Robert Estrin - piano expert

How loud is FFFF fortississimo?

Learn more about fortissimo and pianissimo dynamics

In this video, Robert tells you how loud quadruple F "fortissimo" (also known as "fortississimo") can be, and how to play it.

Released on July 15, 2015

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi and welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin with a viewer question. How loud is quadruple forte fortis, tis, tissimo (fortississimo)? This is a great question and there's a lot that goes into it, more than you might think.

Well, let's talk about this. These dynamic markings, when you have three or four forte markings, and sometimes three or four piano markings, you might wonder how loud and how soft can things get? Let's break it down. First of all, you will never see markings like this in early period music. In fact, in baroque music of Bach, Handel, Tellemann and others rarely is there any dynamics at all and when there are dynamics it's typically just forte and piano and that's about it. Well, is this to say that earlier period music was less expressive? To some extent there's some truth to that, but there's some notable exceptions. I could take Handel's Messiah or certainly a Beethoven symphony, which was in the later classical period, and there's tremendous dynamic range. Not to mention the organ works. The pipe organ after all was a fully developed instrument way back in the Baroque era. So that's one possibility that to some extent, if you have a piece that just has piano to forte you might still have that full range of soft to loud that you would in a piece that goes from triple or quadruple piano to fortis, tis, tissimo (fortississimo). On the other end, maybe they're just giving you different gradations of loudness.

But there's more to it. You see, the instruments themselves actually evolve to a great extent with some exceptions like I mentioned the pipe organ, or the violin, which was fundamentally developed instrument way back in the Baroque era. But instruments like keyboard instruments, the piano didn't even exist. The harpsichord, which was the reigning supreme keyboard instrument in most ensembles in the Baroque era, had a very limited range of expression because there was no touch sensitivity for dynamics. So the only way to change dynamics really was with a series of stops engaging different sets of strings. So in that regard there is a much more limited dynamic range. French horns, for example, you could only change notes by sticking the hand in the bell, stopping the note, altering the pitch, there again, limiting the dynamic range overall.

There's another component to this, which is a Baroque or classical orchestra was much smaller. A Baroque orchestra might only have a couple of dozen members and a classical orchestra may be a bit bigger than that, depending upon which work was written for. When you go to later romantic works, Mahler symphonies sometimes could have more than a hundred people, sometimes with huge choirs, and think about the dynamic range that that creates. So there's a lot to this subject. So in general, you have to go with the style of the piece. Not just the period but the specific work. Yes, there's a more restrained expression. For example, in a Tellemann trio sonata than there is a Bruckner symphony. However, you have to use your judgment and the sensibilities of what the music demands to know just how loud and softly to play.

Great question. Thanks for joining me. Robert Estrin here at and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Steven Cooke * VSM MEMBER * on July 16, 2015 @7:43 pm PST
GREAT answer (as usual) Robert! Music is a partnership between the composer and the performer, and the range of expression (including volume) is almost limitless. The important point is to create the MUSICAL experience that is emotional as well as intellectual. BALANCE is a key factor. I'm a low brass player (trombone) and yes, in ensembles I have to consciously work on playing softer to blend instead of taking over, just because I CAN! Smiley Face Thanks again for a great response - and the implication that you don't have to play loud to play well.
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