Symbols of Piano Music II

01
of 08

Musical Articulation

Articulation marks in piano music.
Some articulation marks, like staccato and marcato, may be placed above or below a note, depending on the note's position on the staff. Images © Brandy Kraemer, 2015

Note Accents & Articulation Marks

Accents and curved lines placed around music notes change the way they sound and relate to each other. This concept is called “articulation.”

Common symbols affecting articulation include:

  • Staccato
    A small dot written above or below a note that makes it brief in duration. (Not to be confused with a rhythm dot, which is written after a note-head).
  • Staccatissimo
    A small wedge or straight comma above a note that creates an exaggerated staccato; a very brief note.
  • Marcato
    Informally referred to as simply an “accent,” a marcato makes a note slightly more pronounced than surrounding notes.
  • Sforzando
    Makes a note considerably louder than surrounding notes. When a single note is affected, the abbreviation sfz is used.
    * Sforzando is also considered a dynamics command.
  • Legato or Slur
    Connects two or more different notes. In piano music, the individual notes must be struck, but there should be no audible spaces between them.
  • Tie
    A curved line that joins two or more notes of the same pitch. In piano music, notes connected by a tie are struck as one note, and are held for the total duration of all the tied notes.
  • Fermata
    An indication to hold a note or chord for any desired length. A fermata is also called a hold or a bird’s eye.
  • Arpeggio
    A squiggly vertical line in front of a chord means its notes are hit quickly in order, not simultaneously; to create a harp-like effect. Arpeggiated chords are usually played from low to high, unless marked by a downward arrow. An is a fast-moving arpeggio.

 


Continue With Articulation:
►  Full Articulation Glossary

 


More Musical Symbols:

■ Staff & Barlines
■ The Grand Staff
■ Key Signatures
■ Time Signatures

■ Note Lengths
■ Dotted Notes
■ Music Rests
■ Tempo Commands

■ Accidentals
■ Articulation
■ Dynamics & Volume
■ 8va & Octave Commands

■ Repeat Signs
■ Segno & Coda Signs
■ Pedal Marks
■ Piano Chords

■ Trills
■ Turns
■ Tremolos
■ Glissando
■ Mordents

 

Beginner Piano Lessons

 ▪  The Piano Keyboard Layout
 ▪  The Black Piano Keys
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Find Middle C on Electric Keyboards
 ▪  Left Hand Piano Fingering
 

Reading Piano Music

 ▪  Sheet Music Symbol Library
 ▪  How to Read Piano Notation
 ▪  Memorize the Staff Notes
 ▪  Illustrated Piano Chords
 ▪  Musical Quizzes & Tests
 

Piano Care & Maintenance

 ▪  Best Piano Room Conditions
 ▪  How to Clean Your Piano
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  Signs of Piano Damage
 ▪  When To Tune Your Piano
 

Getting Started on Keyboard Instruments

 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Sit at the Piano
 ▪  Buying a Used Piano

Musical Quizzes

 ▪  Identify the Piano Keys
 ▪  Key Signature Quiz
 ▪  Note Length & Rest Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
 ▪  Grand Staff Notes Quiz
 ▪  Time Signature & Rhythm Quiz

 

02
of 08

Musical Dynamics

Musical symbols marking dynamic changes.
Images © Brandy Kraemer, 2015

More on these terms: pianissimo | piano | mezzo-piano | mezzo-forte | forte | fortissimo | fortepiano | sforzando | crescendo | diminuendo

 

Musical Dynamics

Musical dynamics control the volume of a song, and may be signified by words, symbols, or both. Dynamics mark the relative changes in intensity, and do not express precise decibel levels; a song in mezzo-piano played by two different pianists will sound slightly louder or softer depending on factors such as the players’ interpretations and the voices of their instruments. However, the audible distance between pp and ff would likely sound the same from either musician.

Because a piano has a limit to how loud or soft it can sound, it’s important to consider how many dynamic commands occur in a song in order to interpret them correctly:

  • High Dynamic Activity
    A composition with a range of pppp (pianississimo) to ffff (fortississimo) will require the pianist to execute extremely subtle changes in volume in order to make room for the many dynamic commands that exist between these two extremes.

