Italian Music Glossary for Piano

Italian Music Glossary for Piano

Many musical terms appear frequently in piano music; some are even meant exclusively for the piano. Learn the definitions of the commands you'll need as a pianist.

       ●  View terms: A – D E – L M – R S – Z


Music Terms A

▪  a piacere: “to your pleasure/at your will”; indicates that liberties may be taken with certain aspects of the music, usually tempo. See ad libitum.

▪  : “in time; back in tempo”; indication to return to the original tempo after an alteration such as tempo rubato.

▪  a tempo di menuetto: to play “in the tempo of a minuet”; slowly and gracefully in triple meter.

▪  al coda: “to the coda [sign]”; used with the repeat commands D.C. / D.S. al coda.

▪  al fine: “to the end [of the music, or until the word fine]”; used with the repeat commands D.C. / D.S. al fine.

▪  al niente: “to nothing”; to make the volume fade very gradually into silence. See morendo.

▪  (accel.) accelerando: to “accelerate”; gradually speed up the tempo.

▪  accentato: accentuate the musical passage until otherwise specified.

▪  : indicates that the accompaniment will follow the tempo (or overall playing style) of the soloist. See concerto.

▪  : indicating a tempo near that of adagio, adagietto remains somewhat ambiguous; may be interpreted as slightly slower or faster than adagio.

Traditionally, its tempo is between adagio and andante.

▪  adagio: to play slowly and calmly; at ease. Adagio is slower than adagietto, but faster than largo.

▪  : to play very slowly and calmly; slower than adagio.

▪  : “affectionately”; encourages a performer to express warm emotions; to play affectionately with love.

See con amore.

▪  affrettando: a rushed, nervous accelerando; to hastily increase the tempo in an impatient manner. Also referred to as stringendo (It), enpressant or en serrant (Fr), and eilend or rascher (Ger). Pronounced: ah'-fret-TAHN-doh. Commonly misspelled as affretando or affrettado

▪  agile: to play swiftly and confidently; sometimes signifies a switch to double speed.

▪  agitato: to play quickly with agitation and excitement; often paired with other musical commands to add a rushed, vibrant element, as in presto agitato: “very quick and with excitement.”

▪  alla breve: “to the breve” (where breve refers to the half-note); to play in cut time. Alla breve has the 2/2 time signature, in which one beat = one half-note.

▪  alla marcia: to play “in the style of a march”; to accentuate the downbeat in 2/4 or 2/2 time.

▪  (allarg.) allargando: to “widen” or “broaden” the tempo; a slow rallentando that retains a full, prominent volume.

▪  allegretto: to play somewhat quickly; slower and slightly less lively than allegro, but faster than andante.

▪  allegrissimo: faster than allegro, but slower than presto.

▪  allegro: to play in a quick, lively tempo; faster than allegretto, but slower than allegrissim; to play in a loving manner; similar to con amore.

▪  andante: a moderate tempo; to play in a light, flowing manner; faster than adagio, but slower than allegretto. See moderato.

▪  andantino: to play with a slow, moderate tempo; slightly faster than andante, but slower than moderato. (Andantino is a diminutive of andante.)

▪  animato: “animated”; to play in an animated manner, with excitement and spirit.

▪  : a chord whose notes are played quickly in order as opposed to simultaneously; to give a chord a harp-like effect (arpa is Italian for “harp”).

▪  arpeggiato is an arpeggio in which the notes are struck progressively faster.

▪  assai: “very”; used with another musical command to augment its effect, as in lento assai: “very slow”, or vivace assai: “very lively and quick.”

▪  attacca: to move immediately to the next movement without a pause; a seamless transition into a movement or passage.


Music Terms B

▪  brillante: to play in a lustrous manner; to make a song or passage stand out with brilliance.

▪  : “lively”; to play with vigor and spirit; to make a composition full of life. See con brio, below.

▪  : to play in a blunt, abrupt manner; to play with impatient accentuation.




Music Terms C

▪  calando: indicates a gradual decrease in the tempo and volume of a song; the effect of a ritardando with a diminuendo.

▪  capo: refers to the beginning of a musical composition or movement.

  Note: The guitar fret-holding device is pronounced kay'-poh.

▪  coda: a musical symbol used to organize complex musical repetitions. The Italian phrase al coda instructs a musician to move immediately to the next coda, and can be seen in commands such as dal segno al coda.

▪  : “like at first”; indicates a return to a previous musical state (usually referring to tempo). See tempo primo.

▪  comodo: “comfortably”; used with other musical terms to moderate their effects; for example, tempo comodo: “at a reasonable speed” / adagio comodo: “comfortable and slow.” See moderato.

▪  : to be played affectionately with warm emotion and loving conviction.

▪  : “with love”; to play in a loving manner.

▪  : to play with vigor and spirit; often seen with other musical commands, as in allegro con brio: “quick and lively.”

▪  : “with expression”; often written with other musical commands, as in tranquillo con espressione: “slowly, with peace and expression.”

▪  con fuoco: “with fire”; to play eagerly and passionately; also fuocoso.

▪  con moto: “with motion”; to play in an animated manner. See animato.

▪  con spirito: “with spirit”; to play with spirit and conviction. See spiritoso.

▪  concerto: an arrangement written for solo instruments (such as a piano) with orchestral accompaniment.

▪  (cresc.) crescendo: to gradually increase the volume of a song until otherwise noted; marked by a horizontal, opening angle.


Music Terms D

▪  D.C. al coda: “da capo al coda”; indication to repeat from the beginning of the music, play until you encounter a coda, then skip to the next coda sign to continue.

▪  D.C. al fine: “da capo al fine”; indication to repeat from the beginning of the music, and continue until you reach a final barline or double-barline marked with the word fine.

▪  D.S. al coda: “dal segno al coda”; indication to start back at the segno, play until you encounter a coda, then skip to the next coda.

▪  D.S. al fine: “dal segno al fine”; indication to start back at the segno, and continue playing until you reach a final or double-barline marked with the word fine.

▪  da capo: “from the beginning”; to play from the start of the song or movement.

▪  : “from nothing”; to gradually bring notes out of complete silence; a crescendo that rises slowly from nowhere.

▪  decrescendo: to gradually decrease the volume of the music; marked in sheet music with a narrowing angle.

▪  delicato: “delicately”; to play with a light touch and an airy feel.

▪  (dim.) diminuendo: indication to gradually decrease the volume of the music.

▪  dolce: to play in a tender, adoring manner; to play sweetly with a light touch.

▪  : very sweetly; to play in a particularly delicate manner.

▪  doloroso: “painfully; in a painful manner.”; to play with a forlorn, melancholy tone. Also con dolore: “with pain.”