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Dynamics in Music – Everything You Need To Know in 7 Minutes

Dynamics in Music

Dynamics in Music

Dynamics in music are the way musicians express the variations in volume of a musical sound.

This aspect of music tells musicians how louder or softer they should play or perform some passage of music.

Dynamics in music are degrees of the softness or loudness of a sound.

This post is a basic explanation of dynamics in music. It answers, “What do dynamics mean in music?” and other things that have to do with the dynamics of music.

It will explain what dynamics are in music and the different types of dynamics we have in music.

Moreover, it will look into why dynamics are essential in music.

In the end, we will learn how to indicate and interpret how soft or loud a given piece of music should be performed.

It is basically one of the properties of sound that lets us know how high or low the volume of a sound is.

Dynamics in music tell us whether the sound is soft or loud and let us know when the sound is increasing or decreasing in volume.

What Are Dynamics in Music?

Dynamics in music are different degrees of volume, loudness, or softness of a musical sound, used on either pitches or whole passages of music.

It lets us know how high or low the volume of a sound is in a musical context.

Specifically, it tells us whether the sound is soft or loud and lets us know when the sound is increasing or decreasing in volume.

In addition, dynamics in music are the terms used in musical notation to specify the musical dynamics.

The meanings of dynamics in music are all the same, but the way we express them varies according to the performers.

Furthermore, dynamics in music are not the same as the accent in music. We have an accent when a particular note is emphasized and played louder than the notes around it. 

On the other hand, dynamics occur in music when we maintain or vary the softness or loudness of a piece.

Note that there are no absolute dynamics as related to musical sound. The dynamic level in terms of loudness and softness of every tone is relative.

Specifically, the dynamic level of every tone has to do with the other tones around them.

For instance, the loudest tone from an acoustic guitar is lower compared with the loudest tone from a trumpet. These tones are even lower when we compare them to the sound of an “amplified” rock band.

However, we can call it fortissimo, which means a very loud sound when it’s playing alone.

Dynamic Markings

Music as a form of art is dynamic and can be played at different levels of volume. As a matter of fact, the passage of music can be loud or soft.

This level of loudness or softness of music is notated using dynamics symbols. Dynamic markings are used in music to guide the volume level of a passage of music to be played.

They are the symbols used in musical notation to indicate how soft or loud every passage of a piece should be performed.

The dynamic markings we have are majorly Italian words and their abbreviations.

The most common dynamics markings, from the softest to the loudest volume, are listed below.

AbbreviationTermMeaning
ppPianissimoVery soft
pPianoSoft
mpmezzo pianomoderately Soft
mfmezzo forteModerately loud
fforteloud
fffortissimovery loud

Piano

This term (pronounced “PYAN-oh”) is used in a musical context to describe the soft tone in music. The symbol used for the piano is (p), which instructs the musician to play all the notes involved quietly.

Any part of the music that is marked with piano (f) should be played or sung more softly than the parts that are before or precede it.

Forte

This term (pronounced “For-tay”) is used to refer to loud tones or notes in music. The symbol “f” is used for forte in music, and it means “to play or sing loudly”. Any section of music marked with a forte (f) should be played or sung louder than any section that comes before or follows it.

Mezzo

This term (pronounced “MET-soh”) is one of the Italian terms used to express dynamics in music. Mezzo is used to direct a musician to play or sing moderately. Mezzo also means half.

Basically, mezzo is used in combination with other dynamics terms like forte and piano, for example.

Mezzo piano

This term (pronounced “MET-soh PYAN-oh”) is a combination of mezzo and piano, and it means “moderately soft” or “moderately quiet.”

The symbol for this term is “mp”, where m stands for mezzo and p for piano.

Mezzo forte

This term (pronounced “MET-soh FOR-tay”) is a combination of mezzo and forte and means “moderately loud”. The symbol for this term is “mf,” where m is for mezzo and f for forte.

