DynamicsMusic Theory

What Is The Musical Term For Soft Or Quiet?

Written by Dan Farrant

Last updated

In music, to describe the volume of a passage we don’t use words like quiet or loud but instead use musical directions called dynamics. Dynamics are italian words or symbols that indicate to the musician how to play.

In this post we’ll cover all the musical terms for soft so you’ll know what to do when you see them in a score.

The Definition of Quiet in Music Terms

The musical term for playing quietly or softly is called piano.

It’s actually where we get the name of the instrument the piano.

It was originally called the ‘pianoforte’ as it could play both quiet and loud (forte is the musical term for loud).

It’s pronounced slightly differently though: ‘pi-ah-no’.

When reading a piece of music you’ll probably see if written as a capital letter P underneath the stave.

Piano – Soft

What About Very Quiet?

A piece of music isn’t just loud or soft though.

It’s a big range or different volumes and sometimes a composer will want a passage to be played very quiet or even very, very quietly.

To notate this we add the suffix issimo to piano which gives us pianissimo (pp) which means very quiet.

Pianissimo – Very soft

You don’t have to stop there though.

You can keep on adding Ps to get very, very soft pianississimo (ppp) and very, very, very soft pianissississimo (pppp).

Pianississimo – Very, very soft
Pianissississimo – Very, very, very soft

The Musical Term for Moderately Quiet

Sometimes you’ll see the letters mp which stands for mezzo piano.

Mezzo is the italian word for moderately and so we use this symbol to indicate to the musician to play moderately quietly.

Mezzo piano – Moderately quiet

Chart of Soft Dynamics

To help visualise the order of soft dynamics there’s a table below with them arranged in order of loudest at the top, to the quietest at the bottom.

Soft Dynamics Chart
In ItalianSymbolDefinition
mezzo pianomoderately soft
pianissimovery soft
pianississimovery, very soft
pianissississimovery, very, very soft

I hope that helps make a bit more sense of soft dynamics.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.