Basic and more specific music terms for piano

Here you will find information that helps you understand terms that often turns up on piano sheets.

Dynamics in music and the abbreviations

On piano sheets you will often find abbreviations like “pp”, “mf” and so on. The abbreviations stand for Italian terms which are directions for the dynamics, in other words, how soft or loud you should play. The abbreviations for dynamics and their meanings are:

p (piano) – soft
pp (pianissimo) – very soft.
mp (mezzo piano) – moderately soft
mf (mezzo forte) – moderately loud
f (forte) – loud
ff (fortissimo) – very loud

Tempo in music and used terms

There is also common use to indicate the tempo with Italian terms. As well as the other terms in this overview these are often written out on the piano sheet and some of the most common are listed below:

Largo – very slow
Adagio – slow
Andante – walking pace
Moderato – moderately
Allegretto – fairly fast
Allegro – fast
Vivace – very fast

For your reference, a moderate tempo is around 100 beats per minute.  

Besides these terms, you could find directions for gradual changes:

Crescendo – gradually louder.
Decrescendo – gradually softer.
Accelerando – gradually increase the tempo.
Ritardando – gradually decrease the tempo.

Moods in music and used terms

Another thing that can turn up on piano sheets is indications of moods. These are instructions that lead you to a right expression than you play. There is of course room for a personal approach in the manner of expression, but these mood indications can be seen as guidelines.

Cantabile – in a singing style
Con amore – with love
Con brio – with spirit
Dolce – sweetly
Furioso – with passion
Scherzando – playfully

Terms connected with scales

Even scales have its own terminology, mostly used to tell how many notes that is included per octave in a scale or the interval structure of it.

Tetratonic scale – a scale with four notes, since these are unusual no examples could be found on this site
Pentatonic scale – a scale with five notes, for example the Pentatonic Scale
Hexatonic scale – a scale with six notes, for example the Whole Tone Scale
Heptatonic scale – a scale with seven notes, for example the Major Scale
Octatonic scale – a scale with eight notes, for example the Diminished Scale
Diatonic scalesee article about this term
Symmetrical scale – a scale with the same interval throughout the scale