Dynamics (music)

In music, the dynamics of a piece is the variation in loudness between notes or phrases. Dynamics are indicated by specific musical notation, often in some detail. However, dynamics markings still require interpretation by the performer depending on the musical context: for instance a piano (quiet) marking in one part of a piece might have quite different objective loudness in another piece, or even a different section of the same piece. The execution of dynamics also extends beyond loudness to include changes in timbre and sometimes tempo rubato.

    \relative c' {
        \set Score.currentBarNumber = #37
        \key f \major
        \time 6/8
        f4.\pp f8( g a)
        bes4( g8) bes( a g)
        \override DynamicLineSpanner.staff-padding = #2
        f(\< f'4)\sf f8(\> e d)\!
        d4.( c8)
The beginning of the principal theme to the third movement of Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique showing examples of pianissimo (pp), hairpins, and sforzando (sf).

Purpose and interpretation

Dynamics are one of the expressive elements of music. Used effectively, dynamics help musicians sustain variety and interest in a musical performance, and communicate a particular emotional state or feeling.

Dynamic markings are always relative.[1] p never indicates a precise level of loudness, it merely indicates that music in a passage so marked should be considerably quieter than f. There are many factors affecting the interpretation of a dynamic marking. For instance, the middle of a musical phrase will normally be played louder than the beginning or ending, to ensure the phrase is properly shaped, even where a passage is marked p throughout. Similarly, in multi-part music, some voices will naturally be played louder than others, for instance to emphasis the melody and the bass line, even if a whole passage is marked at one dynamic level. Some instruments are naturally louder than others - for instance, a tuba playing piano will likely be louder than a guitar playing fortissimo, while a high-pitched instrument like the piccolo playing in its upper register can usually sound loud even when its actual decibel level is lower than that of other instruments.

Further, a dynamic marking does not necessarily only affect loudness of the music. A forte passage is not usually "the same as a piano passage but louder". Rather, a musician will often use a different approach to other aspects of expression like timbre or articulation to further illustrate the differences. Sometimes this might also extend to tempo. It's important for a performer to be able to control dynamics and tempo independently, and thus novice musicians are often instructed "don't speed up just because it's getting louder!". However, in some circumstances, a dynamic marking might also indicate a change of tempo.[a]

In some music notation programs, there are default MIDI key velocity values associated with these indications, but more sophisticated programs allow users to change these as needed. These defaults are listed in the following table for some applications, including Apple's Logic Pro 9 (2009-2013), Avid's Sibelius 5 (2007-2009), and musescore.org's MuseScore 3.0 (2019). MIDI specifies the range of key velocities as an integer between 0 and 127:

Symbols ppp pp p mp mf f ff fff
Logic Pro 9 dynamics[2] 16 32 48 64 80 96 112 127
Sibelius 5 dynamics[3] 20 39 61 71 84 98 113 127
MuseScore 3.0 dynamics[4] 16 33 49 64 80 96 112 126

Dynamic markings

Scale of dynamic markings[5]
Name Letters Level
fortississimo fff very very loud
fortissimo ff louder
forte f loud
mezzo-forte mf average
mezzo-piano mp
piano p soft
pianissimo pp softer
pianississimo ppp very very soft

The two basic dynamic indications in music are:

  • p or piano, meaning "soft".[6][7]
  • f or forte, meaning "loud".[6][8]

More subtle degrees of loudness or softness are indicated by:

  • mp, standing for mezzo-piano, meaning "half soft".
  • mf, standing for mezzo-forte, meaning "half loud".[9]
  • più p, standing for più piano and meaning "softer".
  • più f, standing for più forte and meaning "louder".

Use of up to three consecutive fs or ps is also common:

  • pp, standing for pianissimo and meaning "very soft".
  • ff, standing for fortissimo and meaning "very loud".
  • ppp, standing for pianississimo and meaning "more than very soft".
  • fff, standing for fortississimo and meaning "more than very loud".[9]


Dynamic's Note Velocity
Note Velocity is a MIDI measurement of the speed that the key travels from its rest position to completely depressed, with 127, the largest value in a 7-bit number, being instantaneous, and meaning as strong as possible. Play a C major chord at each dynamic from fff to ppp 

Three Italian words are used to show gradual changes in volume:

  • crescendo (abbreviated cresc.) translates as "increasing" (literally "growing").
  • decrescendo (abbreviated to decresc.) translates as "decreasing".
  • diminuendo (abbreviated dim.) translates as "diminishing".