    The difference between p and mp may be difficult to distinguish, even when played back-to-back.

 

  • Calmer Dynamics
    In a song with the smaller range of p to f, you may hear a greater distance between commands because there is more room for interpretation. However, always consider a command’s true definition; forte always means “strong,” and should not be taken to mean “extremely strong,” even if it is the loudest dynamic symbol found in the sheet music.

    p and mp are distinguishable, especially when played back-to-back.

 


Continue:
►  Dynamics Symbols & Terminology Glossary

 


More Musical Symbols:

Staff & Barlines
The Grand Staff
■ Key Signatures
Time Signatures

Note Lengths
Dotted Notes
■ Music Rests
Tempo Commands

Accidentals
■ Articulation
Dynamics & Volume
■ 8va & Octave Commands

■ Repeat Signs
■ Segno & Coda Signs
■ Pedal Marks
Piano Chords

Trills
Turns
Tremolos
Glissando
Mordents

 

Beginner Piano Lessons

 ▪  The Piano Keyboard Layout
 ▪  The Black Piano Keys
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Find Middle C on Electric Keyboards
 ▪  Left Hand Piano Fingering
 

Reading Piano Music

 ▪  Sheet Music Symbol Library
 ▪  How to Read Piano Notation
 ▪  Memorize the Staff Notes
 ▪  Illustrated Piano Chords
 ▪  Musical Quizzes & Tests
 

Piano Care & Maintenance

 ▪  Best Piano Room Conditions
 ▪  How to Clean Your Piano
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  Signs of Piano Damage
 ▪  When To Tune Your Piano
 

Getting Started on Keyboard Instruments

 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Sit at the Piano
 ▪  Buying a Used Piano

Musical Quizzes

 ▪  Identify the Piano Keys
 ▪  Key Signature Quiz
 ▪  Note Length & Rest Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
 ▪  Grand Staff Notes Quiz
 ▪  Time Signature & Rhythm Quiz

 

03
of 08

Key Signatures

How key signatures work.
Images © Brandy Kraemer, 2015

Understanding Key Signatures

A key signature expresses the key of a song by displaying which notes have sharps or flats, if any. It is written as a pattern of accidentals at the beginning of a staff (between the clef and the time signature).

Key signatures imply accidentals throughout a song, therefore its own sharps or flats will not be marked in the body of the music.

Look at the image:

  • A natural sign turns the key’s C sharp into a C natural. Since an accidental or natural expires at the end of its measure, the C note turns back into a C sharp with no written indication.
  • Key signatures with the most accidentals (7) are C-sharp major and C-flat major.
  • A key change mid-line is written after a double barline. In traditional notation, the previous key is first canceled-out with naturals; in modern notation this step is skipped.


Continue:
►  Illustrated Key Signature Guide
►  Take the Key Signature Quiz!

 


More Musical Symbols:

Staff & Barlines
The Grand Staff
Key Signatures
Time Signatures

Note Lengths
Dotted Notes
■ Music Rests
Tempo Commands

Accidentals
■ Articulation
■ Dynamics & Volume
■ 8va & Octave Commands

■ Repeat Signs
■ Segno & Coda Signs
■ Pedal Marks
Piano Chords

Trills
Turns
Tremolos
Glissando
Mordents

 

Beginner Piano Lessons

 ▪  The Piano Keyboard Layout
 ▪  The Black Piano Keys
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Find Middle C on Electric Keyboards
 ▪  Left Hand Piano Fingering
 

Reading Piano Music

 ▪  Sheet Music Symbol Library
 ▪  How to Read Piano Notation
 ▪  Memorize the Staff Notes
 ▪  Illustrated Piano Chords
 ▪  Musical Quizzes & Tests
 

Piano Care & Maintenance

 ▪  Best Piano Room Conditions
 ▪  How to Clean Your Piano
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  Signs of Piano Damage
 ▪  When To Tune Your Piano
 

Getting Started on Keyboard Instruments

 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Sit at the Piano
 ▪  Buying a Used Piano
 

Musical Quizzes

 ▪  Identify the Piano Keys
 ▪  Key Signature Quiz
 ▪  Note Length & Rest Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
 ▪  Grand Staff Notes Quiz
 ▪  Time Signature & Rhythm Quiz

 

04
of 08

Music Rests

Different musical rest lengths.
Music rest values: In the bottom staff, the half-rest ends the half-note chord, but does not affect the eighth-notes (notice this rest is written on a higher staff line than a standard half-rest). Images © Brandy Kraemer, 2015

Music Rest Lengths

A music rest marks the absence of a note in a measure. It indicates that no note will be played for its duration.


