Italian words are commonly used in music notation to instruct performers on how the music should be performed. The words were first used by Italian composers in the 17th century and has since spread to the rest of the world.

1. Tempo

List of tempo markings. The specified number of beats-per-minute (BPM) is only a general guidance. In modern music, a metronome mark indicating the number of BPM (such as ♩= 120) may supplement or replace the tempo marking.

Term Meaning BPM
adagietto rather slow, slightly faster than adagio 72-76
adagio slow 66-76
allegretto moderately fast, slightly slower than allegro 112-120
allegrissimo very fast, faster than allegro 172-176
allegro fast 120-168
allegro moderato moderately fast, slightly slower than allegro 116-120
andante walking pace 76-108
andante moderato moderate walking pace, faster than andante 92-112
andantino moderate tempo, slightly faster than andante 80-108
grave very slow 25-45
larghetto rather slow and broad, slightly faster than largo 60-66
larghissimo extremely slow, slower than largo 25 and below
largo very slow and broad 40-60
lento slow 45-60
moderato moderately 108-120
prestissimo extremely fast, faster than presto 200 and above
presto very fast 168-200
vivace fast and lively 140-176
vivacissimo very fast and lively, faster than vivace 172-176

Tempo changes

List of tempo changes. Words for gradual changes can be extended with dashes to indicate the duration of the change, for example "rit.  _  _  _".

Term Abbreviation Meaning
a piacere at pleasure, the tempo may be decided by the performer
a tempo resume previous tempo
rallentando rall. gradually slower
ritardando rit., ritard. gradually slower
ritenuto riten. immediately slower
rubato in free time, no steady beat
stringendo gradually faster, literally "tightening"
accelerando accel. gradually faster

2. Dynamics

List of dynamic markings. The markings indicate the relative variation in loudness and do not refer to specific volume levels. Contrary to other italian markings, dynamic markings are usually written below the staff or centered between the two staves in the grand staff.

Term Symbol Meaning
pianississimo ppp as soft as possible
pianissimo pp very soft
piano p soft
mezzo piano mp moderately soft
mezzo forte mf moderately loud
forte f loud
fortissimo ff very loud
fortississimo fff as loud as possible

Dynamic changes

List of dynamic changes. The harpins (CrescendoDiminuendo) are used for dynamic changes over at most a few bars, while cresc. and dim. are used for changes over a longer period. Word directions can be extended with dashes to indicate the duration of the change.

Term Symbol Meaning
crescendo cresc. or Crescendo gradually louder
diminuendo dim. or Diminuendo gradually softer
fortepiano fp loud, then immediately soft
sforzando, forzando sfz, sf or fz suddenly accented (applied to a note or chord)
rinforzando rfz or rf reinforced (applied to a note, chord or phrase)

3. Techniques

List of common terms for playing techniques. The terms instruct the performer to use a certain playing technique in order to produce the desired sound.

Term Abbreviation Meaning
arpeggio arp. chord notes played in succession rather than simultaneously
glissando gliss. a continuous slide from one note to another
legato notes played with a smooth connection between them
mano destra m.d. right hand
mano sinistra m.s. left hand
con sordino with a mute or (on piano) without the sustain pedal
senza sordino without a mute or (on piano) with the sustain pedal pressed
pizzicato pizz. plucked with the finger rather than bowed
portamento port. a smooth slide from one note to another
tutti performed by the entire ensemble
staccato stacc. shortened and sharply separated notes
staccatissimo staccatiss. shortened and extremely separated notes
vibrato a rapid repeated slight change in the pitch of a note

4. Moods

List of common mood terms. The terms help the performer to capture the mood of a piece through variations in tempo, dynamics and articulation.

Term Meaning
agitato agitated
animato animated, lively
cantabile in a singing style
con amore with love
con brio with spirit
con fuoco with fiery manner
con moto with movement
dolce sweet
doloroso sorrowful
energico energetic
espressivo expressive
grazioso graceful
leggiero light, nimble
maestoso majestic
marcato marked, accented
risoluto decisive, strong
scherzando playful
sostenuto sustained
tenuto held, sustained
tranquillo calm

5. Repeats

List of directions for repeats. The directions are used as navigation markers to instruct the performer to repeat a certain section of the piece.

6. General

List of general terms. The terms are commonly used in conjunction with other terms, such as allegro molto (very fast) and con amore (with love).

Term Meaning
ad libitum at pleasure (often in regard to tempo and style)
assai very
con with
ma but
ma non tanto but not so much
ma non troppo but not too much
meno less
molto very
non not
più more
poco little
poco a poco little by little
senza without
simile in a similar way
subito suddenly, quickly