Italian for "very loud." In most music, this marking is supposed to mean "as loud as you can play or sing and still sound beautiful."
Italian for "loud" or "strong."
Italian for "medium loud." Softer than forte, but still strong.
Italian for "medium quiet." Softer than mezzo-forte, but not quite quiet. :)
Italian for "soft."
Italian for "very soft." In the olden days, this meant "play or sing as quietly as you can and still sound beautiful."
If a phrase of music is a short passage, melodic line, or idea, phrasing is the art of giving some sort of dynamic shape to that line. Good phrasing serves to enhance the meaning of the music.
Crescendo is an Italian term that means "growing." Just like the symbol indicates, you grow in loudness over time instead of all of a sudden singing or playing more loudly.
Decrescendo means to gradually get softer. Dynamic markings like this were also not common before the time of Beethoven (1770-1827). Supposedly he handed an orchestra a copy of a symphony that they were to play and it had crescendi and decrescendi (plural forms of crescendo and decrescendo, respectively) in it and the orchestra players thought he was crazy for asking them to play like that!
Mezza di voce
Mezza di voce is am advanced skill. A singer must take a note all the way through the dynamic range up to fortissimo and bring it back, seamlessly, to pianissimo.
Terraced dynamics
When you purposefully perform without crescendi or decrescendi (meaning that each passage or section of the music maintains the same dynamic level), you are using terraced dynamics. Music written during the Baroque and Classical periods of Western European music history is usually performed with terraced dynamics because, at that time, composers did not ask for gradual dynamic changes in the music. Concepts like phrasing and accenting important notes were not alien to the performers of the Baroque. They just didn't start a section piano and end up forte two measures later. For example.
Accents and sforzandi
Accents are different types of ways to attack (begin) a note. Each of the different symbols indicates either a change in loudness, duration, weight, or some combination of those. A sforzando (Italian for "forced") is another way of asking for the same thing. Sforzando piano is a combination of the POW! and then an immediate decrease in volume.

Vocal Terms -- Theory Terms -- Tone -- Musicianship
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