Look at the image, above:

  • Rests are written in lengths, just like notes; a rest with the duration of a quarter note is called a quarter rest.
  • Dotted rests are used in the same manner as dotted notes: A rest of 1 1/2 beats may be written as a dotted quarter rest (symbol a).
  • In the event of notation overlap – such as a half-note chord written on top of eighth-notes – rests and notes will appear simultaneously, although they are really on separate planes of action.

 


More Musical Symbols:

Staff & Barlines
The Grand Staff
■ Key Signatures
Time Signatures

Note Lengths
Dotted Notes
Music Rests
Tempo Commands

Accidentals
■ Articulation
■ Dynamics & Volume
■ 8va & Octave Commands

■ Repeat Signs
■ Segno & Coda Signs
■ Pedal Marks
Piano Chords

Trills
Turns
Tremolos
Glissando
Mordents

 

Beginner Piano Lessons

 ▪  The Piano Keyboard Layout
 ▪  The Black Piano Keys
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Find Middle C on Electric Keyboards
 ▪  Left Hand Piano Fingering
 

Reading Piano Music

 ▪  Sheet Music Symbol Library
 ▪  How to Read Piano Notation
 ▪  Memorize the Staff Notes
 ▪  Illustrated Piano Chords
 ▪  Musical Quizzes & Tests
 

Piano Care & Maintenance

 ▪  Best Piano Room Conditions
 ▪  How to Clean Your Piano
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  Signs of Piano Damage
 ▪  When To Tune Your Piano
 

Getting Started on Keyboard Instruments

 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Sit at the Piano
 ▪  Buying a Used Piano

Musical Quizzes

 ▪  Identify the Piano Keys
 ▪  Key Signature Quiz
 ▪  Note Length & Rest Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
 ▪  Grand Staff Notes Quiz
 ▪  Time Signature & Rhythm Quiz

05
of 08

Musical Repeat Signs

Repeat signs and volta brackets in sheet music.
Repeat signs with two volta brackets, indicating two different resolutions. Images © Brandy Kraemer, 2015

Reading Repeat Signs & Barlines

The following musical symbols define the pattern or order of a song:

  1. Repeat Barlines
    A passage between two repeat barlines is played at least two times in a row. After the repetitions are played, the song continues onto the measures that follow the end repeat bar. Otherwise:
    • If the right (or “end”) repeat is on the very last measure, the song will end after the repetitions are completed.
    • If there is no left (or “begin”) repeat, the song will repeat from the beginning.
  2. Volta Brackets
    Numbered brackets change the ending of each repeated passage:
    • 1st Ending: The first time the passage is played, bracket 1 is played.
    • 2nd Ending: The second time around, the notation in bracket 2 is played.

    A composition can contain any number of volta brackets (also called “time bars” or “endings”).


 

More Musical Symbols:

Staff & Barlines
The Grand Staff
■ Key Signatures
Time Signatures

Note Lengths
Dotted Notes
■ Music Rests
Tempo Commands

Accidentals
■ Articulation
■ Dynamics & Volume
■ 8va & Octave Commands

Repeat Signs
■ Segno & Coda Signs
■ Pedal Marks
Piano Chords

Trills
Turns
Tremolos
Glissando
Mordents

 

Beginner Piano Lessons

 ▪  The Piano Keyboard Layout
 ▪  The Black Piano Keys
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Find Middle C on Electric Keyboards
 ▪  Left Hand Piano Fingering
 

