Question about "Combined Dynamics"

Why is the Dorico default for the “combined dynamics” pane pf? I can’t recall in my sixty years as a musician and composer encountering the marking pf.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to set the default to something we all use – i.e. fp?

Also, in reading the Help screen entries on a related subject, I would like to point out that the s in sf does not mean “subito”! Rather it is an abbreviation in the Italian word sforzato meaning “forced.” Just as rf means “reinforced”. (And we can debate at length what that distinction actually might be.)

As a teacher of composition, I am now seeing young composers writing sp thinking that this means “subito piano.” But there is no Italian word “spianato.”

Given that Dorico’s Tempo menu is very fixated on Italian markings, associating them with specific metronome settings (e.g. Eroico is quarter … no, no, sorry … crotchet=96), then I would hope that Dorico might respect the Italian origins of our dynamic markings.

1 Like

Hi @SPH could you share a link to the relevant page(s) in the manual where it’s written that “sf” means “subito forte”? I don’t believe that’s intentionally stated explicitly anywhere, but I’m wondering if you mean this topic about changing the appearance of “subito” relative to immediate dynamics? Given that “sf” is one of the appearance options, I can see why that might be taken as an implicit definition but that’s just one of the options for those dynamics.

Those properties are only available for dynamics with the “subito” modifier, whereas these properties are only available for rf/sf dynamics specifically.

Hi Lillie.
I think @SPH is referring to Properties > Dynamics > Subito forte style, where the two options are sub.f and sf.

Yes that’s the first link I put in my reply.

I was tought in school that sfz is sforzato and sf is subito forte, thus Dorico perfectly reflects what I was tought, so I would not complain :smiley:
And the first Google result that comes up when searching for “sforzato” (in German) is a music science site saying that both sf and sfz are valid - and have been since 1865…

Music notation is a very wide field. Some things that we think are standard appear not to be to other people. That’s what the options present in Dorico do reflect. Good news is you can use Dorico with your standard. And even save this as default. :wink:

1 Like

sf stands for sforzato while sfz is for sforzando. The first being a past participle and the second a present participle. I don’t know anyone who makes a distinction between the two marks.

There are some purists, such as John Harbison, who always put sf within a context by notating a prevailing dynamic below or next to it:
or psf (this latter I find confusing).

Some organs have a sforzando piston which adds many extra ranks for a sudden increase in volume. This might suggest that at one point sf was for a single accented note and sforzando was for a sudden and continuing increase in loudness, but, of course this distinction is lost now.

Well, that’s not what I learned back in the days.
You repeating your statement does not change this :wink:
And like @MarcLarcher said: The field is wide, definitions may vary, and more often than not you can configure Dorico to reflect your defaults

1 Like

I am completely in agreement with SPH.

What I have understood over my 55 years of being involved with reading music is that sf is used as an abbreviation for the sforzato/sforzando variety of marking, with the abbreviation for subito forte being sub. f or, if space is really tight, s. f (notice the dot after the s, indicating an abbreviation). For me, sf being used for subito forte makes me wonder whether it means subito forte or sf/sfz/fz/ etc. The difference which I am trying to explain is that subito forte means suddenly loud with the understanding to continue at this new dynamic level, whereas sf/sfz, etc., would indicate a sudden change of dynamic only for the affected note/chord (ie a big accent) with a return to what the dynamic level was before the marking.

Perhaps what you learned back in the day was not entirely accurate. This happens to all of us.

The distinction I offered between the actual Italian distinctions between the abbreviations for “sforzato” (sf) and “sforzando” (sfz) is borne out by many sources, including the Harvard Dictionary of Music. You might want to check out MGG as well.

My main point initially was that the “s” in “sf” does not stand for “subito.” And I am right about that.

Now whether or not we should be moving on to neologistic constructs that accept “sp” as a dynamic marking meaning “subito piano” is another issue. And while I’m there, what about “mfz” or “spz”?

Our dynamic markings have their root in the Italian language and, hence, in Italian practices for making abbreviations. If we choose to distort the Italian to create these hybrids, what, precisely, is the logical basis upon which we do this, musically and linguistically?

I’m not concerned at all about Dorico’s capacity to cater to all of this – I was just raising a question as to why one little Dorico default – the “pf” of the “combined dynamics” panel – came about, since, insofar as I know, “pf” does not exist as a dynamic.

