What Are Piano Dynamics and How to Play Them

piano dynamics

Do you know what dynamics on the piano are? What’s their importance? Learn what dynamics are and how to play them on the piano.

The piano is an elaborate and sophisticated instrument. With 88 weighted keys, pianists enjoy a wide range of tones to play with, allowing them to create powerful and gentle sounds. 

However, the 88 keys are merely the tip of the iceberg regarding the opulence of piano vibrations. Piano dynamics greatly expand a musician’s expressive power, adding many layers of texture to the music they play. 

This article provides everything you need to know about dynamics and how to recognize them in sheet music and play them. 

So, let’s dive into this lesson and see what dynamics can do for you.

What are dynamics in piano?

Dynamics are the changes in volume that a composer writes into their music. For a pianist, it refers to how softly or loudly to play a note. In sheet music, these changes are usually marked with symbols below the notes. 

Composers and musicians incorporate dynamics into their pieces to make their music more lively or dramatic. With dynamics, musicians emphasize the highs and lows of a song. 

Thanks to weighted keys, piano players can apply varying degrees of force onto a single key, affecting the sound’s intensity and volume. With a soft touch, you create a soft and quiet sound. Conversely, the instrument makes a piercing and loud sound with a powerful touch.

Types of Dynamics.

A single key or note offers a spectrum of sound. Playing them lies in the pressure you apply. 

Think of piano dynamics as a scale. It begins with pianissimo (very soft), to piano (soft), to mezzo-piano (medium soft), then mezzo-forte (medium loud), to forte (loud), and at the end of the range is the fortissimo (very loud).

What are dynamic markings?

The dynamic markings in piano you see on sheet music are:

  • ‘pp’ for pianissimo 
  • ‘p’ refers to the piano
  • ‘mp’ for mezzo-piano
  • ‘mf’ means you play the note as mezzo-forte
  • ‘f’ for forte
  • ‘ff’ represents fortissimo
  • ‘fff’ is fortississimo 

A trick to help you identify whether to play softly or loudly is recognizing the letters ‘p’ (playing softly) or ‘f’ (playing loudly). 

Additionally, the symbol ‘sf’ (Sforzandos) indicates a change in intensity for a single note. In other words, if you’re playing softly and you come across an ‘sf,’ you play the following note loudly–the same is true for the opposite scenario. 

Another aspect of dynamics is how you escalate or descend into the sound. We mark a crescendo as ‘<’ and a decrescendo as ‘>’.

A crescendo means gradually increasing the sound, whereas a decrescendo refers to a gradual decrease in sound. You play a crescendo or decrescendo as far as the symbol indicates.

How to identify them on a piano sheet music?

A lot is going on in piano sheet music. Dynamics give you even more to keep track of while playing. There can be dynamic markings for both hands. 

Written below the stave and note they affect, a dynamic indicates the volume of the subsequent notes until you reach another marking.  

How to play dynamics on the piano.

Recognizing piano dynamics is one thing. Implementing dynamics requires another level of finger control and coordination. However, like all skills—with enough practice, focus, and patience—playing dynamics is well within reach. 

To play loud notes (f), you must apply more pressure on the keys and light pressure for soft notes (p). With Sforzandos (sf), you apply a fast and forceful touch when pressing the keys.

For crescendos, you begin by playing softly and gradually increase the pressure and loudness as you reach the peak. As for decrescendos, you begin with more strength and gradually incorporate a softer touch. 

Practicing dynamics

Recognizing dynamic markings is the first step. Getting good at playing them requires practice. 

If you’re still working on general piano skills, look at our blog post, 10 Best Piano Exercises for Beginners.

Like any skill, dynamics can be challenging to master. Already, playing the piano demands a lot of finger dexterity and control. Implementing a softer or harder while playing only makes things more complicated. The secret is in training your reflexes. 

Start by applying dynamics in scales. Try crescendoing and decrescendoing as you play the various notes in your scale. Once you’ve got the hang of that, you can make things more challenging by applying different dynamics for different keys. 

Another way to practice is to mark your dynamics on sheet music. By doing this, not only do you work on playing dynamics, but you also gain a better understanding of the effect they have on music. 

Speaking of practicing the piano, are you looking for a powerful tool to help you learn? Simply piano offers various bite-sized lessons that help you learn everything from reading sheet music to playing your favorite songs.