Music Terms: The Road Signs of Music




Musical Terms: What They Tell Us

     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 or soft.

     Here is a list of commonly used musical dynamics:

Pianissimo: Play very softly.
Piano: Soft.
Mezzo piano: Moderately soft
Mezzo forte: Moderately loud
Forte: 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 to another.

     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 corresponds to.

     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.


Back to Piano Lessons at

Play piano lessons for adults on piano chords