Signs sometimes referred to as "hairpins"[10] are also used to stand for these words (See image). If the angle lines open up (Music-crescendo.svg), then the indication is to get louder; if they close gradually (Music-diminuendo.svg), the indication is to get softer. The following notation indicates music starting moderately strong, then becoming gradually stronger and then gradually quieter:

    \relative c'' {
        \time 4/4
        \override DynamicLineSpanner.staff-padding = #2.5
        a4._\mf\< gis16 a\! c4.\> b8\! a4

Hairpins are usually written below the staff (or between the two staves in a grand 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 (at most a few bars), while cresc., decresc. and dim. are generally used for changes over a longer period. Word directions can be extended with dashes to indicate over what time the event should occur, which may be as long as multiple pages. The word morendo ("dying") is also sometimes used for a gradual reduction in dynamics (and tempo).

For greater changes in dynamics, cresc. molto and dim. molto are often used, where the molto means "much". Similarly, for more gradual changes poco cresc. and poco dim. are used, where "poco" translates as a little, or alternatively with poco a poco meaning "little by little.

Sudden changes in dynamics may be notated by adding the word subito (meaning "suddenly") as a prefix or suffix to the new dynamic notation. Subito piano (abbreviated sub. p) ("suddenly soft") indicates that the dynamics quickly, almost abruptly, lower the volume to approximately the p range. It is often purposefully used to subvert the listeners expectation and will signify an intimacy expression. Although it uses the piano p dynamic symbol, the performer has slight freedom in their interpretation, causing it to vary based on the preceding loudness or character of the piece.

Accented notes can be notated sforzando, sforzato, forzando or forzato (abbreviated sfz, sf, or fz) ("forcing" or "forced"), or using the sign >, placed above or below the head of the note.

Sforzando (or sforzato, forzando, forzato) indicates a forceful accent and is abbreviated as sf, sfz or fz. There is often confusion surrounding these markings and whether or not there is any difference in the degree of accent. However, all of these indicate the same expression, depending on the dynamic level,[11] and the extent of the sforzando is determined purely by the performer.

The fortepiano notation fp indicates a forte followed immediately by piano. By contrast, pf is an abbreviation for poco forte, literally "a little loud" but (according to Brahms) meaning with the character of forte, but the sound of piano, though rarely used because of possible confusion with pianoforte).[12]

Extreme dynamic markings

Two measures of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C minor showing dynamic markings sffff. The top two staves are both played by the right hand, the bottom two by the left.

While the typical range of dynamic markings is from ppp to fff, some pieces use additional markings of further emphasis. Extreme dynamic markings imply an extreme range of loudness, or, alternatively, imply an extremely subtle distinction between very small differences of loudness within a normal range. This kind of usage is most common in orchestral works from the late 19th-century onwards. Generally, these markings are supported by the orchestration of the work, with heavy forte markings brought to life by having many loud instruments like brass and percussion playing at once.

In Holst's The Planets, ffff occurs twice in "Mars" and once in "Uranus", often punctuated by organ.[13] Tchaikovsky marks a bassoon solo pppppp (6 ps) in his Pathétique Symphony[14] and uses ffff in passages of his 1812 Overture[15] and his Fifth Symphony.[16] The baritone passage "Era la notte" from Verdi's opera Otello uses pppp, though the same spot is marked ppp in the full score.[17] Igor Stravinsky used ffff at the end of the finale of the 1919 Firebird Suite.[18] Sergei Rachmaninoff uses sffff in his Prelude in C, Op. 3 No. 2.[19] Gustav Mahler, in the third movement of his Seventh Symphony, gives the celli and basses a marking of fffff (5 fs), along with a footnote directing 'pluck so hard that the strings hit the wood'.[b][20] On the other extreme, Carl Nielsen, in the second movement of his Fifth Symphony, marked a passage for woodwinds a diminuendo to ppppp (5 ps).[21] György Ligeti uses extreme dynamics in his music: the Cello Concerto begins with a passage marked pppppppp (8 ps)[22] and in his Piano Études Étude No. 9 (Vertige) ends with a diminuendo to pppppppp (8 ps),[23] while Étude No. 13 (L'Escalier du Diable) contains a passage marked ffffff (6 fs) that progresses to a ffffffff (8 fs).[24]


On Music, one of the Moralia attributed to the philosopher Plutarch in the first century AD, suggests that ancient Greek musical performance included dynamic transitions – though dynamics receive far less attention in the text than does rhythm or harmony.

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. J.S. Bach 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.

The fact that the harpsichord could play only "terraced" dynamics (either loud or soft, but not in between), 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.[25] In fact, baroque musicians constantly varied dynamics: in 1752, Johann Joachim Quantz wrote that "Light and shade must be constantly introduced ... by the incessant interchange of loud and soft."[26] In addition to this, the harpsichord in fact becomes louder or softer depending on the thickness of the musical texture (four notes are louder than two). This allowed composers like J.S. Bach to build dynamics directly into their compositions, without the need for notation.

