Expression, Articulation, and Miscellaneous Symbols for Reading Guitar Notation

By Mark Phillips, Jon Chappell, Hal Leonard Corporation

Expression and articulation deal with how you play the music. The table, in conjunction with the figure, tells you about the symbols and terms that deal with these issues. The table deals with the symbols numbered 20 to 26 in the figure.

Music for “Shine On Harvest Moon.”
Expression, Articulation, and Miscellaneous Symbols
Number in Figure What It’s Called What It Means
20 Dynamic marking A dynamic marking tells you how loudly or softly to play. These
markings are usually abbreviations of Italian words. Some of the
common markings, from soft to loud, are pp (pianissimo), very soft;
p (piano), soft; mp (mezzo-piano), moderately soft; mf
(mezzo-forte), moderately loud; f (forte), loud; and ff
(fortissimo), very loud.
21 Crescendo and ritardando The wedge-shaped symbol is known as a crescendo and indicates
that the music gets gradually louder. If the wedge-shaped symbol
goes from open to closed, it indicates a decrescendo, or a gradual
softening. Often, instead of wedges (or, as some musicians call
them, “hairpins”), the abbreviation cresc. or decresc. appears
instead. Another term you can use to indicate a softening of volume
is diminuendo, abbreviated dim. The abbreviation rit. (sometimes
abbreviated ritard.) stands for ritardando and indicates a gradual
slowing of the tempo. Rallentando (abbreviated rall.) means the
same thing. You can indicate a gradual increase in tempo by using
accel., which stands for accelerando.
22 Slur A slur is a curved line that connects two notes of different
pitch. A slur tells you to connect the notes smoothly, with no
break in the sound.
23 Staccato dot Staccato dots above or below notes tell you to play the notes
short and detached.
24 Accent An accent mark above or below a note tells you to stress it, or
play it louder than normal.
25 Repeat sign The repeat sign tells you to repeat certain measures.
26 Ending brackets Sometimes a repeated section starts the same both times but
ends differently. These different endings are indicated by numbered
ending brackets. Play the measures under the first ending bracket
the first time, but substitute the measures under the second ending
bracket the second time. Taking “Shine On Harvest Moon” as an
example, you first play measures 1–8; you then play measures
1–5 again, and then 9–11.