than adagio, but slower than allegretto. See moderato.

 - andantino: to play with a slow, moderate tempo; slightly faster than andante, but slower than moderato. (Andantino is a diminutive of andante.)

 - animato: “animated”; to play in an animated manner, with excitement and spirit.

 - arpeggio: a chord whose notes are played quickly in order as opposed to simultaneously; to give a chord a harp-like effect (arpa is Italian for “harp”).

  - arpeggiato is an arpeggio in which the notes are struck progressively faster.

 - assai: “very”; used with another musical command to augment its effect, as in lento assai: “very slow”, or vivace assai: “very lively and quick.”

 - attacca: to move immediately to the next movement without a pause; a seamless transition into a movement or passage.


 - brillante: to play in a lustrous manner; to make a song or passage stand out with brilliance.

 - brioso: “lively”; to play with vigor and spirit; to make a composition full of life. See con brio, below.

 - bruscamente: to play in a blunt, abrupt manner; to play with impatient accentuation.


 - calando: indicates a gradual decrease in the tempo and volume of a song; the effect of a ritardando with a diminuendo.

 - capo: refers to the beginning of a musical composition or movement.

   Note: The guitar fret-holding device is pronounced kay'-poh.

 - coda: a musical symbol used to organize complex musical repetitions. The Italian phrase al coda instructs a musician to move immediately to the next coda, and can be seen in commands such as dal segno al coda.

 - come prima: “like at first”; indicates a return to a previous musical state (usually referring to tempo). See tempo primo.

 - comodo: “comfortably”; used with other musical terms to moderate their effects; for example, tempo comodo: “at a reasonable speed” / adagio comodo: “comfortable and slow.” See moderato.

 - con affetto: to be played affectionately with warm emotion and loving conviction.

 - con amore: “with love”; to play in a loving manner.

 - con brio: to play with vigor and spirit; often seen with other musical commands, as in allegro con brio: “quick and lively.”

 - con espressione: “with expression”; often written with other musical commands, as in tranquillo con espressione: “slowly, with peace and expression.”

 - con fuoco: “with fire”; to play eagerly and passionately; also fuocoso.

 - con moto: “with motion”; to play in an animated manner. See animato.

 - con spirito: “with spirit”; to play with spirit and conviction. See spiritoso.

 - concerto: an arrangement written for solo instruments (such as a piano) with orchestral accompaniment.

 - (cresc.) crescendo: to gradually increase the volume of a song until otherwise noted; marked by a horizontal, opening angle.


 - D.C. al coda: “da capo al coda”; indication to repeat from the beginning of the music, play until you encounter a coda, then skip to the next coda sign to continue.

 - D.C. al fine: “da capo al fine”; indication to repeat from the beginning of the music, and continue until you reach a final barline or double-barline marked with the word fine.

 - D.S. al coda: “dal segno al coda”; indication to start back at the segno, play until you encounter a coda, then skip to the next coda.

 - D.S. al fine: “dal segno al fine”; indication to start back at the segno, and continue playing until you reach a final or double-barline marked with the word fine.

 - da capo: “from the beginning”; to play from the start of the song or movement.

 - dal niente: “from nothing”; to gradually bring notes out of complete silence; a crescendo that rises slowly from nowhere.

 - decrescendo: to gradually decrease the volume of the music; marked in sheet music with a narrowing angle.

 - delicato: “delicately”; to play with a light touch and an airy feel.

 - (dim.) diminuendo: indication to gradually decrease the volume of the music.

 - dolce: to play in a tender, adoring manner; to play sweetly with a light touch.

 - dolcissimo: very sweetly; to play in a particularly delicate manner.

 - doloroso: “painfully; in a painful manner.”; to play with a forlorn, melancholy tone. Also con dolore: “with pain.”

More Musical Terms:

  How to Read Piano Music
• Notes of the Piano Keys
• Note-Lengths in U.S. & U.K. English
• Musical Rest Lengths
• Memorize the Notes of the Grand Staff
  Beginner Musical Symbols
• Staff & Barlines
• Understanding the Key Signature
• How to Read the Time Signature
• Reading Tempo & Beats per Minute
Beginner Piano Lessons
• Accidentals & Double-Accidentals
• Comparing Major & Minor
• Piano Chord Types & Symbols
• Diminished Chords & Dissonance
Musical Quizzes
• Identify the Notes of the Keyboard
• Note Length Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
• Grand Staff Notes Quiz
• Tempo Command Quiz 

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