Performance Directions

performance directions

Beginner - ADVANCED

There are lots of new terms to learn when we learn music - not least with all the performance directions!

Get a head start here and see how many you can remember...


If you want to download our list of performance directions to print at home then click below!


What are Perfromance Directions?

Have you noticed there are often words written over music as well as the notes on the page? These are called Performance Directions and they tell us how to perform the music. 

Often these directions are in Italian! 


Well simply, because the Italian music theorists got there first!

This is why we say forte for loud and piano for quiet - both Italian terms. 

Some musical directions are in other languages - common languages are French and German (and sometimes English!)

It’s really important that we recognise these words and we can translate them. If we see the word dolce (sweetly) it would make us play very differently to if we saw grave (solemn).

So we’ve collected some of the most common words together for you so if you’re not sure what something means on your music, you can look it up here!

This sheet is also helpful if you have a theory exam coming up. 

Italian Words

a - at, to, by, for, in, in the style of

a cappella - unaccompanied (referring to choral music)

accelerando, accel. - gradually getting faster

adagio - slow

agitato - agitated

alla breve - with a minim beat

alla marcia - in the style of a march

allargando - broadening

allegretto - fairly quick

allegro - quick

amabile - amiable, pleasant

amore - love

andante - at a walking pace (medium speed)

animando - becoming more lively

animato - animated

appassionato - with passion

arco - bow of a string instrument

assai - very, extremely

a tempo - in time, indicating a return to the original speed

attacca - go straight on

brilliante - brilliant

brio - vigour, animation

calando - getting softer, dying away

cantabile - in a singing style 

con - with

crescendo, cresc - gradually getting louder

da capo, d.c. - from the beginning 

dal segno, d.s. - from the sign 

decrescendo, decresc. - gradually getting softer

diminuendo , dim - gradually getting softer

divisi, div. - divided

dolce - sweet

energico - energetic

espressivo - expressive

forte - loud

fuoco - fire

furioso - furious

giocoso - playful, humorous

grave - very slow, solemn

grazioso - graceful

largamente - broadly

larghetto - rather slow

largo - slow, stately

legato - smooth

lento - slow

maestoso - majestic

marcato - emphatic, accented

meno - less

mezzo - half

misterioso - mysterious 

moderato - at a moderate speed

molto - very, much

mosso - with motion

pesante - heavy

piano - quiet

pizzicato - plucked (strings)

poco - little, slightly

presto - fast (faster than allegro)

rallentando, rall. - gradually getting slower

ritenuto, rit. - held back

rubato - with some freedom of time

scherzando - playful, joking

segue - go straight on

sempre - always

senza - without

sordino, sord - muted

sostenuto - sustained

staccato - detached, short

subito - suddenly

tempo - speed

tenuto - held

tranquillo - calm

tremolando - trembling

tristamente - sad

troppo - too much

tutti - all, everyone

vibrato - vibrating

vigoroso - vigours, strong

vivace - lively, quick

French Words


à - at, to, by, for, in, in the style of

assez - enough

calme - calm, tranquil

cédez - yield, relax the speed

détaché - detached

en pressant - hurrying on

en retenant - holding back

fin - end

gracieux - graceful

joyeaux - joyful

moins - less

mouvement - movement, motion

plus - more

sans - without

seul - alone

vif - lively

vite - quick

German Words


aber - but

als - than

Ausdruck - expression 

einfach - simple

kräftig - strong

langsam - slow

lebhaft - lively

mässig - at a moderate speed

mit - with

noch - still

ohne - without

schleppen - dragging 

schwach - weak

sehr - very

stark - strong

traurig- sad

wenig - less

wieder - again

Latin Words

ad libitum, ad lib.- at choice, perform passage freely or instrument can be omitted

quasi - as if, resembling

tacet - silent