Expressive markings in music notation attempt to convey a sense of how the notes should be played. There are written in music notation using lines, symbols, plain language, or a combination of these. These is perhaps the least exact aspect of notation and the one most open to interpretation. Expressive markings include directions on how loud or soft the music should be played – these are known as dynamic markings, what speed the music should be – tempo markings, variations in both dynamic and tempo, as well as directions written, usually, in Italian. The French composer Erik Satie used to play on these sorts of expressive markings including directions in his music like
To be played with both hands in the pocket and
On the tip of the tongue.
Although expressive markings are the least exact in what they communicate to the performer, they do, in a sense, communicate the most about what the composers vision of the music is. It is the expressive markings in a piece of music, and the performer’s interpretation of them, that imbues the music with feeling and expression, without which the music would likely sound quite lifeless.
Below are links to short articles on specific expressive markings and directions.