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  • Writer's pictureАлександр Васильев

Volume and dynamics

Two basic volume symbols in music are:

forte — loud,

piano — quiet.

Moderate levels of loudness are indicated as follows:

mezzo-forte — moderately loud,

mezzo-piano — moderately quiet.

In addition to the signs ƒ and p, there are also:

fortissimo — very loud,

pianissimo — very quiet.

To indicate even more extreme degrees of loudness and quietness, the additional letters f and p are used. Thus, in musical literature the designations fff and ppp are found. They do not have standard names, and usually pronounces as “forte fortissimo” and “piano pianissimo” or “three forte” and “three pianos”.

The designations of dynamics are relative, not absolute. For example, mp does not indicate an exact volume level, but rather that this passage should be played somewhat louder than p or somewhat quieter than mf.

If the notes do not indicate volume, then most often it is mf.

Gradual volume changes

To denote a gradual change in volume, the terms crescendo, denoting a gradual increase in sound, and diminuendo, (or decrescendo) — a gradual weakening, are used. In sheet music they are abbreviated as cresc. and dim. (or decresc.). For the same purposes, used special signs named “forks”. They are pairs of lines connected on one side and diverging on the other. If the lines diverge from left to right (<), this means an increase in sound, if they converge (>) it means a weakening.

The following piece of notation indicates a moderately loud start, then a louder sound, and then a softer sound.:

Designations cresc. and dim. may be accompanied by additional instructions, like poco (a little), poco a poco (little by little), subito or sub. (suddenly), etc.

Sudden changes in volume

Sforzando denotes a sudden sharp accent and is denoted sf or sfz.

The designation fp (forte piano) means “loud, then immediately quiet”; sfp (sforzando piano) indicates sforzando followed by piano.

Accent means highlighting individual tones or chords. When writing, it is indicated by a > sign above or below the corresponding note (chord). To indicate an even stronger emphasis (strong, or heavy accent), a vertical tick used:

Accented staccato combines emphasis and shortening of duration.

Usual (left) and accented (right) staccato


Typically, the strong beats of a measure sound slightly louder than the weak ones. But there are exceptions to every rule. A shift in emphasis from strong to a weak beat is called syncopation.


  • phrase from Carol of the Bells:

The time signature of the Carol of the Bells is 3/4. In the second measure of this musical phrase, the 2nd quarter is syncopated.

  • Rhythmical pattern of the reggae style is based on syncopation of weak beats:


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