50 Music Symbols and What They Mean

A Comprehensive Guide on Music Symbols

Music Symbols and What They Mean

The world of music is serene and welcoming. There’s no such person who isn’t captivated by the charm of music, but only few dare to explore it in its true and raw sense. Music has a lot more depth than what’s audible. Therefore, if you are a true audiophile, you must be aware of the term “sheet music.” Sheet music, comprising music symbols, was invented to understand and play music accurately. Also, it is still in use.

Sheet music is complex and requires patience to understand. It involves a lot of symbols to describe music more precisely. Therefore, this guide comprises a list of important music symbols (and what they mean) that music enthusiasts like you should know.

Let’s begin and look at them one by one:

1. Accent

Accent Music Symbol

A horizontal “V” that lies over the note indicates the Accent music symbol. It marks the emphasis on a particular note at the beginning and diminishes it suddenly, toward the end. 

There are three types of Accents:

  • Dynamic Accent – Also known as the “stress accent.” It creates emphasis to produce louder sound.
  • Tonic Accent – It creates emphasis on certain notes to create a higher pitch.
  • Agogic Accent – It creates emphasis on a particular note for a longer duration.

2. Arpeggio

Arpeggio Music Symbol

Arpeggio originates from the Italian term “arpeggiare,” and simply means a “broken chord.” A chord is a group of notes but the symbol refers to where the notes are played and heard individually. 

There are three types of Arpeggio:

  • Up Arpeggio: A vertical wavy line indicates this symbol. Up arpeggio denotes the chords that need to be arpeggiated from the bottom note.
  • Down Arpeggio: A vertical wavy line indicates this symbol as well. Down arpeggio denotes the chords that need to be arpeggiated from the top note downwards.
  • Non Arpeggio: It indicates that the chords are to be played together and should not be arpeggiated. 

3. Bar

Bar Music Symbol

A Bar denotes a specified number of beats in a certain time span. Several Bars can be combined to make sheet music easier to follow by marking boundaries for different beats. 

4. Brace

Brace Music Symbol

A Brace or a bracket that looks like an archer’s bow refers to the connection between two or more dependent staves that have identical clefs.

5. Breath Mark

Breath Mark Music Symbol

The breath mark is also known as luftpause. Musicians can leverage the breath mark to understand when to take a breath or pause.

6. Chord Numerals

Chord numerals play an important role as they denote the position of a chord within the key of a music piece with the help of roman numerals.

7. Clef

Clef Music Symbol

Clef is a music symbol that marks the beginning of every musical piece and assigns particular notes to each line in a stave. 

There are three types of Clef. These include, G-Clef, F-Clef and C-Clef. It is because of these three clefs that you can write music for all instruments and voices despite the differences in range.

8. Coda

Coda is quite similar to Dal Segno. It marks the beginning point of the exit of a repetitive section. It ensures the musician does not stop abruptly at a particular point. 

9. Common Time

It is used when there are four-quarter beat notes per bar/measure, i.e., 4/4 time signature.

10. Crescendo

Dynamics play a crucial role in a music piece. Crescendo indicates an increase in the dynamic or loudness at a particular note or segment in a musical piece.

11. Cut Time

The Cut Time music symbol is controls the rhythm or tempo of a music piece. It is often mentioned as 2/2 or a C-shaped music symbol with a slash going vertically.

The two main uses of Cut Time are:

  • Replication of March: 2/2 is a replica of 2/4 as they both have the same downbeat on every other beat
  • Increase the speed of the Tempo: Contrary to “Common Time,” Cut Time denotes half-time and the musician will be playing in 2, i.e., twice as fast.

12. Da Capo

Da Capo indicates the musician to return to a spot mentioned earlier in the music piece. It is often used in its abbreviated form “D.C.”

13. Dal Segno

Dal Segno marks the passage that the musician should repeat. Its abbreviated form is “D.S.”

Dal Segno has two variants:

  • D.S. al coda: It tells the musician to return to a particular passage mentioned earlier and repeat the same.
  • D.S. al fine: It asks the performer to go back to that particular sound and to end at the note that is marked “fine”.

14. Damp

Damp instructs a performer to mute or damp a certain part of an instrument. It comprises a circle with a cross in it.

15. Damp All

The Damp All music symbol is similar to Damp. It is used to instruct the performer to mute or damp all parts of an instrument at that moment. It is denoted by two circles with a cross in it.

16. Double Flat

The Double Flat tone indicates lowering the pitch of a note by a whole step or two semitones. Two stylized lower-case “b” are used to denote a double flat tone.

