Dynamics is the volume factor in music. There are two broad categories: a relative volume level which does not change until some marking specifies it does; and a volume that changes gradually or suddenly.

There are dozens of symbols and words used to indicate dynamics. Most of the words are Italian, used in full or abbreviation, and the symbols are often the first letter of the word.

All dynamic markings are relative. They contain no specific volume level, such as decibels, or how much the volume is to increase or decrease. While there are guidelines in usage – forte must be louder than piano for instance – the interpretation is largely up to the performer.

Dynamics is separate and distinct from articulation, although they are often combined when shaping the music in performance.

A small sample of dynamic markings:

f forte, boldy, loud
ff fortissimo, very boldly, very loud
p piano, softly, quietly
pp pianissimo, very softly, very quietly
< crescendo, get louder.
> decrescendo, get softer.

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