Expressive Elements

Expressive elements are nuances in the music, such as dynamics (changes in intensity of sound), tempo, (rate of speed), and rubato (flexibility in tempo) that make the music we play come alive.


Musical expression helps us convey emotions that are written into the music by the composer which gives meaning to the notes we play.

"Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness."
Mary Angelou (b. 1928), American Author "America's most visible black female autobiographer"


Dynamics in the music tell us how loud or soft to play the notes. They range within the context of the music from ppp (very very soft) to fff (very very loud) in the following order:

ppp, pianississimo (very very soft)

pp, pianissimo(very soft)

p, piano (soft)

mp, mezzo piano (medium soft)

mf, mezzo forte (medium loud)

f, forte (loud)

ff, fortissimo (very loud)

fff, fortississimo (very very loud)

Dynamic variation also includes "crescendos", gradually getting louder, to "decrescendo" or "diminuendo", gradually getting softer.

Can you match the following dynamic markings with their names:

piano, forte, mezzo forte, pianissimo, fortissimo,
mezzo piano, pianississimo, fortississimo

1. mp

2. f

3. fff

4. p

5. mf

6. ppp

7. ff

8. pp


"Rubato" is an Italian term denoting sudden or gradual increases and decreases in the tempo of the music from 'accelerando', gradually speeding up, to 'ritardondo' gradually slowing down.


A tempo dictates how fast or slow the music is to be played. Here are examples of tempi (plural of tempo) from very slow to very fast:

~Largo (broad)

~Lento (slow)

~Adagio (at ease)

~Andante (walking)

~Moderato (moderate)

~Allegro (quick)

~Vivace (lively)

~Presto (fast)

~Prestissimo (as fast as possible)

Look at a piece of piano music and see if you can find the expressive elements such as dynamics, tempo, and rubato.

Not only do we describe the emotions expressed in pieces already written, we can also describe how we feel when we improvise (play our own music creations by ear), and compose (write our music on music staff paper).

Go to your piano and describe how you feel today in the way you play the notes. Are they slow, soft and droopy or very fast and joyful?

Please go from this "Expressive Elements" page to the "Elements of Music" page to read how important the way music elements influence the expressed style of each era in history.