Reading Piano Music

 ▪  Sheet Music Symbol Library
 ▪  How to Read Piano Notation
 ▪  Memorize the Staff Notes
 ▪  Illustrated Piano Chords
 ▪  Musical Quizzes & Tests
 

Piano Care & Maintenance

 ▪  Best Piano Room Conditions
 ▪  How to Clean Your Piano
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  Signs of Piano Damage
 ▪  When To Tune Your Piano
 

Getting Started on Keyboard Instruments

 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Sit at the Piano
 ▪  Buying a Used Piano

Musical Quizzes

 ▪  Identify the Piano Keys
 ▪  Key Signature Quiz
 ▪  Note Length & Rest Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
 ▪  Grand Staff Notes Quiz
 ▪  Time Signature & Rhythm Quiz

06
of 08

Segno & Coda Repeats

Segno and coda signs used in piano sheet music.
In the above music, no action is taken until the phrase D.S. al coda is reached. Segno, Italian for “sign,” is pronounced sey' nyo. Images © Brandy Kraemer, 2015

Understanding Segno & Coda Repeats

Segno and coda marks belong to a system used to express complex repetitions:

  1. D.C., or Da Capo
    Indication to repeat from the beginning, and is seen two ways:
    • D.C. al fine: Repeat from the beginning, and end the song at the word fine.
    • D.C. al coda: Repeat from the beginning; play until you reach a coda (or the phrase al coda), then jump forward to the next coda sign to continue playing.
  2. D.S., or Dal Segno
    Indication to repeat from the last segno; seen two ways:
    • D.S. al fine: Repeat from the last segno, and end the song at the word fine.
    • D.S. al coda: Repeat from the last segno; play until you reach the first coda, then skip to the next coda sign.


 

 

More Musical Symbols:

Staff & Barlines
The Grand Staff
■ Key Signatures
Time Signatures

Note Lengths
Dotted Notes
■ Music Rests
Tempo Commands

Accidentals
■ Articulation
■ Dynamics & Volume
■ 8va & Octave Commands

■ Repeat Signs
Segno & Coda Signs
■ Pedal Marks
Piano Chords

Trills
Turns
Tremolos
Glissando
Mordents

 

Beginner Piano Lessons

 ▪  The Piano Keyboard Layout
 ▪  The Black Piano Keys
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Find Middle C on Electric Keyboards
 ▪  Left Hand Piano Fingering
 

Reading Piano Music

 ▪  Sheet Music Symbol Library
 ▪  How to Read Piano Notation
 ▪  Memorize the Staff Notes
 ▪  Illustrated Piano Chords
 ▪  Musical Quizzes & Tests
 

Piano Care & Maintenance

 ▪  Best Piano Room Conditions
 ▪  How to Clean Your Piano
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  Signs of Piano Damage
 ▪  When To Tune Your Piano
 

Getting Started on Keyboard Instruments

 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Sit at the Piano
 ▪  Buying a Used Piano

Musical Quizzes

 ▪  Identify the Piano Keys
 ▪  Key Signature Quiz
 ▪  Note Length & Rest Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
 ▪  Grand Staff Notes Quiz
 ▪  Time Signature & Rhythm Quiz

 

07
of 08

Piano Pedal Marks

Symbols indicating sustain pedal use and duration.
Different ways of expressing sustain pedal use and duration in piano music. Images © Brandy Kraemer, 2015

Reading Sustain Pedal Marks

There are three common pedal marks used to control the most popular piano foot pedal: The sustain (or “damper”) pedal. These commands are:

  1. Engage Pedal (Ped.)
    Indication to use (or “depress”) the sustain pedal.
  2. Release Pedal (*)
    Releases the sustain.
  3. Variable Pedal Marks 
    Those lines at the bottom of the illustration explains the pattern in which you depress and release the sustain pedal:
    • Horizontal lines show when the sustain pedal is depressed.
    • Steep diagonal lines indicate a quick, temporary release of the sustain pedal.
    • Vertical lines indicate a release, or ends use of the pedal.


 

More On Foot Pedals:
►  Learn About the Three Standard Piano Pedals
How they sound, how they’re played, and how they work.

►  Read How the Three Piano Pedals Came To Be
Hint: One used to be played with the knee (!)

