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Music Terms

We have listed below some musical terms together with their abbreviations and meanings.

Abbreviation Term Meaning



Crescendo get louder


Diminuendo get quieter
p Piano quiet


Pianissimo very quiet


(Jenifer Hood)

See note below

very, very quiet
mp mezzopiano quite quiet
mf mezzoforte quite loud
f forte loud
ff fortissimo very loud
fff fortississimo (Jenifer Hood)

See note below

very, very loud
sf sforzando suddenly very loud

Jenifer also advises that the general rule is to add an "iss" for every added f or p.  
e.g  .ff = fortissimo so fff = fortiss
issimo and pp = Pianissimo so ppp = pianississimo.


Sorry, June, but as much as I loved your page, there is one flaw. I'm a professional musician from Finland, and I wanna say, that pianississimo is not a real word at all. There right term is piano pianissimo for ppp, and fff is forte fortissimo.

Elina Juuti

My response -

Being a professional musician yourself you are obviously far more qualified that me on this subject but, having done a little more research I find that the term "pianississimo" is, in fact, featured in many dictionaries and musical sites. I am wondering if, perhaps, it is a difference within geographical regions, although I had thought music was fairly general worldwide.

I could, however, not find many references to the term "piano pianissimo" being used for ppp.

I did come across a site which mentions that musicians have devised various neologisms for these designations, including fortississimo/pianississimo, forte fortissimo/piano pianissimo, and more simply triple forte/triple piano or molto fortissimo/molto pianissimo.

Mr. Brian Hughes has kindly added to this discussion by sending in the following comments:-

This is regarding the use of the word pianississimo. In the Italian language there is no such word. Italian is similar to English in its use of adjectives which can be formed in to the comparative and the superlative.

soft - piano (p)

softer (more softer) - pui piano (piu p) (comparative) softest (the most soft) - pianissimo (pp) (superlative)

loud - forte (f)

louder - piu forte (piu f) (comparative) loudest - fortissimo (ff) (superlative)

Just like in English, there can be nothing greater than the most (issimo).

Originally, the Italian dynamic system which spread throughout Europe spanned from the softest (pp) to the loudest (ff). But there seems to have occurred a sort of dynamic inflation. Composer's wanted sounds that were louder and softer than the sounds produced by earlier manifestation of instruments (such as the modern piano versus the fortepiano; where improvements in the action and the resonance both increased its volume and its ability to play soft. To them there was no comparison between the sound of the late 18th century ff and a late 19th century sound that was to be as loud as possible.

And now we will see modern composers write not only fff but also ffff and even fffff. I wonder what an Italian teacher says to their students when they see those symbol. Probably something similar to what I say to my students. FFF that's really loud, louder than loudest. FFFF that's unbelievably loud! And when my students ask what FF means. I tell them to imagine a world that has no engines, no amplification, no electric motor, no jack hammers, no chain saws. A world that when compared to our time seems as if everything has stopped and all is utterly quiet. And that utter quietness was universal. Then I ask them to imagine what would be a loud sound in that world: that is the meaning of ff.





  Adagio slow
  largo slow and dignified
  andante flowing, at walking pace
  allegro quick and bright
  allegretto a little slower than allegro
  vivace fast and lively
  presto very quick
  accelerando getting faster
  ritenuto (rit.) holding back
  rallentando (rall.) slowing tempo (Jenifer Hood)

flexible tempo

  rubato flexible tempo (Jenifer Hood)
  cantabile singing style
  dolce soft and sweet
  espressivo expressively
  lacrimato tearfully/crying (song)

(Stephen Moore)

  legato smooth
  staccato detached


You may also find the following other pages useful and, hopefully, interesting:-

Simple explanation of musical notation

Musical Mnemonics and Naming the Scale






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