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Musical Terms – Practical Guide

Musical terms glossary cover image

Due to many influential composers living in Italy in the Renaissance period, the standard language of music still today is Italian. Therefore, we have written a compact glossary of music terms. This article should give answers to the most important and common musical markings that appear in our – and generally any – sheet music.

The subcategories:

  • Dynamics (static and changes)
  • Tempo markings
  • Expressive terms
  • Articulation terms
  • Chord symbols


Static Dynamics

pppPiano pianissimoExtremely soft
ppPianissimoVery soft
mpMezzo-pianoHalf soft
mfMezzo-forteHalf loud
ffFortissimoVery loud
fffForte fortissimoExtremely loud
Excerpt from Habanera by Bizet showcasing dynamics.
An example of dynamics in Bizet’s Habanera.

Changes of Dynamics

Italian TermTranslation
CrescendoBecoming louder
DecrescendoSee 'Diminuendo'
DiminuendoBecoming softer

Tempo Markings

Italian TermTranslation
LentoVery slow
AndanteModerately slow, “at a walking pace”
ModeratoAt a moderate speed
PrestoVery fast
PrestissimoExtremely fast
Meno mossoA new, slower tempo
Piú mossoA new, faster tempo

Expression and Moods

Italian TermTranslation
CantabileIn a singing style (often ‘legato’)
VivaceLively, up-tempo


Italian TermTranslation
LegatoTied together
Marcato"Marked", forcefully
PortatoBetween ‘staccato’ and ‘legato’ (semi-long).
StaccatoDetached notes with very short articulation. The opposite of ‘legato’.

Chord Symbols

We occasionally add chord symbols to our piano sheet music. They are shown right above the upper staff. Their use is optional; with them you can create your own alternative accompaniment. They are also very useful if you play with a band.

  • The chord root letter only = major chord
  • The chord root and letter ‘m’ = minor chord
  • The chord root and number ‘7’ = minor seventh chord
Chord symbols in a piano score. Example from the piece "Korobeiniki".
Chord symbols in a piano score (The ‘Tetris Theme”, Korobeiniki).

Read more about different kinds of chords in Wikipedia.

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10 Easy Folk Songs for the Piano

Easy folk songs header image with some vintage radios on shelf

1. Auld Lang Syne

The traditional New Year’s song. A nice song to sing and play together – Scotland’s gift to the world.

Auld Lang Syne – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)

2. Londonderry Air / Danny Boy

An Irish song with more than one title.

Londonderry Air / Danny Boy – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)

3. Värmlandsvisan

Värmlandsvisan (Ack, Värmeland, du sköna) is an extremely melancholic and beautiful Swedish song.

Värmlandsvisan – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)

4. Ievan polkka (Ieva’s Polka)

A former viral Internet hit, the Finnish-based Ievan polkka is a lot of fun to play with the piano.

Ievan polkka – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)

5. Whiskey in the Jar

Good old Irish song for good times! As long as there’s some whiskey in the jar, the life is great for the pianist, as well.

Whiskey in the Jar – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)

6. Sakura, Sakura

A famous Japanese song about cherry blossoms and how they only bloom for a week before falling. This song is from the Edo period.

Sakura, Sakura – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)
Cherry blossom (Sakura)

7. Scarborough Fair

An old English ballad with a tranquil, Dorian harmony and melody.

Scarborough Fair – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)

8. Täällä Pohjantähden alla (Here Beneath the Northern Star)

Perhaps the most loved traditional song in Finland is this one. Full of sorrow, yet so beautiful.

Täällä Pohjantähden alla – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)

9. Korobeiniki

The Russian traditional song “Korobeiniki” is known also as the “Tetris song” – having been chosen the background music of the famous video game. The original song is a story about a travelling merchant.

Korobeiniki – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)

10. Oh! Susanna

A true American song, often played with the banjo. Oh! Susanna is also a great choise for a pianist – and quite easy, too!

Oh! Susanna – Buy Sheet Music (PDF)
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The Fingering on the Piano

A pianists's right hand with fingers spread

Fingerings? What are they and how are they marked?

In piano playing, the fingering is a written or a thought plan of finger you play any given note in the score. The principal is very simple. Spread your right hand and give the fingers numbers from 1 to 5. Thumb is number 1, the little finger is number 5. The left hand finger numbers follow the same principle as a mirror-image. All you have to remember is that the thumb is always number 1. The numbers are printed under or above the given note.

Image of a hand showing piano finger numbers

Why does the fingering matter?

The more complex a score, the more it matters how the fingering is planned and applied by the player. It sounds very different if you play only with the thumb and the index inger compared to a balanced, 5-finger system, which allows a much more flexible transition from a note to another. This is extremely important when you play in legato or cantabile style – binding notes to “sing” with the fingers.

to each other – or when you play in multiple voices. It might not matter so much, if you play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, but it makes all the difference, if you’re preparing a piano sonata by Beethoven with an endless number of layers intertwined together, and in the end, decided how to, by the performer. When attending a music school, it is considered a good practice to begin learning fingerings with the teacher from the very beginning.

Fingerings in the score

Sometimes, the fingerings are already printed in the score. Usually, they are not marked – or only a few crucial ones are. Often, it is thought that it is the normal practice for the performer to add them while practising – this is why the professional pianists usually have a pencil within reach!

How can I know the right fingering for this particular piece?

The truth is that to almost any piece, there is no definite, one and only fingering. Advice to the correct fingerings have been given to players of piano-like keyboard at least since Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach published his work Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (An Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments) in 1753.

We all differ from each other anatomically; someone may have longer fingers, or a bigger hand, and our anatomy affects the fingering in any given piece. That is why the publishers are not eager to give printed fingerings in their scores. The same applies to us at

But I have no idea, on which finger I should press the keys! offers a customization service of fingered scores of the sheet music available in our catalogue. Don’t hesitate to contact us, if you feel the need!