Musical Terms: What They
Dynamics, fermatas, repeats, tempo and others are
all considered to be musical terms.
The music for a piece contains several signs and symbols that serve to
direct the musician(s) so that the piece can be played properly, with
the correct dynamics and musical expression. Some of these words tell
the musician how to play the note or series of notes, whether it be loud
Here is a list of commonly used musical dynamics:
Pianissimo: Play very softly.
Mezzo piano: Moderately soft
Mezzo forte: Moderately loud
Fortissimo: Play very loudly.
Sforzando: Strong, fierce, forced, and powerful.
Crescendo: The music gradually gets louder.
Diminuendo or Decrescendo: A slow, steady decrease in volume.
One musical piece can contain a variety of dynamics, ranging from the
soft pianissimos to loud fortes. Sometimes the conductor or director of
a musical group will cater to his or her own interpretation of a piece
and take liberties with the dynamics.
Beats per minute (bpm) is the measure used to calculate tempo. If a
piece had a tempo of 60 bpm, then the music would exactly match a clock
that ticked every second. The tempo for the piece is usually indicated
in bpm (beats per minute) at the beginning. Some music students find a
metronome to be a helpful training tool. You can set a metronome to
click to a number of different beats per minute; this helps music
students play at a consistent tempo. You will notice drummers in rock
bands beat their drumsticks for a count of four or call out, "1 ,2, 3,
4!" in the proper tempo; this conveys the tempo to the other members of
the band. Tempo sets the overall feeling of the piece, and is essential
for musicians who accompany dancers. A particular tempo is required for
dances such as the waltz and the two-step.
Songs are divided into measures by bar lines, which are vertical lines
on the staff. Measures separate the music into regular intervals whether
it is three, four or six beats for each measure. The measures will all
have the same amount of beats throughout the entire song, with rare
exceptions. Each measure is numbered so that musicians that play
together have something they can easily follow.
For instance, the conductor might request that the orchestra "start with
measure 31". A repeat (symbol) is frequently applied in music. A double
bar line with two dots right before it means that a particular passage
of music is to be repeated. This will direct the musician to go back to
the start of that particular passage, and play it another time. There
are other notations, like the coda and the da capo (dc), which direct a
musician to the next point in the music that should be played, sometimes
calling for the musician to repeat a passage and sometimes jumping ahead
A fermata, also known as a bird's eye, is written into the music to
indicate a note that should be played for longer than normal. The
musician or conductor usually has discretion in how long the note is to
be played. A fermata is generally shown over the top of the note it
Some musical pieces have written breath marks that tell the singers or
wind instrument players where they can breathe, and they let string
instrument players know when they can lift the bow.