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Italian Terms

In Grade One Music Theory (Trinity and ABRSM), you need to know what a handful of Italian terms mean in music.

People often wonder why most musical terms are in Italian and not another language, but actually lots of other languages have been used by composers, in particular German and French. Italy was the birthplace of the Renaissance Era (from about 1350 onwards), and was the place where classical music really took off a few centuries later. Composers from many countries used Italian terms because they were associated with musical excellence, and were understood around the world. Today people think of Italian terms as the normal language in music. 

From the Grade 4 music theory exam onwards (ABRSM) you’ll need to know foreign terms not only in Italian, but also in French and German!

List of Terms

Here is a complete list of all the Italian terms for ABRSM Grade One Music Theory.

Terms required by Trinity are marked with a star *.

It’s easier to learn foreign terms if you learn them in groups, and only try to learn a few each day. 

The strongest syllable is in italics

Italian TermPronunciationAbbreviationEnglish Meaning
TEMPO
A tempoa tempoh At the original speed /time
Accelerandoa-che-le-ran-dohAccel.Gradually getting faster
Adagioa-dah-jioh Slowly
Allegro*a-le-groh Quickly
Allegrettoa-le-gre-toh Fairly quick
Allegro moderato   a-le-groh mo-de-ra-toh Moderately quick
Andante*an-dan-te At a walking pace
Moderato*mo-de-ra-toh Moderately
Rallentandora-len-tan-dohRall.Gradually getting slower
Ritardandori-tar-dan-dohRit.Gradually getting slower
Ritenuto*ri-ten-oo-tohRit., Riten.Held back
DYNAMICS
Crescendo*cre-shen-dohCresc.Gradually getting louder
Decrescendodee-cre-shen-dohDecresc.Gradually getting quieter
Diminuendo*di-mi-nyu-en-dohDim.Gradually getting quieter
Forte*for-tayFLoud
Fortissimo*for-tis-i-mohFFVery loud
Mezzo forte*met-zoh for-tayMFModerately loud
Mezzo piano*met-zoh pya-nohMPModerately quiet
Pianissimo*pya-ni-si-mohPPVery quiet
Piano*pyah-nohPQuiet
PHRASING
Cantabilekan-tar-bi-lay In a singing style
Legato*li-ga-toh Smoothly
Staccato*sta-kar-toh Short and detached
OTHER TERMS
Da capoda ka-pohDCFrom the beginning
Finefee-nay The end
Mezzomet-zoMHalf

Grade 1 Musical Terms Exercises

What do these Italian music theory terms mean in English?

Point your mouse over the blanks in the table (tap on mobile devices) to reveal the English.

ItalianEnglishItalian English 
A tempo At the original speed Cantabile In a singing style
Lento Slowly Dal segno From the sign
Allegro Moderato Moderately quick Mezzo forte Moderately loud
Poco Little Rallentando Gradually slowing down
Forte Loudly Staccato Short and detached
Allegretto Fairly quick Decrescendo Gradually getting softer/quieter
Diminuendo Gradually getting softer/quieter Andante At a walking pace
Fortissimo Very loudly Ritenuto Held back
Mezzo piano Moderately quiet Piano Softly/quietly
Fine End Legato Smoothly
Ritardando Gradually getting slower Da capo From the beginning
Accelerando Gradually getting faster Crescendo Gradually getting louder
Mezzo Half (or moderately) Moderato Moderately
Adagio Slowly Pianissimo Very softly/quietly

Grade 1 Terms Quiz

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Musical Terms Quiz ABRSM Grade 1

1 / 10

Which of these means "very quietly"?

2 / 10

Which of these means "from the beginning"?

3 / 10

Which of these means the same as "rallentando"?

4 / 10

Which of these means "fairly quick"?

5 / 10

Which of these means "getting quicker"?

6 / 10

What does "staccato" mean?

7 / 10

What is the opposite of "crescendo"?

8 / 10

What does "ritenuto" mean?

9 / 10

Which of these is "at a walking pace"?

10 / 10

Which of these means the same as "diminuendo"?