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Dynamics – or “Volume Control”

“Dynamics” are all about the volume (loudness) of music – is it quiet or loud, does it increase or decrease in volume?

Constant 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 – constant and changing.

  • A constant 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.

Constant Dynamics

We use Italian words or abbreviations to indicate constant dynamics.

Piano 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:


Diminuendo symbol:


The hairpin is normally placed under the score, between the start and end notes of the dynamic change.

(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!)

Dynamics Exercises

Point your mouse at the symbols to reveal the answers (tap on mobile devices).

1. Write the dynamics p mf ff pp f mp in the correct order, from the loudest to the quietest. The first answer is given.

Static dynamics - Grade One Music Theory Exercises

2. What do these symbols mean?

hairpin dynamics - Grade One Music Theory Exercises

3. Which note in this melody would sound the loudest?

Hairpin dynamics 2 - Grade One Music Theory Exercises

4. Which note in this melody would sound the loudest?