 


More Musical Symbols:

Staff & Barlines
The Grand Staff
■ Key Signatures
Time Signatures

Note Lengths
Dotted Notes
■ Music Rests
Tempo Commands

Accidentals
■ Articulation
■ Dynamics & Volume
■ 8va & Octave Commands

■ Repeat Signs
■ Segno & Coda Signs
Pedal Marks
Piano Chords

Trills
Turns
Tremolos
Glissando
Mordents

 

Beginner Piano Lessons

 ▪  The Piano Keyboard Layout
 ▪  The Black Piano Keys
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Find Middle C on Electric Keyboards
 ▪  Left Hand Piano Fingering
 

Reading Piano Music

 ▪  Sheet Music Symbol Library
 ▪  How to Read Piano Notation
 ▪  Memorize the Staff Notes
 ▪  Illustrated Piano Chords
 ▪  Musical Quizzes & Tests
 

Piano Care & Maintenance

 ▪  Best Piano Room Conditions
 ▪  How to Clean Your Piano
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  Signs of Piano Damage
 ▪  When To Tune Your Piano
 

Getting Started on Keyboard Instruments

 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Sit at the Piano
 ▪  Buying a Used Piano

Musical Quizzes

 ▪  Identify the Piano Keys
 ▪  Key Signature Quiz
 ▪  Note Length & Rest Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
 ▪  Grand Staff Notes Quiz
 ▪  Time Signature & Rhythm Quiz

 

08
of 08

8va & Other Octave Commands

8va & 15ma octave commands.
If an octave command affects an entire measure, it is extended with a dashed line until the word loco, meaning “back in place.”. Images © Brandy Kraemer, 2015

How to Read Octave Commands

The musical symbols 8va and 15ma indicate that a note or passage will be played in a different octave. These commands make it easier to read very high or very low notes by avoiding the use of multiple ledger lines:

  • 8va
    Play one octave higher than notated on the staff.

    8va abbreviates ottava (Italian for “octave”) and may appear in a few other ways:
    8a; ottava alta; all’ ottava; ottava sopra; an 8 above the staff, or a small 8 atop the clef.

 

  • 8vb
    Play one octave lower than written.

    8vb may also be written 8a b; 8va bassa; ottava sotto, or with a small 8 below the staff or clef.

 

  • 15ma
    Play two octaves higher than notated.

    15ma stands for quindicesima (“the fifteenth”) and may also be written alla quindicesima, or with a 15 above the staff or clef.

 

  • 15mb
    Play two octaves lower.

 

These commands may affect a single note or several measures. For longer passages, octave commands are extended with a dotted, horizontal line, and end at the word loco.

 


More Musical Symbols:

Staff & Barlines
The Grand Staff
■ Key Signatures
Time Signatures

Note Lengths
Dotted Notes
■ Music Rests
Tempo Commands

Accidentals
■ Articulation
■ Dynamics & Volume
8va & Octave Commands

■ Repeat Signs
■ Segno & Coda Signs
■ Pedal Marks
Piano Chords

Trills
Turns
Tremolos
Glissando
Mordents

 

Beginner Piano Lessons

 ▪  The Piano Keyboard Layout
 ▪  The Black Piano Keys
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Find Middle C on Electric Keyboards
 ▪  Left Hand Piano Fingering
 

Reading Piano Music

 ▪  Sheet Music Symbol Library
 ▪  How to Read Piano Notation
 ▪  Memorize the Staff Notes
 ▪  Illustrated Piano Chords
 ▪  Musical Quizzes & Tests
 

Piano Care & Maintenance

 ▪  Best Piano Room Conditions
 ▪  How to Clean Your Piano
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  Signs of Piano Damage
 ▪  When To Tune Your Piano
 

Getting Started on Keyboard Instruments

 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Sit at the Piano
 ▪  Buying a Used Piano

Musical Quizzes

 ▪  Identify the Piano Keys
 ▪  Key Signature Quiz
 ▪  Note Length & Rest Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
 ▪  Grand Staff Notes Quiz
 ▪  Time Signature & Rhythm Quiz