Why is the Italian language important in the field of music?

Do you have a favorite subject in school? Do you enjoy learning about the past, science, or mathematics? Maybe you have a passion for language arts or physical education. Many children find joy in a class where they can sing and even practice some dance moves. What are we referring to here? Of course, it’s music class!

What makes music class so enjoyable? For many children, it’s the excitement of learning to sing or play a musical instrument. And, of course, learning to read sheet music is a vital part of honing those skills.

Have you ever tried reading sheet music? If you have, you probably noticed numerous unfamiliar symbols and words. Maybe you came across the term presto at the beginning. Maybe you encountered piano, forte, and fortissimo throughout the piece. You probably had to ask your teacher for their meanings. Or perhaps you didn’t need to if you were familiar with the Italian language!

Italian is often referred to as the language that sings. Do you speak Italian? If not, have you heard it spoken out loud? Many people find it melodic. However, the connection between Italian and music goes beyond that. Today, the musical vocabulary is filled with Italian words.

However, it wasn’t always this way. Thousands of years ago, people did not write down music. Instead, they passed songs down orally and taught each other to play them on musical instruments. Ancient civilizations in Babylonia, Greece, and Rome were among the earliest to document music. Later, people in Spain and Italy began transcribing music for use in church choirs.

Around 1000 C.E., an Italian man named Guido d’Arezzo introduced the musical staff. This staff is utilized to indicate pitch in written music. Over the following centuries, many of the individuals writing music were Italian. They used Italian words to describe tempo, dynamics, moods, and other aspects of music.

Naturally, people in other parts of the world were also writing music. In an effort to standardize written music, many of them adopted Italian terms. Others wrote music in their own languages. For instance, Beethoven occasionally used German words instead of Italian. Claude Debussy used French in his piece “Clair de Lune.”

Nevertheless, Italian remains the primary language used in music. You might already be familiar with some musical terms! One example is tempo, which refers to the speed of a piece of music. Notations in sheet music inform the performer when the music should be played adagio (slow), or allegro (fast). Some pieces are even presto (very fast). The dynamics, or volume, of music might start at piano (soft) and crescendo (get louder) to fortissimo (very loud).

Those who write music also have ways of communicating techniques. A musician might play the notes staccato (short and sharp) or legato (smooth). And, of course, every musician knows to stop playing when they see Fine (end).

These are just a few examples of the Italian words commonly used in music. Can you think of any others? Do you agree that Italian is the language that sings? If not, what language would you use as a composer?

Give It a Try

Ready to continue learning? Find an adult who can assist you with the enjoyable activities listed below!

Italian Words in Music

Are you curious about the Italian words used in music? Take a look at this list. Did you already know any of these terms? Which ones are new to you? Listen to one of your favorite songs and decide which of these words you could use to describe the song. Have a discussion about it with a friend or family member.

Are you ready to create your own music? Use this virtual keyboard or virtual guitar to compose your own song. What tempo will your song have? What kind of mood are you aiming for? Play your song for a friend or family member and ask for their opinion.

Take some time today to learn more about music. Start by making a list of questions you have about this topic. Then, ask an adult to assist you with your research either online or at the local library. Share the most interesting facts you discover.

Useful Sources

  • https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15040264 (accessed 31 Aug. 2020)
  • https://www.musicca.com/musical-terms (accessed 31 Aug. 2020)
  • https://www.classicfm.com/discover-music/music-theory/why-italian-words-in-music-notation/ (accessed 31 Aug. 2020)
  • https://www.wqxr.org/story/why-do-we-use-italian-words-describe-music/ (accessed 31 Aug. 2020)
  • https://www.mfiles.co.uk/music-notation-history.htm (accessed 31 Aug. 2020)
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlWARUR2IpA (accessed 31 Aug. 2020)


1. Why is Italian considered an important language for music?

Italian is considered an important language for music due to its historical significance in the development of Western classical music. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, Italy was a hub for musical innovation and creativity. Many of the world’s most renowned composers, such as Vivaldi, Verdi, and Puccini, were Italian. Italian is also the language of opera, which originated in Italy and continues to be a prominent genre in the world of music. Learning Italian allows musicians to understand and appreciate the nuances of Italian opera and vocal music, as well as the rich heritage of Italian music.

2. How does learning Italian benefit musicians?

Learning Italian benefits musicians in several ways. Firstly, it allows them to understand and interpret Italian musical terms and expressions commonly used in sheet music and vocal scores. This knowledge enhances their ability to accurately convey the intended emotions and style of a piece. Secondly, knowing Italian enables musicians to communicate effectively with Italian-speaking composers, conductors, and fellow musicians, fostering collaboration and understanding. Additionally, studying Italian can provide insight into the cultural and historical context of Italian music, enabling musicians to perform with a deeper appreciation and authenticity.

3. Is Italian the only language of classical music?

No, Italian is not the only language of classical music. Classical music encompasses a wide range of styles and genres from various countries and time periods, each with its own linguistic heritage. German, French, English, and Russian are also important languages in classical music due to the contributions of composers from these countries. German, for example, is significant for its association with renowned composers such as Bach, Beethoven, and Wagner. French is notable for its influence on impressionist music, while English plays a role in the development of the English madrigal. However, Italian remains particularly important due to its historical connection to opera and the Italian composers who have shaped the genre.

4. Can non-Italian-speaking musicians still appreciate Italian music?

Absolutely! Non-Italian-speaking musicians can still appreciate and enjoy Italian music without knowing the language. Music is a universal language that transcends linguistic barriers, and the emotional impact of a piece can be felt regardless of the lyrics or language. Furthermore, many classical music compositions have been translated into various languages, allowing non-Italian speakers to understand and connect with the themes and stories portrayed in the music. Additionally, the beauty of Italian music lies not only in the lyrics but also in the melodies, harmonies, and overall composition, which can be appreciated by anyone with an ear for music.

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