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Italian Terms

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What are they?

Music Notation is a universal language, understood by flautists, cellists, pianists and more. In fact, apart from a few guitarists' obsession with reading nothing but tablature or tab, it's pretty much totally universal. Unlike tab, it tells you what you must achieve, not how you must achieve it, and it leaves sufficient room for the player to consider alternative fingerings, for example.

But whilst it expresses pretty concisely the pitch and relative lengths of all the notes, it gives little clue whether the music is fast and furious, or slow and gentle. It gives few indications about how to shape the music.

"Italian Terms" is a catch-all name for the narrative or descriptive mark-ups that express, in plain language, how to shape the piece. Italian is used simply because it provides a standard vocabulary that, once learned, is understood the world over.

This page defines some of the more common terms. There is a page of humorous definitions here!

Accelerando or Accel    Becoming gradually faster
Ad lib or Ad Libitum   At (the performer's) pleasure
Adagio   Slow and leisurely
Affetuoso   Tenderly
Affretando   Hurrying, pressing onwards
Agitato   Agitated
Allargando   Broadening out, often with an increase in tone
Allegretto   Slightly less than Allegro ("A little allegro")
Allegro   Lively, reasonably fast
Amoroso   Loving
Andante   Literally Walking - at a moderate pace
Andantino   Usually a little faster than Andante. Can sometimes mean the opposite!
Animato   Animated
A piacere   At pleasure
Appassionato   Passionately
Assai   Very
A tempo   Become normal speed after a diversion
Attacca   Go on straight away
     
Ben, bene   Well (Ben Marcato : Well marked)
Bis   Twice
Brillante   Sparkling, brilliant
Brio   Vigour. (Con Brio : With Vigour)
     
Calando   Decreasing tone and speed
Cantabile or Cantando   In a singing style
Capo   The beginning (literally, the head)
Capriccio   A caprice - a piece in light-hearted style
Coda   (Literally tail) - a passage to conclude a piece or movement
Col, colla   With the
Come   As (Come Prima : As At First) (Come Sopra : As Above)
Comodo   Convenient (usually in the sense of "at a convenient pace")
Con   With (Con Moto : With Movement)
Crescendo or cresc   Getting louder
     
Da   From, of
Da Capo or D C   From the beginning
Dal Segno or D §   From the sign (§)
Deciso   Decisively, firmly
Decrescendo   Becoming gradually softer
Delicato   Delicately
Diminuendo or dim   Becoming gradually softer
Dolce   Sweetly
Dolore   Grief, sorrow
     
En dehors (Fr)   Prominently or emphasised
Energico   With energy
Espressivo or Espress   With expression, with feeling
Estinto   As quiet as possible (literally extinguished)
     
Felice   Happy
Feroce   Fierce
Fine   The end. DC Al Fine - back to the start, end at Fine
Forte or f   Loud
Fortissimo or ff   Very Loud
Forzando or fz or sfz   With a strong accent (literally forced)
Fuoco   Fire
Furioso   Furiously
     
Giocoso   Gay, merry
Giusto   Strict, exact (Giusto tempo : In strict time)
Grandioso   Grandly
Grave   Very Slow
Grazioso   Gracefully
     
Impetuoso   Impetuously
Incalzando   Increasing speed, with an implication of increasing thickness of sound
     
Lacrimoso   Sadly (literally tearfully)
Langsam (Ger)   Slow
Largo   Slow and stately, broad
Larghetto   Less slow than Largo
Legato   Smoothly
Leggerio   Lightly
Lento   Slowly
Loco   (Literally place or in place) - restore normal pitch after 8va
     
Ma   But (Ma non troppo : But not too much)
Maestoso   Majestically
Mancando   Dying away
Marcato   Marked, accented
Marcia   A march
Marziale   Martial (not to be confused with marital!)
Meno   Less (Meno Mosso : Less Movement)
Mesto   Sadly
Mezzo forte or mf   Moderately Loud
Mezzo piano or mp   Moderately Soft
Misterioso   Mysteriously
Moderato   Moderately (applied to tempo)
Molto   Much
Morendo   Dying away
Mosso   Movement
Moto   Movement
     
Non troppo   Not too much
     
Obbligato   Cannot be omitted
Op. or Opus   Work (a published composition)
Ossia   Or (denoting a choice)
     
Passionato   Passionately
Patetico   With feeling or pathos
Perdendosi   Dying away
Pesante   Heavily
Piacevole   Pleasingly
Piangevole   Plaintively
Pianissimo or pp   Very soft
Piano or p   Soft
Piu   More (Piu Mosso : More movement)
Pizzicato or pizz   Literally plucked (but on the guitar, deliberately damped)
Pochettino   Rather little
Pochissimo   Very little
Poco   A little (Poco a poco : Little by little or gradually)
Precipitato, Precipitoso   Impetuously
Presto   Very quick
Prestissimo   As fast as possible
Primo   First
     
Quasi   As if, almost
     
Rallentando or Rall   Becoming gradually slower
Rinforzando   Reinforcing
Risoluto   Boldly
Ritardando or Ritard   Becoming gradually slower
Ritenuto or Rit   Held back (Slower at once)
Ritmico   Rhythmically
Rubato   Robbed, stolen - making a note or notes longer at the expense of others
     
Scherzo   A Joke
Scherzando   Playfully
Sec, Secco   Detached (literally dry)
Segno   A § sign (See D §)
Semplice   Simple
Sempre   Always
Senza   Without
Sforzando or sf or sfz   With a sudden accent
Simile   In a similar manner
Slargando/Slentando   Gradually slower
Smorzando   Dying away
Soave   Gentle, smooth
Sopra   Above
Spiritoso   Spirited
Staccato or stacc   Short, detached
Strepitoso   Noisy, boisterous
Stringendo   Gradually faster
Subito or Sub   Suddenly
     
Tacet (Lat)   It is silent
Tempo   The speed of the music
Tempo di gavotta   In the time (and style) of a gavotte
Tempo Primo or Tempo I   Resume the original speed
Teneramente   Tenderly
Tenuto or ten   Held
Tranquillo   Quietly
Troppo   Too much. (Ma non troppo - but not too much)
     
Vivace   Lively, Quick
Volante   Flying
VS (Volti Subito)   Turn the page quickly

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