|Italian Piano Commands|
By Brandy Kraemer, About.com Guide
Browse More Italian Piano Terms:
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▪ (M.D.) mano destra: “right hand”; indicates a passage is to be played with the right hand. Often seen written in the bass staff if the left hand is already occupied with other notes.
▪ (M.S.) mano sinistra: “left hand”; the passage should be played with the left hand.
▪ maestoso: to play “majestically”; to perform with grand, dignified expression. Maestoso is often used in the title of a musical composition, as in the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 (Elvira Madigan), Allegro maestoso.
▪ marcato: “marked; to make stand out.” Marcato refers to both a written/verbal command as well as a musical symbol affecting articulation. Indicates that a note or series of notes is to be played with accentuation. See accentato.
Marcatissimo is to make notes heavily accented.
▪ martellato: (usually seen as a command for string sections, but has been and can be used to command piano music) to give notes a heavy, hammer-like accent.
▪ marziale: “march-like”; see alla marcia.
▪ melancolico: “full of melancholy”; to play in a painful, solemn, and mournful manner.
▪ meno: “less”; used with other musical commands to lessen their effects, as in meno allegro, “less lively.”
▪ (mf) mezzo forte: “half strong”; to play somewhat loudly; slightly softer than forte.
▪ (mp) mezzo piano: “half soft”; to play somewhat softly; slightly louder than piano.
▪ misterioso: “mysteriously”; sometimes used as a command to indicate a passage is to be played with an enigmatic, reserved quality, but usually seen as part of the title of a musical composition.
▪ misura: “measure”; a measure, which is a portion of a musical staff that comes between two barlines; a bar.
▪ moderato: to play in a reasonable, “moderate” tempo. Moderato is also used in musical titles, often alone.
▪ molto: “very”; used with other musical commands to intensify their effects, as in molto crescendo, “speed up very quickly”; or molto allegro, play very quickly.
▪ morendo: indicates a decrease in volume or tempo, but often affects both; to make the sound slowly die away. Morendo creates the effect of a slow ritardando and a diminuendo with an extreme fade. See al niente.
▪ mosso: “in motion; animated.” To play with movement, often seen in the musical phrases più mosso and meno mosso, meaning more and less animated, respectively. See animato.
▪ naturale: may refer to a natural note (one neither sharp nor flat) or a command that cancels out the effects of a previous musical command. Abbreviated nat. as a musical command.
▪ niente: “nothing”; see al niente and dal niente.
▪ nobile: “with nobility”; to play with dignity and satisfaction.
▪ non troppo: “not too much”; used alongside other musical commands to lessen their effects.
The modifying term poco affects commands similarly, but poco, meaning “a little,” only demands a small portion of an effect; non troppo calls for an obvious, yet modest effort.
▪ non tanto: same as non troppo.
▪ notturno: “nocturne”; a style of musical composition written for nighttime.
▪ ossia: an alternative passage that may be played instead of the main passage (at the performer’s discretion) written by the composer. An ossia passage may be written on a small staff above or below the main staff; on the bottom of the page; or, rarely, at the appendix of the sheet music booklet. The translation of ossia is “or.”
▪ ostinato: “persistent”; a repeating pattern of notes or rhythm that can be heard throughout a musical composition, passage, or movement.
▪ ottava: Italian for “eighth,” means octave. Ottava is often abbreviated 8va; otta being the Italian feminine of “eight.”
▪ passionato: “passionately”; to play with passion and conviction. Passionato is often used in the title of musical compositions, as in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 23, Appassionata.
▪ pastorale: to play with simple contentment; to conjure the sentimental ambiance of a peaceful, “pastoral” environment.
▪ pedale: indicates when the damper (sustain) pedal is to be depressed; often abbreviated Ped.
▪ pesante: “heavy”; a style of musical composition with a slow, heavy feel, with a slow, sluggish tempo and lengthened notes.
▪ più: “more”; used with other musical commands to increase their effects. Opposite of meno.
▪ (pp) pianissimo: to play very softly; softer than piano, but louder than pianississimo.
▪ (ppp) pianississimo: to play as softly as possible; softer than pianissimo. See estinto.
▪ (p) piano: to play softly; louder than pianissimo, but softer than mezzo piano.
▪ poco a poco: “little by little”; used with other musical commands to make their effects slow and gradual.
▪ polacca: “a polonaise; in a Polish style.” A polonaise is a style of musical composition (as well as a dance) written in triple-meter with a rhythm similar to that of an exaggerated waltz. In terms of piano music, Chopin, originally from Poland, wrote many compositions in the style of a polonaise.
▪ portamento: In piano music, portamento is synonymous with portato, below.
▪ portato: a legato which has slight accentuation; a combination of legato and staccato, but with a definite slur. The musical symbol indicating a portato may be a staccato accent topped with a brief horizontal line; or, it may be indicated by writing a legato slur over staccato notes.
▪ prestissimo: to play extremely fast; as quickly as possible. Faster than presto and vivacissimo.
▪ presto: to play very quickly; faster than vivace.
▪ primo / prima: “first”; used with other musical terms, as in tempo primo, which is a return to the “first tempo”; and prima volta, an indication to play a repeated passage as indicated the “first time” around.
▪ quasi: “like; almost.” Used with other musical terms to hint at their descriptions; also can be seen in the titles of musical compositions, a well-known example being in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, quasi una fantasia, “like a fantasy.”
Quasi niente is a command affecting dynamics similar to estinto.
▪ quartetto: “quartet”; a musical group consisting of four performers, or a musical composition written with four parts, which may or may not be performed by four players (depending on complexity). A quartettino is a shorter quartet composition.
▪ quieto: “quiet”; to play calmly and quietly. See tranquillo.
▪ (rall.) rallentando: a gradual decrease in speed similar to a that of a ritardando, but with more of a rolling stop effect; a lazy deceleration of the tempo that seems to have less certainty and drama than the ritardando.
▪ relativa maggiore / minore: “relative major / minor”; major and minor scales that share the same key signature, and therefore have the same amount of sharps or flats. For example, G major and E minor are relative keys, both containing one accidental: an F♯.
▪ religioso: “religiously"; a composition style with a religious feel; music heard in a religious setting. Religioso may also appear in the title of a musical composition, for example, the second movement of Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3 is called Adagio religioso.
▪ (rfz) rinforzando: to play with gradual emphasis or broad accentuation until otherwise noted. Similar to a light, progressive accentato; lit. “reinforcing.” See (sfz) sforzando.
▪ (rit.) ritardando: to gradually decrease the tempo of the music (opposite of accelerando).
▪ (riten.) ritenuto: to suddenly (and temporarily) decrease the tempo; to hold back for dramatic effect.
Note: Ritenuto is sometimes abbreviated rit., which also stands for ritardando.
▪ ritmo: “rhythm”; seen in some musical commands, as in ritmo giusto, “in strict rhythm.”
▪ rubato: “robbed”; indicates that the performer may take liberties with the articulation, dynamics, or overall expressiveness of a song for dramatic effect. However, rubato most commonly affects tempo. See a piacere.
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