“What Does Andante Mean?” Basic Piano Terms & Definitions for Non-Musical Parents

If you’re the parent of a piano student, your child has likely brought an assignment home from lessons and had questions. Sometimes you have to decipher more than the teacher’s hurried scribbling and you run across terms that you don’t recognize.

Here are some terms + definitions to help you assist during practice time. These are all geared toward beginner/intermediate literature, so we won’t get too deep on this short list!!

Jump To…
  1. Articulation (legato, staccato, fermata, accent)
  2. Damper pedal
  3. Dynamics (forte, piano, crescendo, diminuendo)
  4. Key signature
  5. Tempo


  • how a note is played or sung, outside of the dictates of rhythm and pitch

basic articulation markings found in intermediate and beginner piano literature

Damper Pedal

  • the pedal on the right if playing on a traditional piano.
  • if playing on a keyboard, it is most likely the only pedal
  • allows the notes to ring out longer or the tones to all mix together if holding for an entire passage


  • volume of the music; the “louds” and “softs” and in-between

basic dynamic markings* in order from loudest to softest

*other dynamic markings include fortissimo (ff) and pianissimo (pp), but are rarely found in intermediate and beginner literature.

Crescendo and diminuendo are markings to indicate gradual changes in dynamic level.

Key Signature

  • how many sharps or flats are in the piece
  • indicated at the beginning of the piece by a collection of sharps or flats located by the clef.
  • these notes will be sharp or flat for the duration of the piece unless neutralized by a natural sign.


  • the speed of the music
  • tempo is indicated at the top or beginning of a musical score, but it can change throughout the piece.

Common tempos (from slowest to quickest) include…

  • Largo, Lento | very slow, solemn
  • Adagio | at ease, easily
  • Andante | walking speed, not rushed
  • Moderato | moderately
  • Allegro | quick, light, bright
  • Vivace | lively, fast
  • Presto | very quickly

What am I missing?

Are there any other musical terms you’ve been wondering about? Let me know in the comments below!

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