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Victoria Williams

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Grade 1 Tests

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16. Dynamics

Grade One Music Theory Lesson 16: Dynamics

Suitable for:  ABRSM Grade 1   Trinity Grade 1   GCSE   AP Music Theory Beginners 


Dynamics - or "Volume Control"

"Dynamics" are all about the volume of music - is it quiet or loud, does it increase or decrease in volume?


Static or Changing?

Players need to understand quite a few different words (and abbreviations or "short forms") for dynamics. To make things easier, we can group these words/abbreviations into two categories - static and changing.

  • A static dynamic means that the all the music should be played at that volume, until another direction is given.
  • A changing dynamic means that the music should gradually begin to change in volume (up or down) and continue changing until the next direction.


Static Dynamics

We use Italian words or abbreviations to indicate static dynamics.

means "quietly" or "softly", and Forte means "loudly". Piano is shortened to p and forte is shortened to f.

Mezzo means "half", and it is shortened to m. Usually we translate this as "moderately" for dynamics.

The ending -issimo on a word means "very"- it's indicated by a double p or a double f.

This gives us six possibilities: here they are in order from loudest to quietest: 

ff = Fortissimo = very loud
f = Forte = loud
mf = Mezzo Forte = moderately loud
mp = Mezzo Piano = moderately quiet
p = Piano = quiet
pp = Pianissimo = very quiet


Changing Dynamics

Gradual increases in volume are shown either with Italian words, or with symbols.

(pronounced "kre-shen-do") means "gradually getting louder", and is shortened to cresc.

Diminuendo (pronounced "di-min-yu-en-do") means "gradually getting quieter", and is shortened to dim. Decrescendo means the same thing.

The same instructions can be given with "hairpin" symbols:

Crescendo symbol music theorygetting louder 

Diminuendo (decrescendo) symbol music theorygetting quieter


The hairpin is placed under the score, between the first and last notes which gradually change their dynamic.

(Just in case you were wondering, the instrument which we call the "piano" today, is really called a "pianoforte", and was given that name because it's capable of playing a wide range of dynamics, unlike other keyboard instruments at the time it was invented!)




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