17. Double Sharp

Contrary to the Double Flat tone, Double Sharp refers to an increase in the pitch of a note by a whole step or two semitones.

18. Dynamic Notation

Dynamics denotes the variation in loudness between notes or phrases. Letters such as p for piano, m for mezzo and f for forte are used to write the notations.

19. Fermata

The Fermata music symbols instructs musicians to hold a note longer than its normal duration. The musicians do not hold the note before the conductor’s instruction to start playing.

20. Flat

The Flat music symbol suggests lowering the pitch of a note by half step or one semitone. A stylized lower-case “b” is used to refer to a flat tone.

21. Fortepiano

Fortepiano denotes an abrupt change in dynamics, i.e., from a loud to quiet.

22. G-Clef Ottava Alta

G-Clef Alta Music Symbol

The G-Clef Ottava Alta symbol denotes that all the notes on a staff should be played one note higher than its typical note.

23. G-Clef Ottava Bassa

The G-Clef Ottava Bassa symbol denotes that all the notes on a staff should be played one note lower than its typical note.

24. Glissando

The name Glissando originates from the French term “glisser.” It refers to the gliding of a pitch from one note to another.

25. Grace Note

The Grace Note is usually played before the main note begins. It is quick and quite in nature.

26. Hemiola

The name Hemiola originates from the Greek adjective “hemiolios,” meaning “in the ratio of one and a half to one (3:2), as in musical sounds.” “3” denotes that the piece is in a duple meter and “2” is mentioned if the notation is in the triple meter.

27. Key Signature

The Key Signature music symbol represents a combination of flat, sharp, and rarely, natural symbol. It represents notes that are different from the natural notes in a music piece.

28. Marcato Accent

In the case of Marcato Accent, the accent of a note is slightly increased than a regular accent.

29. Multi Rest

The Multi Rest music symbol instructs the performer to rest for multiple bars.

30. Music End

The Music End symbols marks the place where the music ends and is marked by a double bar.

31. Natural

A natural note does not have a designated note. It is neither sharp nor flat.

32. Note

Note is a symbol denoting the pitch, duration and pitch class of a sound in a music piece. It can also be the sound itself.

33. Ottava Alta

The Ottava Alta note is marked beside notes that should be played one octave higher than what’s mentioned.

34. Ottava Bassa

The Ottava Bassa symbol is marked beside notes that should be played one octave lower than what’s mentioned.

35. Percussion Clef

The Percussion Clef Sign can be found in the sheet music of instruments that are not subjected to a specific pitch.

36. Repeat

The Repeat music symbol instructs the performer to repeat a particular section, sometimes over and over again.

37. Rest

The Rest music symbol denotes the absence of sound in a musical piece.

38. Segno

The Segno music symbol marks the passage from where the musician should resume playing after the instruction of “Dal Segno” is passed.

39. Sforzando

The Sforzando music symbol denotes a sudden strong emphasis on a note in a musical notation.

40. Sharp

Contrary to a flat tone, a sharp tone refers to an increase in the pitch of a note by half step or one semitone.

41. Similie

A simile indicates the repetition of previous bar/measure in a piece.

42. Staccato

The Staccato music symbol denotes the shortening of a music note without increasing the speed of the music.

43. Staff

Staff is the base of sheet music consisting five lines with notes written around them.

44. Sustain Pedal Engage

The Sustain Pedal Engage is commonly used in modern piano. Upon pressing the sustain pedals, they remove all the dampers from the strings allowing them to ring.

45. Sustain Pedal Release

The Sustain Pedal Release music symbol denotes the release to bring back the piano dampers in their initial state.

46. Tenuto

The Tenuto music symbols comes into play when the tones are at their maximum values and there’s not much space between each tone.

47. Time Signature

The Time Signature music symbol specifies the number of beats in bar/measure. It also indicates the note values which are equivalent to a beat. 

48. Tremolo

The Tremolo Effect refers to the rapid and repetitive manner in which notes play.

49. Volta Brackets

Volta Brackets come in handy when a particular segment of a piece repeats two or more times, but with different endings.

50. Decrescendo

Decrescendo marks the slow and steady decrease in the dynamics or loudness over a series of notes in a musical piece.

Final Thoughts

We cannot deny how important music symbols are in order to learn and understand music. You can even use them as inspirations for your music tattoo ideas. If you were in search of an ultimate guide, then your search ends here as we have listed all the important music symbols that you need to know to become a master in music.

Hope you have found this article helpful. Do share your insights and let us know in the comments below what article you want next.