dynamics (music)


In music, the dynamics of a piece is the variation in between or . Dynamics are indicated by specific , often in some detail. However, dynamics markings still require interpretation by the performer depending on the musical context: for instance, the ''forte'' marking (meaning loud) 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 and sometimes .

Purpose and interpretation

Dynamics are one of the . 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. never indicates a precise level of ; it merely indicates that music in a passage so marked should be considerably quieter than . There are many factors affecting the interpretation of a dynamic marking. For instance, the middle of a will normally be played louder than the beginning or end, to ensure the phrase is properly shaped, even where a passage is marked throughout. Similarly, in , some will naturally be played louder than others, for instance, to emphasize 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 playing ''piano'' will likely be louder than a guitar playing ''fortissimo'', while a high-pitched instrument like the playing in its upper register can usually sound loud even when its actual decibel level is lower than that of other instruments.

Dynamic markings

The two basic dynamic indications in music are: * or ''piano'', meaning "quiet". * or ''forte'', meaning "loud or strong". More subtle degrees of loudness or softness are indicated by: * , standing for ''mezzo-piano'', meaning "moderately quiet". * , standing for ''mezzo-forte'', meaning "moderately loud". * ', standing for ''più piano'' and meaning "more quiet". * ', standing for ''più forte'' and meaning "more loud". Use of up to three consecutive s or s is also common: * , standing for ''pianissimo'' and meaning "very quiet". * , standing for ''fortissimo'' and meaning "very loud". * ("triple ''piano''"), standing for ''pianississimo'' and meaning "very very quiet". * ("triple ''forte''"), standing for ''fortississimo'' and meaning "very very loud". :


Three Italian words are used to show gradual changes in volume: * ''crescendo'' (abbreviated ') translates as "increasing" (literally "growing") * ''decrescendo'' (abbreviated to ') translates as "decreasing". * ''diminuendo'' (abbreviated ') translates as "diminishing". Signs sometimes referred to as "s" are also used to stand for these words (See image). If the angle lines open up (), then the indication is to get louder; if they close gradually (), the indication is to get softer. The following notation indicates music starting moderately strong, then becoming gradually stronger and then gradually quieter: \relative c'' Hairpins are usually written below the (or between the two staves in a ), 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 ), while ', ' and ' 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, ' and ' are often used, where the ''molto'' means "much". Similarly, for more gradual changes ' and ' 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 ' or ) ("suddenly soft") indicates that the dynamics quickly, almost abruptly, lower the volume to approximately the range. It is often purposefully used to subvert the listener's expectation and will signify an intimate expression. Although it uses the ''piano'' dynamic symbol, the performer has slight freedom in their interpretation, causing it to vary based on the preceding loudness or character of the piece. Likewise, ''subito'' can be used to mark suddenly louder changes, like ''subito forte'' , or ''subito fortissimo'' , however in these cases it's usually only used to add a particular amount of accent to one note or chord. If subito is used to note a sudden change to an entire louder passage, something like or should be used to leave out any ambiguity. is typically notated with the ''accent'' sign > above or below the note, giving it a general emphasis relative to the current dynamics. A harder and shorter emphasis is usually marked with the ''marcato'' mark ^ above the note instead. If a very particular emphasis is needed instead, it can be marked with a variation of ''subito'', ''forzando''/''forzato'' or ''fortepiano''. ''forzando''/''forzato'' indicates a forceful accent and is abbreviated as . To emphasize the effect, it is most often preceded with ''subito'' as (''subito forzato/forzando'', ''sforzando''/''sforzato''). How these should be interpreted and played in the music is up to the judgement of the performer, but a rule of thumb is that a ''forzato/forzando'' can be considered as a variation on ''marcato'' while ''subito forzando/forzato'' can be considered a variation on ''marcato'' with added ''tenuto''. The notation indicates a ''forte'' followed immediately by ''piano''. By contrast, 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 '.

Extreme dynamic markings

While the typical range of dynamic markings is from to , 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 of the work, with heavy forte markings brought to life by having many loud instruments like brass and percussion playing at once. * In 's ', occurs twice in "Mars" and once in "Uranus", often punctuated by organ. * marks a bassoon solo (6 s) in his and uses in passages of his ' and his . * The baritone passage "Era la notte" from 's opera ' uses , though the same spot is marked in the full score. * used at the end of the finale of the . * uses in his . * , in the third movement of his , gives the celli and basses a marking of (5 s), along with a footnote directing ''. * On the other extreme, , in the second movement of his , marked a passage for woodwinds a diminuendo to (5 s), * The original piano version of 's begins at and ends at . * uses extreme dynamics in his music: the begins with a passage marked (8 s), in his Étude No. 9 (''Vertige'') ends with a diminuendo to (8 s), while Étude No. 13 (''L'Escalier du Diable'') contains a passage marked (6 s) that progresses to a (8 s) and his opera has (10 s) on a percussion part.


''On Music'', one of the ' attributed to the philosopher 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 or . The composer was one of the first to indicate dynamics in , but dynamics were used sparingly by composers until the late 18th century. 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 was considered to mean ''pianissimo'' in this period. The fact that the 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 dynamics are 'terraced dynamics'," writes . In fact, baroque musicians constantly varied dynamics: in 1752, wrote that "Light and shade must be constantly introduced ... by the incessant interchange of loud and soft." In addition to this, the 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 and specified six levels ( to ), used also and (the latter less frequently), and used a range of terms to describe the dynamics he wanted. In the slow movement of Brahms's , he uses the expressions , ''molto piano'', and ' to express different qualities of quiet. Many Romantic and later composers added ' and ', making for a total of ten levels between and .

Interpretation by notation programs

In some s, there are default 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 9 (2009–2013), Avid's 5 (2007–2009), musescore.org's 3.0 (2019), MakeMusic's 26 (2018-2021), and Musitek's X2 Pro (2016) and 64 Pro. (2021). MIDI specifies the range of key velocities as an integer between 0 and 127: The velocity effect on volume depends on the particular instrument. For instance, a grand piano has a much greater volume range than a recorder.

Relation to audio dynamics

The introduction of modern recording techniques has provided alternative ways to control the dynamics of music. is used to control the of a recording, or a single instrument. This can affect loudness variations, both at the micro- and macro scale. 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.

See also

* *



{{DEFAULTSORT:Dynamics (Music) Elements of music