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 Brahms's trio for violin, horn and piano (Opus 40), he uses the expressions ppp, molto piano, and quasi niente to express different qualities of quiet. Many Romantic and later composers added più p and più f, making for a total of ten levels between ppp and fff.

Relation to audio dynamics

The introduction of modern recording techniques has provided alternative ways to control the dynamics of music. Dynamic range compression is used to control the dynamic range of a recording, or a single instrument. This can affect loudness variations, both at the micro-[27] and macro scale.[28] In many contexts, the meaning of the term dynamics is therefore not immediately clear. To distinguish between the different aspects of dynamics, the term performed dynamics can be used to refer to the aspects of music dynamics that is controlled exclusively by the performer.[29]

See also


  1. ^ For instance, in Schubert's string quartet Death and the Maiden, the dimenuendo marking is followed by a tempo, indicating that the dimenuendo is a reduction in speed as well as in loudness. In the same work Schubert uses decrescendo to indicate a reduction in loudness with no change in speed.
  2. ^ So stark anreißen, daß die Saiten an das Holz anschlagen.


  1. ^ Thiemel, Matthias. "Dynamics". Grove Music Online (subscriber only access). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
  2. ^ "Apple Logic Pro 9 User Manual for MIDI Step Input Recording". Retrieved 2013-07-29.
  3. ^ Spreadbury, Daniel; Eastwood, Michael; Finn, Ben; and Finn, Jonathan (March 2008). Sibelius 5 Reference. Edition 5.2. Sibeilus Software.
  4. ^ "Handbook 3.0, Dynamics".
  5. ^ Read, Gardner (1969/1979). Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice, p.250. 2nd edition. Crescendo Publishing, part of Taplinger Publishing. ISBN 0-8008-5453-5.
  6. ^ a b Randel, Don Michael (2003). The Harvard Dictionary of Music (4th ed.). Cambridge, MA, US: Harvard University Press Reference Library.
  7. ^ "Piano". Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
  8. ^ "Forte". Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
  9. ^ a b "Dynamics". Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
  10. ^ Kennedy, Michael and Bourne, Joyce: The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (1996), entry "Hairpins".
  11. ^ Gerou, Tom; Lusk, Linda (1996). Essential Dictionary of Music Notation: The Most Practical and Concise Source for Music Notation. Van Nuys, CA: Alfred Music Publishing. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-0882847306.
  12. ^ An Enigmatic Marking Explained, by Jeffrey Solow, Violoncello Society Newsletter, Spring 2000
  13. ^ Holst, Gustav (1921). The Planets (PDF). London: Goodwin & Tabb. pp. 29, 42, 159. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  14. ^ Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyitch (1979). Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies in Full Score (PDF). New York: Dover Publications. First movement, just before Allegro vivo. ISBN 048623861X. OCLC 6414366.
  15. ^ Nikolayev, Aleksandr (ed.). P.I. Tchaikovsky: Complete Collected Works, Vol. 25 (PDF). p. 79. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  16. ^ Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich (1979). Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies in Full Score (PDF). New York: Dover Publications. pp. 18, 65 [on PDF]. ISBN 048623861X. OCLC 6414366.
  17. ^ (1965). The Musical Times, Vol. 106. Novello.
  18. ^ Strawinsky, Igor. FIrebird Suite (PDF). New York: Boosey & Hawkes. p. 80. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  19. ^ Rachmaninoff, Sergei (1911). Thümer, Otto Gustav (ed.). Album Book I. Op. 3, Nos. 1–5 (PDF). London: Augener. p. 5. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  20. ^ Mahler, Gustav (1909). Symphonie No. 7 (PDF). Leipzig: Eulenburg. p. 229. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  21. ^ Nielson, Carl. Fjeldsøe, Michael (ed.). Vaerker, Series II, No.5 (PDF). p. 128. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  22. ^ Kirzinger, Robert. "György Ligeti - Cello Concerto". allmusic. Retrieved 12 December 2018.
  23. ^ "György Ligeti - Études for Piano (Book 2), No. 9 [3/9]". YouTube. Event occurs at 3:34. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  24. ^ "György Ligeti - Études for Piano (Book 2), No. 13 [7/9]". YouTube. Event occurs at 5:12–5:14. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  25. ^ Donington, Robert: Baroque Music (1982) WW Norton, 1982. ISBN 0-393-30052-8. Page 32.
  26. ^ Donington, Robert: Baroque Music (1982) WW Norton, 1982. ISBN 0-393-30052-8. Page 33.
  27. ^ Katz, Robert (2002). Mastering Audio. Amsterdam: Boston. p. 109. ISBN 0-240-80545-3.
  28. ^ Deruty, Emmanuel (September 2011). "'Dynamic Range' & The Loudness War". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 2018-01-16.
  29. ^ Elowsson, Anders; Friberg, Anders. "Predicting the perception of performed dynamics in music audio with ensemble learning" (PDF). The Acoustical Society of America. 141 (3): 2224–2242.
Dick Blau

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Forte (notation program)

Forte is a music notation program or Scorewriter developed by the German company Lugert Verlag located in Handorf. Its name is derived from the dynamic marking forte. The program is available in German and English.