Pianissimo

This dynamic term (pronounced “PEE-an-ISS-im-oh”) combines “issimo” with “piano,”where issimo means “very” and piano means “soft”. Therefore, pianissimo is used to mark a very soft passage in a piece.

The symbol used to represent pianissimo is “pp”, and it means the passage or section should be played or performed very softly.

The pianist always plays pianissimo passages on the piano with lightly touched fingers.

Fortissimo

This term (pronounced “for-TISS-im-oh”) is used to indicate a gradual change in volume from soft to loud or loud to soft. “Issimo” is an Italian word that means “very” and “forte” means “loud”.

Therefore, combining the two words, we have fortissimo, which translates to “very loud.” This term is used to mark a passage to be played or sung very loudly.

Pianississimo And Fortississimo

We still have pianississimo (pronounced “PEE-an-iss-SISS-im-oh”) and fortississimo (pronounced “FOR-tiss-SISS-im-oh”), which are combinations of double “issimo” with piano or forte, respectively. However, one of the “issimo” is shortened to “iss”.

Therefore, pianississimo stands for “very very quiet” and fortississimo stands for “very very loud”.

The symbol used for pianississimo is “ppp”, while “fff” is used for fortississimo.

These dynamics (“ppp” and “fff”) are not commonly used but you can come across them in orchestral pieces.

Extreme Dynamic Markings

We also have some static dynamics other than those mentioned above that are extremely marked. They make use of more “ps” and “fs” and they are extremely pronounced.

One of them is fortississimo (ffff), which was used in “Mars, The Bringer of War’ by Gustav Holst.

Later composers have used fortissimo (ffff) on occasion, such as in Benoit’s overture to “Charlotte Corday.”

Fortississimo (ffff) is also used by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in passages of his 1812 Solemn Overture, Op. 49, and his Symphony No. 5 in E minor.

Sometimes composers indicate the dynamics with a special mark called dynamic marking to tell performers how loud or soft each section of the piece should sound.

On the other hand, some musical pieces are without any dynamics marking, and the dynamics of the music are inspired by how the performers feel about the music.

Dynamics Marking Placement

Dynamic marking can be placed anywhere within the musical context. We can find it in the beginning, the middle, or the end of a piece.

The dynamic marking takes effect from the note it is placed on to the next dynamic marking available.

Most often, the dynamic markings are placed at the beginning of a musical piece. This is to establish the volume a piece will begin with.

However, if the dynamic marking is not present at the beginning of a piece, it means the music should be played either loud or soft.

Types of Dynamics In Music

Basically, we have two types of dynamics in music. These are static dynamics and changing dynamics.

The dynamics can either be static or change depending on the musical context.

Static Dynamics In Music

This type of dynamics is used when the whole piece of music is to be played at a specific and constant volume.

If a forte is used in a passage and a piano is used in the passage that follows it, it means sing or play loud and then soft immediately.

That is how static dynamics works. No gradual change at all. The gradual change in volume occurs in change dynamics.

The “Terraced Dynamics” used during the Baroque music era is a typical example of the static dynamic.

Terraced Dynamics allowed a section of music to be played at a defined volume and another section at a different volume level.

This volume change is done in “Terraced Dynamics” without any gradual transition from one volume level to another volume level.

The “Spring” from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons utilized the Terraced Dynamics. This has changed now, and composers use “change dynamics” instead.

Change Dynamics In Music

This is sometimes referred to as “change in dynamics”. Change dynamics involves a gradual change in the dynamics of the music.

The “change in dynamics” creates some kind of effect that is very appealing to the listeners.

Of course, there are special dynamic markings or notations used to notate the dynamic changes in music.

The most common terms used for “changed dynamics” or “change in dynamics” are crescendo, decrescendo, or diminuendo.

Crescendo

Crescendo Sample in Music Scroe

This is the Italian word pronounced “kruh-shen-dow”. A crescendo is a gradual increase in the loudness or volume of a musical section.

