July 2014 | 2 Music Tips for Teachers | Quality and Dynamics

By Nina Pinzarrone

Tip 1
The two basic musical qualities are legato, meaning smooth and connected (indicated by a curved line or phrase marking above the notes to be connected) and staccato, meaning detached and disconnected (indicated by a dot above each note to be shortened). When you explain legato to your students, mention the quality of fondu or developpé movements, and for staccato, mention the frappé movement and jumps.

Here are some additional terms that describe quality.

cantabile: in a singing style
leggiero: lightly
pesante: heavily
maestoso: majestic
sostenuto: sustained
• pizzicato: plucked or pinched

Pizzicato is a playing technique that involves plucking the strings of the instrument. Listen to Leroy Anderson’s “Jazz Pizzicato” or “Plink, Plank, Plunk!” for excellent examples.


Tip 2
“Dynamics” refers to how loud or soft the music can be played. The range of dynamics extends from “ppp,” which is extremely soft, and “fff,” which is extremely loud, although they are rarely used. The most common indications of dynamics are:

pp: pianissimo (very soft)
p: piano (soft)
mp: mezzo piano (medium soft)
mf: mezzo forte (medium loud)
f: forte (loud)
ff: fortissimo (very loud)

These designations are relative rather than absolute; they depend on the overall dynamic level of the piece of music. For example, in music that is generally quiet and peaceful, a forte marking indicates a much softer dynamic than one in a bombastic Sousa march.