Beginner Violin Tips

Style Markings – How to Read Sheet Music

Style is a little less of an issue until you progress further in your violin training. But we’ll discuss the basics anyway so you have a reference to come back to when you do start seeing these markings.

Style markings are usually straightforward comments that tell you something about the mood or feel the composer wanted this section of music to have. The only tricky part is that they are usually written in Italian. So… here’s some basic Italian for you:

  • con = with
    • con anima = with life or animation
    • con fuoco = with fire (very energetic)
  • meno = less
    • meno mosso = less movement
  • piu = more
  • poco = little
    • poco a poco = little by little
    • poco rit. = slowing down a little
  • molto = a lot (very)
  • dolce = sweetly
  • cantando = singing (in a style that imitates singing)
  • legato = tied together (notes should be played smoothly and connected)

There are more terms than these (although only a handful get used most of the time), but this should get you started. With these style indicators you can usually get a fast translation using an online Italian to English translator. Another good option is to simply type them into Wikipedia if you need a longer, music-specific answer for a particular term.

Note: like style markings, tempo markings are also written in Italian. The difference between the two is that tempo refers more to the speed of the piece than its attitude. But there can definitely be overlap between style and tempo. To see more info and examples of tempos, check out our Tempo article.

What’s Next?

Go to the next lesson, about Clefs.

See a list all our lessons about How to Read Sheet Music for Beginner Violin.

Check out our favorite book/CD combo for How to Read Beginner Violin Sheet Music.


2 Responses to “Style Markings – How to Read Sheet Music”

  1. Colin Rose Says:

    One of the pieces I wished to learn was Fur Elise but I could not find poco rit. I have also now come across: tempo primo & meno mosso cantando, all of which may be useful to add in the style section. I have in the meantime looked them up. Regards CR

  2. Leopold Says:

    Hi Colin,

    Thanks for the comment. I wrote briefly about rit (slowing down) and tempo primo (I’d called it “Tempo 1”) in the separate article on Tempo. There can be overlap between style and tempo, so I’ve now updated the article to say as much, and I’ve added cantando to the list.

    Thanks again for your great comment, and best of luck with Fur Elise!

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