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Musical Dynamics

Musical Dynamics is part 31 in a 31 part series on musical notation and basic music theory. Musical dynamics indicate how loud or soft we play in different parts of a song or composition.

The best arrangements in music, whether it's pop, rock, classical etc., make use of dynamics to create a more emotional piece of music.

Common markings for musical dynamics:

However, everyone has a different interpretation of what "loud" or "soft" is. The dB next to each marking (below) stands for decibel (or volume level).

30 dB is the volume of a whisper
60-70 dB is the volume of a normal conversation
90 dB is the volume of a train whistle
100 dB is the volume of a motorcycle
140 dB is the volume of a jet engine

In addition, you can have:

PPPP - pianissississimo - very, very, very soft

ffff - fortissississimo - very, very, very loud

Although, most songs spend a lot of time at mezzo forte and mezzo piano, these other dynamics are still used all the time.

You will see these markings if you are playing any kind of sheet music. You can also place them in any kind of music you are creating to tell the players the volume that you want certain sections to be.

Musical dynamics really separate the amazing bands or songwriters from the mediocre ones. Even if you aren't notating dynamics on sheet music, you still want to vary the volume or energy of a song as you deliver it. It makes listening to a song much more captivating.


Another use of dynamics is to build an arrangement and then break it back down again only to build it back up. This can be done by beginning the song simply with an acoustic guitar or piano and vocal. Slowly you add instruments with each new section of music.

Generally two-thirds of the way through a piece you are at a musical climax and the listener's ears need a rest. It's a perfect place to break back down again. It also keeps a listener's interest to have this variety.

Listen to Stairway to Heaven, arguably the greatest rock song of all time! Jimmy Page starts the song with acoustic guitar and flutes. Robert Plant's lilting voice sits gently above in the beginning of the arrangement. John Bonham's drums don't kick in until well into the piece.

The song constantly evolves and changes feel with a brilliant use of varied instrumentation and dynamics until culminating with the most memorable guitar solo in rock history!


There are two other main dynamic markings to be aware of. The first is the crescendo which means to gradually get louder and it looks like this.

The other is the decrescendo (or sometimes called diminuendo) which means to gradually get softer and it looks like this.

Here's what it would look like to gradually get louder and then gradually get softer.

Take a look at the appendices for some music theory practice and to find some music notation software.

Continue to Appendix A, Music Theory Worksheets & Games

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