Basic Terms Every Piano Player Should Know

Musical terms are words mostly in a language other than English (Let’s face it, the Europeans got there first). The majority are Italian. Some are in German or French.

We have put together a list of musical terms that you will encounter in your music lessons:

Tempo Markings

Adagio [It.] Slow tempo.

Allegretto [It.] Slightly slower than allegro.

Allegro [It.] (allo) Merry, lively; fast.

Andante [It.] Walking pace

Largo [It.] long and broad; slow.

Lento [It.] Slow.

Moderato [It.] Moderate tempo.

Presto [It.] Very fast.


Change of Tempo Markings

Accelerando [It.] (accel.) Becoming faster and faster.

Generalpause [Ger.] (G.P.) General pause, a rest for all musicians, usually unexpected.

Lʹistesso tempo [It.] The same tempo.

Rallentando [It.] (rall.) Slowing down.

Ritardando [It.] (ritard., rit.) Slowing down gradually.

Ritenuto [It.] (riten.) Held back; generally more sudden than ritardando or rallentando.

Mosso [It.] Moved, agitated.

Stringendo [It.] Pressing forward.

Tempo Primo [It.] (Tempo I) Return to original tempo after deviating from it

Rubato[It.] This actually means ‘Steal’ in Italian; in this case, playing rubato means you will be ‘stealing time’; in execution, you would be speeding up and slowing down for expressive purposes.

Vivo [It.] Lively, brisk.


Dynamic Markings

Forte [It.] (f) Loud. (actually means ‘strong’ in Italian)

Forte‐piano [It.] (fp) Loud followed immediately by soft.

Mezzo [It.] (m) Half, medium, middle.

Piano [It.] (p) Soft.


Change of Dynamic Markings

Crescendo [It.] (cresc.) increasing in volume.

Decrescendo [It.] (decresc.) Decreasing in volume.

Diminuendo [It.] (dim.) Decreasing in volume.


Articulation & Expression Markings

Brio [It.] Vivacious, spirited.

Cantabile [It.] (cant.) play in a singing manner

Dolce [It.] Sweet. Espressivo [It.] With expression.

Legato [It.] Fastened, bound, tied; played smoothly without separation.

Leggiero [It.] Light, lightly.

Marcato [It.] Marked, stressed, emphasized.

Morendo [It.] Dying or fading away.

Semplice [It.] Simple, plain.

Sforzando [It.] (sf) Forcing, forced, accented, loud.

Staccato [It.] (stacc.) Separated, detached.

Tenuto [It.] (ten.)Keep, hold, grip; sustain without detachment.


Modifiers and Others

Alla [It.] To the, at the; in the manner of.

Coda [It.] Tail; concluding section.

Con [It.] With.

Da Capo [It.] (D.C.) The head; the beginning .

Dal Segno [It.] (D.S.) From the sign.

Divisi [It.] Part, divide.

Etto [It.] Suffix meaning “less” (allegretto is less fast, adagietto is less slow).

Fine [It.] End.

Issimo [It.] Suffix meaning “very” (pianissimo is very soft, legatissimo is very smooth).

Ma [It.] But.

Ma non troppo [It.] But not too much.

Meno [It.] Less.

Molto [It.] Very.

Non [It.] Not.

Più [It.] More.

Poco [It.] Little in amount.

Poco a poco [It.] Little by Little.

Sempre [It.] Always.

Senza [It.] Without.

Simile [It.] In a similar fashion.

Soli [It.] Within an ensemble, this refers to a passage to be played by a small group or section.

Solo [It.] Alone; a passage or entire piece to be played by one player only.

Subito [It.] Immediately, suddenly.

Un [It.] One, a, an.

Unison [En.] Same pitch.


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