For a piano piece, I want a sforzando (which I interpret as a strong accent on every note in that beat) to be applied to two beats. Until now I have notated it like this, with sffz between the notes:

example 1

I think this is understandable, if admittedly non-standard. However this becomes less elegant to write when the division between those notes falls on the border of a bar:

example 2

I'm unsure as to workable alternatives. Writing subito ff and subito mf afterwards feels overwritten. Just replacing it with > accent marks seems somehow weaker, and it would require three marks on the left-hand notes (which should be staccato like the others, and I gave them marcato too because I wish the bass to be slightly dominant).

EDIT: two sforzandos after each other also works, though it looks a bit busy.

example 3

  • 2
    Is there some reason you can't just place two sffzs?
    – Aaron
    Jan 7, 2022 at 20:54
  • @Aaron Fair point, I suppose I could, but I don't think I have seen two of those in a row before. I thought that they implied immediate decrease in volume right afterwards, like fp?
    – KeizerHarm
    Jan 7, 2022 at 20:55
  • There’s not much difference between sfz and an accent mark, right? Jan 7, 2022 at 21:09
  • @ToddWilcox In my understanding sfz is stronger, sffz even more so, plus the mark applies to the whole beat, regardless of voices or (in the case of piano) staves.
    – KeizerHarm
    Jan 7, 2022 at 21:11
  • @KeizerHarm - Wait, sfz and sffz applied to the whole beat? In my experience, both of them apply to that note only, and I swear I've seen multiple sfz's in a row.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 8, 2022 at 16:52

2 Answers 2


How to mark the passages

Sforzando and related markings apply only to individual notes, so the single sffz on two adjacent notes within the same measure is technically incorrect, and I personally would find it confusing. Consider a sub ff followed by a separate marking to return to the prevailing dynamic. That would be unambiguous, especially with the other articulation marks present.

Where the two notes are in separate measures, two sffz markings will be aesthetically fine and clear to read; however, for clarity use the same markings in both parts of the score. That is, if you use sffz in one place, use it in both; likewise with sub ff; but use one or the other, not both.

Duration of sforzando and related markings

Regarding the sffz applying to a full beat — this is not a rule or guideline I've encountered, nor can I find evidence to suggest that interpretation. Here is what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

Subito can be used to mark suddenly louder changes, like subito forte sf, or subito fortissimo sff, however in these cases it's usually only used to add a particular amount of accent to one note or chord. If subito is used to note a sudden change to an entire louder passage, something like sub. f or sub. ff should be used to leave out any ambiguity.

Forzando/forzato indicates a forceful accent and is abbreviated as fz. To emphasize the effect, it is most often preceded with subito as sfz (subito forzato/forzando, sforzando/sforzato). How these should be interpreted and played in the music is up to the judgement of the performer, but a rule of thumb is that a forzato/forzando can be considered as a variation on marcato while subito forzando/forzato can be considered a variation on marcato with added tenuto.

The Oxford Online Music Dictionary doesn't comment on the duration of a sfortissimo, but Dolmetsch backs up the single-note/chord idea.

sf.: abbreviation for sforzato, applied to a single accented note

Dolmetsch entries for related terms aren't specific about duration, but the above seems to be the ruling entry.

  • Thank you for your elaborate answer. The duration part is entirely new to me, and I had indeed always assumed that it applied to a beat (per instrument) rather than a note/chord, just like any dynamic letter mark (pp, mf, etc ). Weirdly, the first example of sf in piano music I came across (Pictures at an Exhibition 9. Baba Yaga) actually uses sf in both ways.
    – KeizerHarm
    Jan 7, 2022 at 22:34

If you want sffz on two notes, I'm afraid you have to write it twice.

Some would say sffz and a staccato dot were contradictory.

An alternative might be ff with an accent and tenuto line on each note.

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