Advanced Music Theory tutorials
2. Volume indicators
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So do songs like have volume dials now?

  1. Topics of discussion
  2. Volume indicators
  3. Figuring out your volume levels

1. Topics of discussion

In this tutorial, we will be discussing the various volume indicators you will encounter in music. So, let's have some fun.

2. Volume indicators

The beauty of music lies in its interpretation. By interpretation, I am referring to the fact that certain sections of a song will be played at different volumes in order to induce certain emotions. For example, silent sections can be used to induce a state of calm or sadness, depending on the notes played of course, while loud sections can be used to induce anger, enthusiasm and other emotions.

But how does one know how loud a certain section of a song is to be played? And how loud is too loud for it? Well, let's start with the first question. When using music sheets, you will encounter certain notations that indicate how loud or how soft a section needs to be played. There's a total of markers and we will go through each one, from softest to loudest. So, let's see how volumes are notated on a music sheet:

  • ppp - this is read as pianissimo possibile and it tells you that the notes from that section should be played as soft as possible; and by that I mean you have to barely touch the keys or strings of your instrument
  • pp - this is read as pianissimo and it tells you that the notes from that section need to be played very softly, meaning that they should be played a bit louder thatn ppp notes, but not by much
  • p - this is read as piano (not to be confused with the instrument) and it means that the notes from that section need to be played softly
  • mp - this is read as mezzo-piano and it tells you that the notes are meant to be played mildly soft, just under your average volume
  • mf - this is read as mezzo-forte and it tells you that the notes are meant to be played mildly loud, just above your average volume
  • f - this is read as forte and it tells you that the notes are meant to be played loudly
  • ff - this is read as fortissimo and it tells you that the notes are meant to be played very loudly
  • fff - this is read as fortissimo possibile and it means that the notes from that section are to be played as loud as possible

During a song, you will encounter many markers such as the ones above that will tell you how loud you have to play that section. And now that we know how to read these, it's time to figure out how to apply them to your singing style.

3. Figuring out your volume levels

Volume indicators are cool and all but there is a small problem. They are very abstract. I mean sure, they're to the point with what they mean. But what does as soft as possible or as loud as possible mean?

This is relative to each and every musician out there. And I say this because what you might feel is as loud as possible may be different to what I feel is as loud as possible. Let's take the piano as an example. a fortissimo possibile volume would usually mean that you hit they piano keys as hard as possible without playing extra notes and you know, not hurting yourself.

So, how should you go about it? Well, there are two things you can do in order to understand how loud or soft each volume indicator should be:

  • listen to other people playing songs - Spotify and YouTube are full of classical music songs, so the best thing you can do is take a listen to such songs from Mozart, Beethoven etc. and take a look at the music sheet for the song to figure out the volume level for each indicators
  • play some songs and accustom yourself to your own volume levels - I cannot stress this enough, but everyone plays songs differently; and while technique is useful and it has to be done correctly, interpretation is subjective to everyone; that's why one of the best way to figure out these volume indicators is to play, a lot of them

That about covers it for this tutorial. In the next one, we will be looking at two more volume indicators, that tell you you need to gradually change the volume. See you then.

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