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Music Terms, Music Symbols & Meanings



Open a piano piece and you can find any number of piano symbols, words, and abbreviations. The composer included them to help you know how he envisioned the piece being playedand how it will sound the best to be performed. Consequently, it is wise to know what the musical terms mean and to be able to instantly identify them.

 

Dynamic markings tell how quietly or loudly to play

 
pp
Pianissimo: very soft
 
p
Piano: soft
 
MP

Mezzo piano: moderately soft. Mezzo means moderately in Italian. Anything with mezzo written before it means moderately.

 
MP
Mezzo forte: moderately loud
 
F
Forte: loud
 
ff
Fortissimo: very loud
 
 
Crescendo: sometimes written out, abbreviated to cresc., or written as a marking. Play gradually louder
 
crescendo and decrescendo
 
Diminuendo: sometimes written out or as decrescendo, or abbreviated as decresc., or written as a marking. Play gradually softer
 

Tempo markings tell the pace (or speed) which are to play

 

The tempo is usually marked at the top of the piano piece, before you begin. Sometimes songs will change tempo in middle of the song. The composer will write when to change the speed. There are not any special markings for the tempo the word is just written out.
 

Adagio

 
Adagio: slowly
 
Andante
 
Andante: walking speed
 
Moderato
 
Moderato: moderate tempo
 
Allegretto
 
Allegretto: rather fast
 
Allegro
 
Allegro: fast and lively, cheerfully
 
Vivace
 
Vivace: very fast
 
Various markings: There are numerous other markings throughout a song. These are some of the more common.
 
 
A tempo

a tempo: play the same speed as when you started the song

 

Coda

coda: the ending phrases of a song

 

D.S. al coda

D.S. al coda: stands for Dal Segno al Coda. Instead of continuing to the end of the song, return to the  marking, play until the
 
From there, immediately go to the Coda, without any pauses while moving around in the song.
 
 
 
Fermata: fermata, fermata, hold it longer than you should be. A silly but easy way to remember that the fermata makes a note to be held about twice as long as it usually is.
 
 
Legato: sometimes legato is written out, but often it is represented by a slur. Play the notes smoothly and connected.
 
 
 
Octave, or 8va: play an octave higher or lower

 

 
Poco
 
Poco: written before any words means a little

 

 
Rit.
 
Ritardando: often abbreviated to rit., it means to gradually slow down
 
 
Sforzando: play the notes suddenly, very loud and forcefully



Staccato:
the dot means to make the note jumpy and detached



 
Tenuto mark: press into the note, giving it its full value. Give the note extra emphasis by simply stressing the its count value


 
 
Tremolo: play the notes back and forth as rapidly as you can

Yoke Wong recommends the Easy Beginner Piano Course


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