Term 2 Theory Lessons & Quiz

2 Dynamics and Articulations


Dynamics refers to the volume of a sound or note. It makes music expressive and helps the musician create a mood, feeling or emotion. Loud dynamics are associated with anger, extreme happiness, or victory. Soft dynamics are associated with sadness, longing, or calm. Dynamic signs are written above or below the notes.

It is important to mention that dynamics, although they have a "standard" amount of loudness and softness, aren't measured exactly. Obviously a forte dynamic on a flute and a forte dynamic on a tuba will be quite different if you measure the actual decibel level. A single violin playing a pianissimo dynamic will sound much quieter than an orchestra playing the same dynamic level. Dynamics are sort of relative based on the type of instrument and the group that you are playing with. However, you should be able to hear a difference between each level.

You have probably seen piano, mezzo forte and forte before, but the last few dynamics on here might be new to you.

fortepiano - If you see this written under a note, it means you should play that note forte, and then immediately drop down to a quiet piano dynamic.

sforzando - If you see this written under a note, it means you should play that note as a strong accent and then return to whatever dynamic level you were playing before.

crescendo is a special dynamic marking that indicates a gradual increase in dynamic level. Your loudness starts at the pointed end and then gradually increases over the length of the crescendo sign until it gets to its loudest point at the wide end. If the crescendo is short, then you don't have much time to increase your loudness. If the crescendo is really long, sometimes the sign isn't included and the word "cresc." is written in the music instead. In either case, it is a gradual increase in loudness over time.

diminuendo or decrescendo is the opposite of a crescendo. It indicates a gradual decrease in dynamic level. Often you will have a specific dynamic level written at the end of one of these markings to show exactly how loud you should end up being at the end. Not every decrescendo should end with you playing or singing as quiet as you can. It may only be a slight decrescendo from forte to mezzo forte. Just make sure you watch your music carefully.


An articulation is a marking that specifies how a note should be performed, either in terms of duration or stress. Some articulation markings affect the length of a note (staccato vs tenuto). Some affect the loudness of a note (accent). There are articulations that show when a singer should breathe and how a string player should operate their bow. There are, of course, far too many total articulations to focus on in Grade 8, so we will be addressing only a few of the most common ones you might see. In order (from left to right):

Staccato - the note should be played short and detached

Tenuto - the note should be played for its full value and be given a slight emphasis

Accent - the note should start with a strong emphasis

slur is a marking that means you should connect all the notes within the slur together. As a singer, you can slur by moving from one note to the next as smoothly as possible in one breath. A wind player can move their fingers and avoid tonguing or changing their embouchure between notes. A string player connects all the notes in a slur without changing their bow. Piano players have to move from one note to the next by playing the next note slightly before they release the previous one, or by easing the piano key down more slowly. They have a little less control during a slur because of the percussive way a piano operates mechanically, but they can still produce a smooth sound with lots of practice.

fermata is a marking that indicates a note should be held for a long time. If you have a conductor, they will indicate how long the note should be held. If you are playing as a soloist, it is up to you to decide how long to hold it, depending on what you are playing and the certain effect you want to create.

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