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Dynamics in Music - Loudness in Music, Changes in Volume, Accents, and Why It Is Important

Cari Herndon, Liz Diamond-Manlusoc
  • Author
    Cari Herndon

    Cari Herndon is an experienced teacher and curriculum developer, focused on creating more inclusive curricula. After she earned her M.Ed. in Secondary Education from DePaul University, she worked for ten years as a middle and high school science teacher. She is licensed to teach 4th – 12th grade science.

  • Instructor
    Liz Diamond-Manlusoc

    Liz has taught music for K-12 and beyond. She holds a master's degree in Education Media and Design Technology.

Explore what dynamics in music mean. See the definition, types, and examples of dynamics in music. Also, learn the changes and accents in the dynamics in music. Updated: 09/30/2021

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Dynamics in Music

Dynamics in music are how loud or how soft a piece of music is. This is a way composers are able to show expression in written or sheet music. We can also think of this as the strength of the note. A composer may ask a musician to play certain notes softly and others more strongly in order to convey an emotion. In a movie, a romantic scene may have music played more quietly, a battle scene may have louder music, and a mysterious scene may have music that slowly increases in volume.

Where can we find the dynamics on sheet music? The dynamics mark is found underneath the notes. This includes the marks that identify if the music should be increasing or decreasing in volume.

Types of Dynamics

There are two main dynamics: forte and piano. However, we can imagine dynamics as a scale from the quietest noise to the loudest. Because of this, just these two words do not suffice. We can use combinations of the words forte and piano with others to create many different levels of volume in music.

  1. forte - f - loud
  2. piano - p - soft
  3. mezzo-forte - mf - medium loud
  4. mezzo-piano - mp - medium soft
  5. fortissimo - ff - very loud
  6. pianissimo - pp - very soft
  7. crescendo - increasing in volume gradually
  8. decrescendo - decreasing in volume gradually

Dynamics compared to the volume of a voice on a scale.

Dynamics compared to the volume of a voice on a scale

Forte in Music

One type of dynamic is forte. Forte is marked with an f symbol on sheet music. When the symbol for forte is present it means this music should be played loud.

Piano in Music

Piano is another type of dynamic. It is marked with a p symbol on sheet music. It is the opposite of forte and music marked with the symbol for piano is quiet.

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  • 0:05 Dynamics Overview and…
  • 1:43 Piano and Forte
  • 4:06 Sforzando and Fortepiano
  • 5:07 Crescendo and Diminuendo
  • 6:34 History of Dynamic Markings
  • 6:57 Lesson Summary
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Mezzo-forte and Mezzo-piano

We can think of dynamics as a scale. The volume in between forte and piano can be further divided. We call these divisions mezzo-forte and mezzo-piano. Mezzo in Italian means medium, therefore mezzo-forte (mf) means for the music to be played medium loud; and mezzo-piano (mp) means the music is to be played medium-soft.

Fortissimo and Pianissimo

If we continue to think of dynamics as a scale, consider that music could be infinitely loud or soft. Therefore forte and piano are not nearly descriptive enough to identify music that should be played very loud or very soft. In this case, we use the dynamics fortissimo and pianissimo. Fortissimo, marked with an ff on sheet music, means very loud. Pianissimo, marked with a pp on sheet music, means very soft.

On each line of this sheet music, the composer is asking that a different volume be played: pianissimo, fortississimo, mezzo-piano, mezzo-forte, then forte.

Arbitrary example to quickly show variation in musical dynamics.

Dynamic Changes

The volume of a piece of music may change quickly, but it may also change slowly over time. To denote that the volume should gradually increase, a composer may use the dynamic symbol crescendo. The crescendo means to gradually get louder. To do the opposite, gradually get softer, the composer will add a decrescendo. This symbol is also called diminuendo. Sometimes along with the crescendo or decrescendo the composer will include a dynamics symbol in order to express just how loud or how soft the music should become.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the types of dynamics in music?

Dynamics are the range of volume that music notes can be played. They create a scale starting with pianissimo (very soft), to piano (soft), to mezzo-piano (medium soft), to mezzo-forte (medium loud), to forte (loud), and finally to fortissimo (very loud).

What does dynamics mean in music?

Dynamics is the relative loudness of a piece of music. The composer can use volume to express feeling in the music.

Is forte or mezzo-forte louder?

Forte means "loud," and mezzo-forte means "medium loud." We can think of mezzo forte as "average." Therefore forte is louder than mezzo-forte.

What does forte piano mean in music?

Forte piano is a kind of accent in music. On the sheet music, it is marked with "fp." It means that the first note should be played loudly, followed by a soft note.

What is an example of dynamics in music?

If you have ever watched a scary movie, you have heard dynamics. At first, the music may start very soft, then gradually increase in volume to create tension. This is dynamics.

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