10 Dynamics

Musicians generally use Italian terms to describe dynamics. As learned in the Prelude, dynamics refer to the loudness or softness of a musical sound.

In the era when these terms began to be used regularly in Western music, Italy dominated the musical scene. The two basic terms used are forte (loud) and piano (soft). The harpsichord, an earlier keyboard instrument, was incapable of being played at varying dynamic levels based on how hard or soft the keys were depressed.┬áDuring the eighteenth century, manufacturers began experimenting with new techniques of sound production for keyboard instruments. They began making instruments in which a hammer struck the string when a key was depressed.┬áDepending on how forcefully the keys were depressed affected the dynamic level of the notes played. One of these newfangled instruments was called a pianoforte or, “soft-loud.” Today, the name has been shortened to merely piano, even though we all realize varying dynamics are possible.

Following is a list of terms and symbols used to represent dynamic levels.