Dynamics are used to show how loudly to play a piece of music.
Articulation is used to show how a note should be played or sung - eg staccato or slur.
Look at the music below for Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.
What dynamics and articulations can you see?
pp (meaning very quiet) at the start of the piece and in bar 5. There are slurs to indicate groups of triplets and how they should be played. The term “sostenuto” is also used, meaning sustained.
If there were no dynamics and articulation, or if there were different articulations, then the music would sound completely different. Dynamics and articulations bring the notes on the page to life.
Dynamics are alterations in the volume of a piece of music.
|<||Crescendo: getting louder|
|>||Diminuendo: getting quieter|
|pp||Pianissimo: very quiet|
|ff||Fortissimo: very loud|
|mf||Mezzo forte: fairly loud|
|mp||Mezzo piano: fairly quiet|
|sf||Sforzando: sudden accent|
|> (marked near note head)||Accent: emphasis on a particular note|
Dynamics were rarely used in the Baroque and Classical periods. In the Romantic period and beyond, dynamics were used to create dramatic effects.
Dynamics beyond pp and ff are used occasionally. Tchaikovsky uses ppp and fff to emphasise important moments - he even uses pppppp for a bassoon solo in his sixth symphony, The Pathétique. Holst uses ffff in “Mars” from The Planets.