Composers place a crescendo mark on a section of music when they want that section to gradually become louder.

For example, if a section of music begins with pianissimo and changes gradually to piano until it reaches fortissimo, it is marked with crescendo dynamics.

The dynamic marking used for crescendo is a “widespread less than” (<) symbol and is sometimes in abbreviated form as “cres“.

Decrescendo

Decrescendo Sample In Music Score

This is also an Italian word pronounced “dee-kruh-shen-dow”. A decrescendo is a gradual reduction in the loudness or volume of a section of music.

Decrescendo is the opposite of crescendo, which means to get softer.

Composers used decrescendo as a change dynamic to indicate that a section of music should gradually become softer.

For example, if a section of music begins with fortissimo and gradually changes to forte until it reaches pianissimo, it is marked with decrescendo dynamics.

The dynamic marking used for decrescendo is a widespread greater than (<) symbol, and sometimes its abbreviated form “decres” is used.

Changes in Dynamic Levels

The volume of a piece of music is not static all the time, and this makes the music interesting.

The changes in dynamic levels (volume or loudness) of a piece can happen quickly or slowly over time.

These changes are indicated by crescendo and decrescendo.

The static dynamics symbols are occasionally used together with crescendo or decrescendo to specify how loud or soft the music should eventually be.

Other Dynamic Technique In Music

There are other dynamics techniques used in music apart from those mentioned above.

For instance, sforzando (sfz), sforzato (sf), forzando or forzato (fz), are another common dynamic technique used in music composition and notation.

The Italian terms are dynamic terms used in music to specify sudden changes in loudness or volume. Moreover, they are used for sudden, forceful emphasis, which dramatically becomes accented notes.

We should note that there are other music notation symbols we can use for accented notes, but it all depends on what the composers want.

The dynamics marked “fortepiano” (fp) are at times used by classical composers. “Fortepiano” (fp) means piano (p) immediately after the forte (f) dynamic or accent.

Example of Dynamics in Music

This video below shows different dynamic levels in music. Carefully watch and listen to the different levels of dynamics in music, from forte, piano, crescendo, and other types of dynamics we have in music.

What Is the Importance of Dynamics in Music??

Dynamics is a term used in music to describe how the volume of a sound is expressed within a musical piece. Does the music sound softer or louder? Does the musical sound gradually decrease or increase in loudness?

Absolutely, dynamics are very important in music performance because it allows performers to express the music in different ways. 

When it comes to musical expression, dynamics are one of the components that make it possible.

Therefore, the importance of dynamics in music performance cannot be underestimated. Because how loud or soft a passage of music sounds creates some emotional feeling or state of mind.

In addition, dynamics change the way listeners perceive the music.

For instance, the way a listener feels when listening to metal music, which is loud and noisy, can never be the same while listening to a very soft and solemn lullaby.

Specifically, metal music is known for its high levels of energy that help listeners subdue some intense emotions like anger. On the other hand, lullabies are used to calm babies or young children and put them to sleep.

Dynamics in music are responsible for the general sense of drama and tension created by a piece of music. This propagates musical feelings, moods, and movement.

Proficient and exquisite utilization of dynamics infuses spirit and mood into musical performances.

Playing or singing by observing dynamics is basically known as “playing or singing with the feel”.

Therefore, proper usage of dynamics in music can make you feel differently. For instance, the dynamics of a piece of music can make you feel sleepy or energized.

Interpretation Of Dynamics In Music

Dynamics is basically for musical performance. It is the way a singer or player expresses themselves and the content of the music.

The dynamics markings are used at every point in a musical piece and what they mean determines how the performer will perform the music.

For instance, if you see the composer using a piano for a passage after the forte, it means the music should be quite loud and unexpectedly quite soft.

When the crescendo or decrescendo is used, the intent of the composer is for the music to gradually become louder or softer, respectively.

Basically, crescendo and decrescendo help the music gradually change from one dynamic level to another.


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