AskDefine | Define decrescendo

Dictionary Definition

decrescendo adj : gradually decreasing in volume [syn: diminuendo] n : (music) a gradual decrease in loudness [syn: diminuendo] v : grow quieter; "The music decrescendoes here" [ant: crescendo]

User Contributed Dictionary



From decrescendo.


  1. An instruction to play gradually more softly.


  1. To gradually become quieter


  1. gradually becoming quieter



Verb form


Extensive Definition

In music, dynamics normally refers to the volume of a sound or note, but also to every aspect of the execution of a given piece, either stylistic (staccato, legato etc.) or functional (velocity). The term is also applied to the written or printed musical notation used to indicate dynamics.

Relative loudness

The two basic dynamic indications in music are:
  • p or piano, meaning "soft."
  • f or forte, meaning "loud" or "strong".
More subtle degrees of loudness or softness are indicated by:
  • mp, standing for mezzo-piano, and meaning "medium-quiet" or "moderately-quiet" and
  • mf, standing for mezzo-forte, and meaning "medium-loud" or "moderately-loud".
Beyond f and p, there are also
  • ff, standing for "fortissimo", and meaning "very loud" and
  • pp, standing for "pianissimo", and meaning "very quiet".
To indicate even more extreme degrees of intensity, more ps or fs are added as required. fff and ppp are found in sheet music quite frequently. No standard names for fff and ppp exist, but musicians have invented a variety of neologisms for these designations, including fortissimissimo/pianissimissimo, fortississimo/pianississimo, forte fortissimo/piano pianissimo, and more simply triple forte/triple piano or molto fortissimo/molto pianissimo (although in Italian the last expression is not correct). ppp has also been designated "pianissimo possibile".
A few pieces contain dynamic designations with more than three fs (sometimes called "fortondoando") or ps. The Norman Dello Joio Suite for Piano ends with a crescendo to a ffff, and Tchaikovsky indicated a bassoon solo pppppp in his Pathétique symphony and ffff in passages of his 1812 Overture and the 2nd movement of his 5th symphony. ffff is also found in a prelude by Rachmaninoff, op.3-2. Shostakovich even went as loud as fffff in his fourth symphony. Gustav Mahler, in the second movement of his Seventh Symphony, gives the violins a marking of fffff, along with a footnote directing 'pluck so hard that the strings hit the wood.' On another extreme, Carl Nielsen, in the second movement of his Symphony No. 5, marked a passage for woodwinds a decrescendo to ppppp. Another more extreme dynamic is in György Ligeti's Devil's Staircase Etude, which has at one point a ffffff and progresses to a fffffff.
Dynamic indications are relative, not absolute. mp does not indicate an exact level of volume, it merely indicates that music in a passage so marked should be a little louder than p and a little quieter than mf. Interpretations of dynamic levels are left mostly to the performer; in the Barber Piano Nocturne, a phrase beginning pp is followed by a decrescendo leading to a mp marking. Another instance of performer's-discretion in this piece occurs when the left hand is shown to crescendo to a f, and then immediately after marked p while the right hand plays the melody f. It has been speculated that this is used simply to remind the performer to keep the melody louder than the harmonic line in the left hand. For some music notation programs, there might be default MIDI key velocity values associated with these indications, but more sophisticated programs allow users to change these as needed.

Sudden changes

Hairpins are usually written below the staff, but are sometimes found above, especially in music for singers or in music with multiple melody lines being played by a single performer. They tend to be used for dynamic changes over a relatively short space of time, while cresc., decresc. and dim. are generally used for dynamic changes over a longer period. For long stretches, dashes are used to extend the words so that it is clear over what time the event should occur. It is not necessary to draw dynamic marks over more than a few bars, whereas word directions can remain in force for pages if necessary.
For more quick changes in dynamics, molto cresc. and molto dim. are often used, where the molto means a lot. Similarly, for slow changes poco a poco cresc. and poco a poco dim. are used, where poco a poco translates as bit by bit.

Words indicating changes of dynamics

  • al niente: to nothing
  • calando: becoming softer
  • crescendo: becoming louder
  • decrescendo or diminuendo: becoming softer
  • perdendo or perdendosi: losing volume, fading into nothing, dying away
  • morendo: dying away
  • marcato: stressed, pronounced
  • sotto voce: opposite of marcato, in an undertone (literally "beneath the voice")
  • in rilievo: indicates that a particular instrument is to play slightly louder than the others so as to stand out (be "in relief") over the ensemble


The Renaissance composer Giovanni Gabrieli was one of the first to indicate dynamics in music notation, but dynamics were used sparingly by composers until the late 18th century. Bach used the terms piano, più piano, and pianissimo (written out as words), and in some cases it may be that ppp was considered to mean pianissimo in this period.

Different approach

In modern musical interpretation also other meanings of dynamics are approached. Dynamics can also be seen and perceived as 'a measure of movement'. The several degrees of 'loudness' can also be interpreted in a more symbolical way, as degrees of tension. An example: somebody who whispers can still be very intense to listen to, and somebody who yells can sound faint. Also one can imagine that distance is influencing the perceived dynamics. That's why also the following categories are seen:
  • spatial dynamics (space-distance)
  • tension dynamics (amount of musical tension)
  • absolute dynamics (volume button dynamics)
  • relative dynamics (relation between several musical context dependent items)
  • psychological dynamics (the suggestion counts, not the measurable loudness)
Also dynamics can be influenced by the amount of simultaneous tones or instruments.
decrescendo in Bulgarian: Динамика (музика)
decrescendo in Czech: Dynamika (hudba)
decrescendo in Danish: Dynamik (musik)
decrescendo in German: Dynamik (Musik)
decrescendo in Esperanto: dinamiko (muziko)
decrescendo in Estonian: Dünaamika (muusika)
decrescendo in Spanish: Dinámica (música)
decrescendo in French: Nuance (solfège)
decrescendo in Italian: Dinamica (musica)
decrescendo in Hebrew: דינמיקה (מוזיקה)
decrescendo in Georgian: დინამიკა (მუსიკა)
decrescendo in Dutch: Dynamiek (muziek)
decrescendo in Japanese: 強弱法
decrescendo in Norwegian: Dynamikk (musikk)
decrescendo in Polish: Dynamika (muzyka)
decrescendo in Portuguese: Dinâmica musical
decrescendo in Kölsch: Dünahmik (Mussigk)
decrescendo in Russian: Динамика (музыка)
decrescendo in Simple English: Dynamics (music)
decrescendo in Serbian: Динамика (музика)
decrescendo in Swedish: Styrkegradsbeteckningar
decrescendo in Ukrainian: Динаміка (музика)
decrescendo in Chinese: 強弱法

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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