How to Read Dynamic Signs in Sheet Music

The Meaning Behind the Music Notations and Symbols

A cadenza is often performed at the end of a movement with a virtuosic improvisation by a solo instrumentalist or singer.
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Dynamic signs are musical notations used to signify what volume the note or phrase should be performed at.

Not only do dynamic signs dictate the volume (loudness or softness), but also the change in volume over time (gradually louder or gradually softer). For instance, the volume could change slowly or abruptly, and at different rates.


Dynamic signs can be found on music sheets for any instruments. Instruments as different as the cello, piano, french horn and xylophone can all play notes at different volumes and thus be subject to dynamic signs.

Who Invented Dynamic Signs?

There is no record confirming who the first composer to use or invent dynamic signs was, but Giovanni Gabrieli was one of the early users of the musical notations. Gabrieli was a Venetian composer during the Renaissance and the early stages of the Baroque era. 

During the Romantic period, composers started using dynamic signs more and increased its variety. 

Table of Dynamic Signs

The table below lists the commonly used dynamic signs.

Dynamic Signs
Sign In Italian Definition
pp pianissimo very soft
p piano soft
mp mezzo piano moderately soft
mf mezzo forte moderately loud
f forte loud
ff fortissimo very loud
> decrescendo gradually softer
< crescendo gradually louder
rf rinforzando sudden increase in loudness
sfz sforzando play the note with sudden emphasis