Notation - dynamics

Dynamics are alterations in the volume of a piece of music.

Dynamic marking and meaning

Dynamic markingMeaning
<Crescendo: getting louder
>Diminuendo: getting quieter
ppPianissimo: very quiet
pPiano: quiet
ffFortissimo: very loud
fForte: loud
mfMezzo forte: fairly loud
mpMezzo piano: fairly quiet
sfSforzando: sudden accent
> (marked near note head)Accent: emphasis on a particular note

Dynamics and the many different Italian terms that describe the loudness or softness of music

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 used ppp and fff to emphasise important moments. Holst uses ffff in Mars from The Planets, Tchaikovsky uses pppppp for a bassoon solo in his Pathétique Symphony.

Interpretation

Dynamics indicate a composer’s intentions. However, each conductor’s or performer’s interpretation of a dynamic will be different. ‘Forte’ does not mean a certain number of decibels - it will be interpreted by the performer to express the music. Dynamics are a way of indicating expression and musicality, not just how loudly or quietly music should be played.