Italian Musical Terms

The majority of musical terms are in Italian, so this page has quite a long list. The other common languages for musical terms are German and French.

Some of the words below have an audio file attached so you can hear how it is pronounced. Just click on the speaker icon.

Remember, there is often more than one way to pronounce some words. The examples given here are just one suggested pronunciation.

Musical Term   Abbreviation English Other information and examples of usage
a     at; to; by; for; in eg: a tempo = in time (back to the previous speed).
a capella a capella   unaccompanied usually in choral music
a piacere a capella   at pleasure The performer is not bound to follow the given rhythm exactly.
accelerando accelerando (accel.) gradually getting faster An increase in the speed of the music.
accento     accented; emphasised  
ad libitum ad libitum (ad lib.) at choice; freely 1) A passage may be performed freely.
2) An instrument in a score may be omitted.
adagietto adagietto   rather slow Usually a little faster than adagio
adagio adagio   slowly Often indicates a speed somewhere between andante and largo
affabile     friendly  
affettuoso affettuoso   tenderly  
affrettando affrettando   hurrying  
agitato agitato   agitated; restless  
al; alla     in the manner of eg: alla marcia = in the style of a march
alla breve alla breve   with a minim beat  
allargando allargando   broadening  
allegretto allegretto   fairly quick Faster than Andante and usually slower than Allegro
allegro allegro   fast  
alt     high "in alt" is used in volcal music to refer to notes in the octave above the treble stave.
amabile amabile   amiable; pleasant  
amore     love  
andante andante   walking speed Moderately slow
andantino andantino   like walking speed This can mean either slightly slower or slightly faster than andante. It is ambiguous.
anima anima   soul; spirit eg: con anima = with spirit
animando animando   becoming more lively  
animato animato   animated; lively  
appassionato appassionato   with passion  
arco     with the bow An instruction to string players to use the bow.
arioso     like an aria Play in the style of an aria (singing)
assai assai   very eg: allegro assai = very fast
attacca attacca   go straight on Indicates an immediate move to the next section of music.
ben     well  
bis     twice Indicates the repetition of a short passage.
bravura bravura   skill; brilliance  
brio brio   vigour eg: con brio = with vigour
calando calando   getting softer; dying away Usually includes slowing down
cantabile cantabile   in a singing style  
cantando cantando   singing  
capriccioso capriccioso   in a whimsical or fanciful style  
col; colla; colle     with eg: colla voce = with the voice
come come   as; similar to eg: come prima = as before
comodo comodo   convenient eg: tempo comodo = at a comfortable speed
con con   with eg: con moto = with movement
crescendo crescendo (cresc.) gradually getting louder  
da capo dacapo (D.C.) from the beginning An instruction to repeat the misc from the beginning.
dal segno dalsegno (D.S.) from the sign An instruction to repeat the misc from the sign.
deciso deciso   with determination  
decrescendo decrescendo (decresc.) gradually getting softer  
delicato delicato   delicate  
diminuendo diminuendo (dim.) gradually getting softer  
dolce dolce   sweetly eg: dolcissimo = as sweet as possible
dolente dolente   sad; mournful  
dolore dolore   grief eg: doloroso = sorrowful
doloroso doloroso   sorrowful  
doppio movimento doppio-movimento   twice as fast  
e; ed     and  
energico energico   energetic  
espressivo espressivo (espr.) expressive  
estinto estinto   as soft as possible  
facile facile   easy  
felice felice   happy  
fermata     pause  
feroce feroce   fierce  
fine fine   the end Often used in conjunction with "da capo" or "dal segno" to indicate where to end the piece after repeating.
eg: al fine = to the end
flessibile flessibile   flexible  
forte forte (f) loud; strong  
fortepiano fortepiano (fp) loud then immediately soft  
fortissimo fortissimo (ff) very loud  
forza forza   force eg: forzando (fz) = strongly accented
fretta fretta   haste  
fuoco fuoco   fire  
furioso furioso   furious  
giocoso giocoso   playful; humerous  
giojoso     joyful; merry  
giusto giusto   proper; exact  
grandioso grandioso   grandly  
grave grave   very slow; solemn  
grazioso grazioso   graceful  
impetuoso impetuoso   impetuous  
incalzando incalzando   getting quicker  
inquieto inquieto   restless  
in relievo in-relievo   prominent A direction to make the melody stand out.
lacrimoso lacrimoso   sad  
largamente largamente   broadly  
larghetto larghetto   rather slow Slightly faster than largo.
largo largo   rather slow; stately  