Dear Lillie,

Since the help page I saw (and you cited) explains how opting between “f sub.” and “sf” is essentially the same thing, then this is a misunderstanding of the original meaning of “sf” which is “sforzato” and not “subito forte.”

This may be a lost battle, like teaching the difference between the verbs “lay” and “lie.”

But you have still not answered my initial question, which was, why does the “combined dynamics” pane offer “pf” as the default, thus forcing us all to click on the little opposing arrow icon to get the tool into a meaningful position for us to do what we have to do?

I will repeat my observation that I have never seen “pf” as a dynamic marking, nor anything like it.


Thanks for fighting the good fight of accuracy when it comes to the meaning of notation!


That’s a question for another member of the team - I just wanted to clarify whether there was an inaccuracy in something I’d written in the manual, as obviously I’d want to correct that! For now at least, the docs accurately describe the functionality and options in the software. Whether those options are desired is a separate question :slight_smile:


You might want to read this article in the Henle blog. The dynamic pf has been around since at least the 18th century. I’ve often seen it in Brahms and it means ‘poco forte’.


Nice historical examples in the article – but I’m unimpressed with the author’s readings of them. And he displayed ignorance with the ridiculous macaronic word “crescendoing”. “Crescendo” is already a participle in Italian. This is equivalent to “increasingando”.

“Poco forte” is another indication frequently misunderstood. It’s easy to assume (as Daniel Türk did in 1789) that it means “a little bit loud”, but in Italian (and the way Brahms used it) a better English translation would be not so loud or not too strong.

I still hope for an official response to the OP’s two points:

  1. The Combined Dynamics panel presents pf by default, a relatively obscure marking, for which (as the article shows) there has never been consensus of intended meaning. So everyone has to click the ⇄ button the first time (first finding it and intuiting what it does) before inserting a marking. Why not offer fp by default, which is the most frequently needed and has a widely and easily understood meaning?
  2. In Dorico 3.5 sfp can only be entered with an abbreviation of subito, which is incorrect, and explains why it took me 2 days to find out how to do it. This is not just annoying to pedants like me; it dangerously spreads wrong information about notation to less educated users. (I note that sf can be entered as an immediate marking, without Properties insisting that it is an abbreviation of subito forte (although it can also be entered as the latter).)

And if I may add two points of my own about the Dynamics panel:

  1. I expected the +/– buttons in Combined Dynamics to in/decrease the dynamic level, especially because the scale includes mp and mf. But on trying them, they seem to mean “in/decrease the number of symbols (except for mp and mf)”. So they work as expected for fortes, but backwards for pianos.
  2. I was expecting the various text buttons (subito, possibile, etc.) to toggle, but they don’t. Once you have clicked one, it appears it cannot be undone except immediately with Undo. You have to delete and replace, yes?
1 Like

Oh, I like that! Is it a Percy Grainger term?

My own approach is to use the clearest, most widely understood terms possible to avoid raised hands in rehearsals, as they waste money and reduce rehearsal time actually spent playing the music.

This is fascinating.

But I have to observe that all this comes from German sources, and just because they are from the late 18th or 19th century, that does not sanctify them. Brahms could have been wrong, just as I or any of us might be wrong, too.

I would just like to chime in that “poco f” is a favorite marking of mine, and I agree with Mark_Johnson that it means “not so loud.”

Further, I love the marking “ben f” meaning “quite loud but not ff”. I’ve rather abandoned all of these lately because no one gets them, so why bother to make these distinctions, in the same way that I stick with “sf”, “sff” and so forth over “sfz” and “sffz”.

But, linguistically speaking, I will go to my grave saying the the “s” in “sf” does not mean “subito.”


Interesting discussion. I am presently working on a Dorico score of Beethoven’s 7th symphony. He often indicated sf and I am pretty sure he means Sforzando (or Sforzato) and not subito forte. Dorico codes this normally as sfz however it accepts sf if you enter it using the popover window with shift-D. My question now is; is sf = sfz in Dorico or is sf = subito forte in Dorico? I have the feeling it is the second.

I am asking as Beethoven also uses sfp which means sfortzando immediately going down to piano and if you enter sfp in the popover, it show as fp sub. If you enter sf however it remains sf.

The combined dynamics function seems to be work in progress. I tried to use the right panel menu to enter combined dynamics before I used shift-D and unfortunately pressed the subito button. Now all dynamics shows with sub. behind. Does anyone know how to deactivate this? Logically would be to press subito again but that does not to work.