Hairpin (disambiguation)

A hairpin is a device used to hold a person's hair in place.

Hairpin or Hairpins may also refer to:

Hairpin turn, a tight turn on a road

Hairpin cotter, a formed wire fastener most commonly used in clevis pins

Hairpin clip, a formed wire fastener designed for use in grooved shafts

A hairpin loop, a pattern in DNA or RNA in biochemistry

β-Hairpin, a secondary structure motif of proteins

Hairpins (film), a 1920 film directed by Fred Niblo

Hairpin, in music, the nickname for crescendo and decrescendo markings. See Dynamics (music)#Gradual changes

The Devil's Hairpin, a 1957 American feature film about car racing

Hairpin Arts Center, a community art center in Chicago

Hairpin Banksia, woody shrub.

Hairpin RNA, an artificial RNA molecule

Hairpin lace, a lace-making technique

Hairpin ribozyme, a small section of RNA that can act as a ribozyme

Ramsey Hairpin, a hairpin bend on the course of the Isle of Man TT Races

The Hairpin, a women's website

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Hairpin network address translation


In acoustics, loudness is the subjective perception of sound pressure. 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." The relation of physical attributes of sound to perceived loudness consists of physical, physiological and psychological components. The study of apparent loudness is included in the topic of psychoacoustics and employs methods of psychophysics.

In different industries, loudness may have different meanings and different measurement standards. Some definitions, such as ITU-R BS.1770 refer to relative loudness of different segments of electronically reproduced sounds, such as for broadcasting and cinema. Others, such as ISO 532A (Stevens loudness, measured in sones), ISO 532B (Zwicker loudness), DIN 45631 and ASA/ANSI S3.4, have a more general scope and are often used to characterize loudness of environmental noise.

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Mezzo (; Italian: [ˈmɛddzo]) is the Italian word for "half", "middle" or "medium". Mezza is the feminine equivalent.

In music, mezzo is the beginning of various Italian musical terms

Mezzo-soprano, a type of classical female singing voice whose range lies between the soprano and the contralto singing voices

Mezzo forte ("medium-loud") and mezzo piano ("medium-quiet"), musical terms for dynamics, see dynamics (music)

Mezzo carattere, in opera, a character who is part-serious, part comic

Mezzo legato and mezzo staccato, articulation halfway between legato and staccatoMezzo may also refer to:

Mezzo (desktop environment), a desktop environment in Symphony OS

Mezzo Buttress, a glacier in Antarctica

Mezzo DSA, a 2003 anime series, the sequel to the Mezzo Forte anime movie

Mezzo Forte an anime movie

Mezzo Mix, a beverage sold by Coca-Cola in Germany, Finland and Austria

Mezzo TV, a television channel in France

Mezzo was also a common name in the 19th century for the island of Lopud, roughly midway between Koločep and Šipan, and roughly 20 kilometres (12 mi) north-west of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Outline of music

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to music:

Music – human expression in the medium of time using the structures of sounds or tones and silence. It is expressed in terms of pitch, rhythm, harmony, and timbre.

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Soultone (full name: Soultone Amplification, Inc.), is an American guitar amplifier manufacturing company, based in Chandler, Arizona, and known for making hand wired instrument amplifiers using vintage and modern techniques, components, and features.

Soultone is exemplary of boutique musical instrument manufacturers.

Symphony No. 1 (Hill)

Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, Stiles Sy1, the so-called Maori Symphony, is the first symphony by Alfred Hill. Its first three movements were completed by 1898, but the last movement remained unfinished. This may have been the second symphony composed in the Antipodes (the first was George Marshall-Hall's C minor completed in Melbourne in December 1892). The first two movements (and maybe the fourth, if it was reconstructed correctly) of this symphony are the only symphonic movements by Hill not to be arranged from his earlier chamber music. The Finale was reconstructed by Allan Stiles, and the whole symphony got its first performance in 2007. The approximate duration is 40 minutes.

Musical notes
Sheet music
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