Reading Dynamics

Contributor: Morgan Haney. Lesson ID: 13347

Dynamics are an important part of music because they allow a composer to communicate how they want their music to be performed. Learn how to decipher dynamics in some famous pieces of music!


Musical Arts

Fine Arts
learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Now that you've learned how to read pitch and rhythm, you can decipher the music notated on the staves below.

music staves

  • But what do the p and mp markings between the staves mean, and how do they help us read music more accurately?

Today you'll learn how dynamics help the composer communicate with the artists who perform their music, and how those markings can make a piece much more exciting!

Dynamics in music are used to notate how a series of notes is to be played.

The most common dynamic markings are those used to communicate the volume of a section of music.

The image above with the p and mp markings between the staves is a perfect example. Those letters tell the musicians at what volume to play each bar of music.

Explore how to read these and other dynamic markings!

Markings for Volume

Dynamic markings that indicate volume are written with combinations of the letters p, f, and m.

These markings will be above or below the staff; a grand staff (treble and bass clefs included) could be in between treble and bass.

You need to know three important Italian words to understand these markings.

Piano means gently in Italian, indicating that the musicians should play softly. It is notated with the letter p.


Forte means strong in Italian, meaning the musicians should play loudly. It is notated with an f.


Mezzo means half or middle in Italian, which is always attached to another letter in dynamics. So mp means medium-soft, and mf means medium-loud.

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Combinations of these letters allow for more nuance in dynamic markings.

The marking ppp means that the musicians should play very, very quietly, and fff means they should play very, very loud.

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  • What about pf and fp?

These are special markings that you won't often see, and they indicate a quick change from soft to loud or vice versa, usually within the same note.

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There are also bracket markings which indicate crescendos and decrescendos:

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They indicate that the music gradually gets louder (crescendo) or softer (decrescendo). So, a piece of music might be marked p<ff, meaning the music gradually goes from soft to very loud.

Markings for Articulation

The other common purpose of dynamic markings is to indicate articulation.

Explore the two major articulation markings in the video below.

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Legato and staccato are also Italian words!

Move to the Got It? section to test your memory of these dynamic markings.

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