legato legato   smoothly Indicates no break between notes.
leggiero leggiero   light; nimble  
lento lento   slow  
liberamente liberamente   freely  
l'istesso listesso   the same eg: l'istesso tempo = at the same speed
loco loco   at the normal pitch Used to cancel an 8va direction. Also used to confirm that 8va is not intended.
lugubre lugubre   mournful  
lunga lunga   long eg: lunga pausa = long pause
lusigando lusigando   coaxing  
ma ma   but eg: allegro ma non troppo = quick but not too quick
maestoso maestoso   majestic  
mancando mancando   fading away  
marcato marcato (marc.) emphatic; accented  
marziale marziale   in a military style  
meno meno   less eg: meno forte = less loud
mesto mesto   sad  
mezzoforte mezzoforte (mf) moderately loud  
mezzopiano mezzopiano (mp) moderately soft  
misterioso misterioso   mysterious  
misura misura   measure eg: alla misura = in strict time; senza misura = in free time
moderato moderato   moderate speed eg: allegro moderato = moderately fast.
molto molto   very; much eg: allegro molto = very fast
morendo morendo   dying away  
mosso mosso   movement  
moto moto   movement  
niente niente   nothing  
nobilmente nobilmente   nobly  
non     not  
nuovo nuovo   new e.g. di nuovo = again
obbligato obbligato   obligatory Indicates that an instrument has a special role and is essential.
ossia ossia   or; alternatively Often used to indicate a simpler version of a difficult passage.
ostinato ostinato   persistent Generally refers to a persistently repeated rhythmic or melodic figure.
parlando parlando   speaking A direction for a singer to sing in a conversational style.
patetico patetico   with deep feeling  
pausa pausa   pause  
per     by; for; to  
perdendosi perdendosi   dying away  
pesante pesante   heavy  
piacevole piacevole   pleasant  
piangevole piangevole   plaintive  
pianissimo pianissimo (pp) very soft  
piano piano (p) soft  
pił piu   more e.g. pił forte = louder
pizzicato     plucked An instruction to string players to pluck the strings, rather than bow them.
placido placido   calm; peaceful  
pochettino pochettino (poch.) rather little  
poco poco   a little e.g. poco a poco = little by little
possible possible   possible e.g. presto possible = as fast as possible
precipitando precipitando   rushing; headlong  
presto presto   very fast  
prima prima   first (Prima; Primo) e.g. prima volta = first time; tempo primo = revert to the speed at the beginning of the piece of music
quasi quasi   as if; resembling e.g. quasi recitativo = like a recitative
rallentando rallentando (rall.) gradually getting slower  
rigoroso rigoroso   strict  
rinforzando rinforzando (rf; rfz) reinforcing  
risoluto risoluto   bold; strong  
ritardando ritardando (rit.) gradually getting slower  
ritenuto ritenuto (rit.) held back  
ritmico ritmico   rhythmically  
rubato rubato   with some freedom of time  
scherzando scherzando   playful; joking Also scherzoso.
scherzo     joke; jest A movement in a piece, generally light and humerous in nature.
seconda seconda   second (Seconda; secondo)
semplice semplice   simple; plain  
sempre sempre   always e.g. sempre staccato = always detached
senza senza   without e.g. senza misura = freely (not in time)
segue segue   go straight on  
sforzando sforzando (sf; sfz) forced; accented  
simile simile (sim.) in the same way  
slargando slargando   getting slower  
slancio slancio   enthusiasm  
smorzando smorzando (smorz.) dying away Both tone and speed
soave     gentle; smooth  
solenne solenne   solemn; grave  
sonoro     resonant; with rich tone  
sopra sopra   above  
sospirando sospirando   sighing  
sostenuto sostenuto   sustained  
sotto sotto   below eg: sotto voce = in an undertone
spirito     spirited  
spiritoso spiritoso   spirited  
staccato staccato   detached  
strepitoso strepitoso   noisy; boisterous  
stretto stretto   quickening the speed Also means overlapping entries of a fugue subject.
stringendo stringendo   gradually getting faster  
subito subito   suddenly  
tacet tacet   silent A direction that a particular part has nothing to play in a section of music.
tanto tanto   so much  
tempo tempo   speed eg: a tempo = return to the previous speed, after a slowing down or speeding up.
teneramente teneramente   tenderly  
tenuto tenuto   held  
tosto tosto   swift; rapid  
tranquillo tranquillo   calm  
trionfale trionfale   triumphant  
triste triste   sad; sorrowful  
troppo troppo   too much eg: allegro ma non troppo = fast, but not too fast.
tutti tutti   all; everyone  
veloce veloce   swift  
vigoroso vigoroso   vigorous; strong  
vivace vivace   lively  
vivo vivo   lively  
voce voce   voice  
volante volante   flying; fast  
volta volta   time e.g. prima volta = first time
volti subito volti-subito (V.S.) turn the page at once