Basic Dynamic Markings

The two basic dynamic indications in music are:

More subtle degrees of loudness or softness are indicated by:

Beyond ƒ and p, there are also:


Best advice as far as vocal volume is concerned is:

  1. Never sing as loud as you can.
  2. In a choral setting if you can't hear the person beside you, you are singing too loud.

Words/phrases indicating changes in dynamics

(In Italian unless otherwise indicated)



In music, articulation refers to the musical direction performance technique which affects the transition or continuity on a single note or between multiple notes or sounds.

Types of articulations

There are many types of articulation, with each having a different effect on how the note is played. Some articulation marks include the slur, phrase mark, staccato, staccatissimo, accent, sforzando, rinforzando, and legato. Each articulation is represented by a different symbol placed above or below the note (depending on its position on the staff).

Basic tempo markings

From fastest to slowest, the common tempo markings are:

All of these markings are based on a few root words such as 'allegro', 'largo', 'adagio', Vivace', 'presto' 'andante1 and 'lento'. By adding the -issimo and -etto endings, each word is amplified or diminished (respectively)

Common Qualifiers

In addition to the common "Allegretto," composers freely apply Italian diminutive and superlative suffixes to various tempo indications: Andantino, Larghetto, Adagietto, Larghissimo.

Mood markings with a tempo connotation

Some markings that primarily mark a mood (or character) also have a tempo connotation:

Terms for change in tempo

Composers may use expressive marks to adjust the tempo:

While the base tempo indication (such as "Allegro") appears in large type above the staff, these adjustments typically appear below the staff or (in the case of keyboard instrument) in the middle of the grand staff.

They generally designate a gradual change in tempo; for immediate tempo shifts, composers normally just provide the designation for the new tempo. (Note, however, that when Piu Mosso or Meno Mosso appears in large type above the staff, it functions as a new tempo, and thus implies an immediate change.) Several terms control how large and how gradual this change is:

After a tempo change, a composer may return to a previous tempo in two different ways:

A tempo - returns to the base tempo after an adjustment (e.g. "ritardando ... a tempo" undoes the effect of the ritardando).

Tempo Primo or Tempo I - denotes an immediate return to the piece's original base tempo after a section in a different tempo (e.g. "Allegro ... Lento ... Tempo I" indicates a return to the Allegro). This indication often functions as a structural marker in pieces in binary form.

These terms also indicate an immediate, not a gradual, tempo change. Although they are Italian, composers typically use them even if they have written their initial tempo marking in some other language.

Tempo markings in other languages

Although Italian has been the prevalent language for tempo markings throughout most of classical music history, many composers have written tempo indications in their own language.

French tempo markings

Several French composers have written markings in French, among them baroque composers Francois Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau as well as impressionist composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. Common tempo markings in French are:

German tempo markings

Many composers have used German tempo markings. Typical German tempo markings are:

One of the first German composers to use tempo markings in his native language was Ludwig van Beethoven. The one using the most elaborate combined tempo and mood markings was probably Gustav Mahler. For example, the second movement of his Symphony No. 9 is marked Im tempo eines gemachlichen Landlers, etwas tappisch und sehr derb, indicating a slowish folk-dance-like movement, with some awkwardness and vulgarity in the execution. Mahler would also sometimes combine German tempo markings with traditional Italian markings.

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