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When composing for the piano, I often find myself writing a lot of sudden soft notes. I need an accent mark that suddenly softens notes. From my knowledge (and searching the web), I can not find any accent markings to soften a note. I have found many accent notes that emphasises a note and makes them louder (marcato) - but none that makes them softer.

I'm really suprised that I haven't found any accent markings for sudden soft notes. What can I do to write something like that? I really don't want to write 'subito P' over every note I want to soften. (Playing notes suddenly soft is one of my favorite things to write, so I use it a lot in my compositions.)

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Have you considered "fp?" – SRiss May 10 '11 at 16:51
@SRiss are you sure fp is ever used on non-tremoloed piano notes? – NReilingh May 10 '11 at 17:33
@NReilingh, you're correct. I thought he was speaking from a purely notational stance and writing for a line or was using a keyboard and wanted to start a single note loudly and make it suddenly softer. I now see that he is looking to create an inverted accent of sorts for a single note in passage (not "a lot of" suddenly soft notes) Thank you for drawing my attention back to the question. Maybe a light edit is in order? – SRiss May 10 '11 at 18:34
It is definitely used on single notes, but I think Dasaru just wants a way to describe subito piano without writing it constantly. – cotroxell May 10 '11 at 18:38
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Interesting question!

I'd say the "right" way to do this would probably be to just use dynamics (subito is probably not necessary). However, you may want to think about using alternate noteheads if you're composing something that is that dynamically active. There's no accepted doctrine to my knowledge, so you'd just provide a key that explains that an x notehead, for example, is played sub. pp.


This came to mind after reading What is a ghost note ?

The x notehead as used in jazz is a sort of "anti-accent" that would probably be interpreted by a pianist as a softer note than the ones around it. I didn't think of jazz notation before, but I think it reinforces my argument above.

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The notation is a bit strange, but it works. Thanks. – Dasaru Jun 11 '11 at 9:20

If you want a loud attack followed by a sudden decrease in sound, fp can be used on a single piano note. Beethoven did it in the first movement of the Pathetique - it's a special technique in which one strikes the note and backs off of it slightly. It might have worked better for 19th century pianos, but it has been notated this way.

However, if you simply want to alert the performer to the fact that this note should be subito piano, the best thing to do would be to write a performance note at the beginning of the piece, indicating that dynamic markings should be arrived at suddenly. Look at a score by any of the total serialists, which usually have one dynamic marking per note. In this performance style, every dynamic marking must be strictly followed to achieve the desired effect. All you need to do is provide a note describing how dynamics are to be interpreted; no fancy symbols are necessary.

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According to wikipedia, there are anti-accent marks commonly used by percussionists:

From slightly softer to really soft:

  • A 'u' (breve) above the note
  • () round parentheses around the note
  • [] square brackets around the note
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It's funny how seldom this kind of accent is ever written, though such notes can be a really nice tool of expression. Often, they are just implied by the musical context and really necessary (like "dropping down" notes in the accompainment after a melodic theme has ended), something that I used to forget very often, thereby driving my guitar teacher mad. What she would do then was just striking out the notes I had played too loud (the note heads, not the stems like in acciaccatura). I always thought that this was standard notation for single soft notes, but coming to think of it's not really used in printed scores. Makes the point satisfyingly clear though, in my opinion.

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