The hierarchy of dynamics

Dorico gives the possibility to add dynamic symbols with poco (=little, few), molto (=much), più (=more) and meno (=less).
But what ist he correct ranking from soft to hard? The usage does not seem consistent to me.
I would say (from soft to hard): molto pp, più pp, pp, poco pp, meno pp; molto p, più p, p, poco p, meno p; molto mp, più mp, mp, poco mp, meno mp; meno mf, poco mf, mf, più mf, molto mf; meno f, poco f, f, più f, molto f; meno ff, poco ff, ff, più ff, molto ff.

It is subjective and context specific. The only true hierarchy is between the pp<p<mp<mf…(etc.). And even there the steps might not be equal.


“più” is contextual. to say “più pp” would be louder than pp is wrong. it literally means “more softly.”

the use of “più” is to emphasize something… more of whatever that thing is, whether it be a tempo (più mosso = more movement, or più lento = more slowly) or a dynamic (più forte = more loudly, più piano = more softly… although that’s a really awkward use of the expression).

as you can see from the examples, “more” does not automatically place something at the same position in a hierarchy (ie: always in the superior position). It places whatever it is describing in whatever that direction is: more southerly, more northerly, more whatever.


One approach to your hierarchical list of dynamics is this:

Treat meno pp and meno ff as the mid-point between the extremes, and observe the symmetry when working outwards from that mid-point.

In the table here, the left column contains your values, in the order you gave, from molto pp to meno mp, ie decreasing in softness. The right column is your values, in reverse order to that which you gave, from molto ff to meno mf, ie decreasing in loudness.

If you compare the columns, you will see that each instance of molto, più, meno and “normal” dynamics is the same in both columns.

While I tend to agree with the comments by @Janus and @Michel_Edward, your list does have consistency.

there are combinations I would outright avoid.
the use of “molto” and “poco” with median dynamics like mf or mp. They are relatively useless in those instances from a real-world performance point of view.

mp is “mezzo piano”. which means “half” soft, or “not as soft as piano”. to say “more not as soft as”, or “less not as soft as” leads to confusion and imprecision. It will make rehearsals difficult.

you’ll never get consistent performance of dynamics even with the limited use of p, mp, mf, and f. Sometimes the musicians will tackle mp differently from the previous performance. Sometimes a bit louder than before, sometimes a bit softer than before.

For consistency’s sake, stick to pp, p, mp, mf, f, and ff. and use ppp and fff for extreme situations. If you try to separate dynamics into smaller increments you’ll just be asking for trouble… what’s the point between pp and p? will the musicians really make that distinction? and if they do manage to make a division that’s pp, something higher, then p, where will that leave them when they go into louder dynamics? will they over-compensate in soft dynamics, obliging them to make the louder dynamics even louder to continue with the same type of subdivision?


I agree with @Michel_Edward . Furthermore, for any individual player, a dynamic at one place might not be played with equal force as that same dynamic at another place. A simple example is where all parts might be marked p, but the leading line might need to be slightly louder (perhaps marked en dehors - a term that has no meaning in Dorico). There are many other examples.


Thank you very much for all your answers to my question! It will help me to be more consistent with dynamics in the future.