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Musical Symbols of Piano Music: Part Two

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Musical Dynamics
Musical symbols marking dynamic changes.

More on these terms: forte | piano | mezzo-piano | mezzo-forte | sforzando | fortepiano | crescendo | diminuendo

Image © Brandy Kraemer

Musical Dynamics

Musical dynamics control the volume of a song, and may be signified by words, symbols, or both. Dynamics mark the relative changes in intensity, and do not express precise decibel levels; a song in mezzo-piano played by two different pianists may sound slightly louder or softer depending on the instruments as well as the players’ interpretations. However, the audible distance between mp and p should be similar for both musicians.

Because a piano has a limit to how loud or soft it can sound, it’s important to consider how many dynamic commands occur in a song in order to interpret them correctly:

  • High Dynamic Activity
    A composition with a range of pppp (pianississimo) to ffff (fortississimo) will require the pianist to execute extremely subtle changes in volume in order to make room for the many dynamic commands that occur between these two extremes.

    The difference between p and mp may be difficult to distinguish, even when played back-to-back.


  • Calmer Dynamics
    In a song with the smaller range of p to f, you may hear a greater distance between commands because there is more room for interpretation. However, always consider a command’s true definition; forte always means “strong,” and should not be taken to mean “extremely strong,” even if it is the loudest dynamic symbol found in the sheet music.

    p and mp are distinguishable, especially when played back-to-back.

Continue With Musical Dynamics:
►  Learn More Dynamics Symbols & Terminology
►  Quiz Yourself on the Dynamics Symbols!


See More Musical Symbols:
Staff & Barlines    ■Note Lengths     ■Articulation Marks    ■Repeat Signs
The Grand Staff      ■Dotted Notes      ■Dynamics & Volume      ■Segno & Coda Signs
Time Signatures       ■Accidentals        ■Key Signatures      ■Pedal Marks
Tempo Commands     ■Piano Chords         ■Music Rests          ■8va & Octave Commands


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