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I am writing a part for strings and I want a rapid (but not instant) diminuendo across one bar from forte to total silence by the end of the fourth beat. I had four possibilities in mind for conveying this to the players:

  1. Just writing the words molto dim.
  2. Adding a hairpin beneath the bar with the word molto just above the hairpin.
  3. Writing a performance direction above the bar saying "Silence by end of bar" with the hairpin included.
  4. Adding a hairpin and putting several 'P's at the end of it.

Which would be the best way of conveying what I want?

4 Answers 4

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The amount of annotation you can put in does of course depend on how much horizontal space you have in this bar (this can drastically limit the amount of ps you might put there). Writing molto dim would probably not express what you want, as you want to specify an al niente, the same would hold for a hairpin with text molto.

I’d probably suggest something like this: enter image description here

By increasing the height of the hairpin we signify a strong diminuendo. By specifying n in the end we signify a diminuendo al niente, and by specifying a f in the beginning of the measure we make sure that we go from forte to niente, to avoid potential too early diminuendo.

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  • I'll throw my vote behind this answer. Mine was going to be: whatever is most quickly and clearly recognized is best. I'm a fan of using the vernacular language of the performers for anything out of the ordinary, so I might use something like "to silence by end of bar." But there is a core set of instructions that classical musicians are more familiar with in Italian—f, p, rit., etc—so when you insist on vernacular equivalents for these, like Percy Grainger's "louden" or "quickening," it's actually more confusing. So I might mix and match, like "dim. to silence." May 2 at 13:05
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    I'd also add: As a classical musician, I'd readily recognize "al niente," but the "n" abbreviation might take more head-scratching. And if this is for non-classical players I would choose the vernacular much more. May 2 at 13:07
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    Downvoting. I've seen thousands of scores in my life, and this is literally the first time I've seen "n" used this way. If I saw it in a published score, I'd assume it was a typo and was supposed to be "p". If you want to say "al niente", then please write "al niente" in full. May 3 at 8:47
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    @AlexanderHanysz So you want to say: You’re downvoting an answer because you do not know common notations in modern music? Sure, do that, definitely a very constructive thing to do.
    – Lazy
    May 3 at 17:10
  • @AlexanderHanysz: No, those commenters (and I, and others upvoting those comments) are disputing your claim that this notation is common. It may be well-established within some specific circles — but there are multiple experienced musicians here saying we’re unfamiliar with it, so it’s clearly not widely enough established that OP can assume players will understand it.
    – PLL
    May 3 at 19:47
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The Italian word 'niente' is usually used for 'nothing'. So you write "al niente" or "𝆓n". "𝆓ø" is often used instead of "𝆓n".
According to Elaine Gould's book "Behind Bars" another notation is a small circle attached to the the end of the diminuendo, but I don't think I've ever seen that in practice.

Related: Correct abbreviation for “niente”?

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    I feel like I've seen the circle occasionally and had to ask "what's this supposed to mean" May 2 at 13:07
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"ppp" (piano pianissimo) is not "silence", only somewhat close to it. I would go with #3 - if you want silence, then say so.

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If you really want silence at the end, then the last beat should be a dotted eighth followed by a small rest. In addition, as a string player, I would need more specific instructions for the articulated quarter notes. By the way, why are they articulated? Because it's slow, and I would run out of bow if it were one long (tied) note?

In short, each quarter note should have a starting and ending dynamic indicated, with an individual decrescendo. Otherwise, the performer might give you a terraced effect.

Note that unless the performer knows you really want a note to fade to nothing, then even a triple p will be interpreted as needing to be audible to the audience. (Composers' dynamic markings tend to be interpreted as intentions more than actual reality.)

By the way if what you want is four sighing sounds, each successive one softer than the previous one, then you would start each quarter note a little louder than the previous one ended.

But let's say you decide you don't need the articulation and you decide to go with a dotted half tied to a dotted eighth followed by a tiny rest. We kind of need to know what comes next so we can recommend appropriate bowing.

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  • What quarter notes?
    – yerman
    May 4 at 21:47
  • @yerman - Oh, I hadn't noticed that the quarter notes were written by lazy. So you had a whole note in mind? May 5 at 3:57

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