Dynamic Signs of Piano Playing

You may have already noticed the almost random like appearance of letters in italics at the beginning and during some pieces of music, and be wondering what exactly they mean? If so, we are going to find out, but first imagine or play a piece of classical music.

Listen closely to the sound and how it is projected by the orchestra, now think and try and determine the different moods of the piece of music? If you can identify more than one mood or feeling can you tell why your mood has altered?

You would be right if you said the volume changed, the speed decreased or increased or the pitch changed from high to low or low to high. These things when combined convey feeling. Dynamic signs are the guiding instructions from its composer to the person who is about to play the piece on how it should be performed in order to convey such feeling.

The dynamic sign is usually indicated at the start of the piece between the treble and bass staff in its abbreviated italicized form. But the beginning of a piece of music is by no means the only place you will find them. As you progress you are likely to find these signs throughout the piece of music, letting you know to caress the keys softly or strike them with intensity.

Dynamic signs
Sign Italian Definition
pp pianissimo Very soft
p piano Soft
mp messo piano Moderately soft
mf messo forte Moderately loud
f forte Loud
ff fortissimo Very loud

Starting a new piece of music can be difficult enough in itself, so most teachers will recommend that you ignore the signs to start with, focusing on the notes and perfecting the timing. However when you have mastered the fundamentals you will be surprised how much life and energy you can give even the simplest of pieces by following the dynamic signs. Music can appear to be almost transformed.

Next to the dynamic sign you may also see a greater than or less than sign. These are interpreted as:

> decrescendo – gradually softer

< crescendo – gradually louder

Usually a decrescendo will follow an f or ff or precede a p or pp and a crescendo will follow a p or pp or precede an f or ff .

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