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.)

  • Have you considered "fp?"
    – SRiss
    May 10, 2011 at 16:51
  • @SRiss are you sure fp is ever used on non-tremoloed piano notes?
    – NReilingh
    May 10, 2011 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, 2011 at 18:34
  • I have seen "sp" used in piano music before, although I can't remember where. I think it would be obvious without having to write out "subito," especially since "sf" is very common, especially in Beethoven's music.
    – BobRodes
    Jan 5, 2018 at 5:36

6 Answers 6


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.


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

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.

  • 3
    "one strikes the note and backs off of it slightly". Explain, please? With particular reference to the mechanism of a piano action where, once the hammer has been 'thrown' with a certain velocity the player has no further control. And how this would have been different on a C19 piano.
    – Laurence
    Mar 15, 2019 at 15:03

Forzando fz and subito piano sp seem to be the two markings for what you describe, at least by definition. An isolated - "sudden" - loud or soft dynamic.

But, I also seem to remember, from long ago, a teacher telling me to just use basic dynamic marks. So, something like setting mf at the beginning, then for the soft accents put p, then immediately after write mf to reset the dynamic level. Like this example from Mozart, K 279, the andante movement...

enter image description here

...and according to the autograph score at IMSLP, those markings are from Mozart, not editorial additions.

You just want to do the opposite of the example. Instead of a baseline p with f accents and then a return to p, you want a baseline of f (or whatever you like) then soft p accents with a return back to baseline f.


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.



What about > over a note?

A sudden decrescendo?

EDIT: It's <>!!!

Sources: Musescore3

  • 3
    That's what a regular (loud) accent looks like.
    – Edward
    Sep 9, 2021 at 15:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.