Just like the language of aviation is English, the language of music is Latin. Here are some terms that should keep you covered about 99% of the time (selected and edited from wikipedia):
Two different kinds of articulation:
- staccato: making each note brief and detached; the opposite of legato
- legato: joined; i.e., smoothly, in a connected manner
Four different ways to talk about tempo:
- accelerando, accel.: accelerating; gradually increasing the tempo
- ritardando, often said simply ritard., rit.: slowing down; decelerating; opposite of accelerando
- rubato: i.e., flexible in tempo, applied to notes within a musical phrase for expressive effect
- a tempo: in time; i.e., the performer should return to the main tempo of the piece (after an accelerando or ritardando)
Six different levels of volume:
- pianissimo or pp : very gently; i.e., perform very softly, even softer than piano.
- piano or p: gently, softly
- mezzo piano or mp: half softly; i.e., moderately softly.
- mezzo forte or mf: half loudly; i.e., moderately loudly.
- forte or f: strong, loudly
- fortissimo or ff: very loud
And finally, two different ways to change your volume:
- crescendo: growing; i.e., progressively louder (contrast decrescendo)
- decrescendo: decreasing in loudness; i.e., progressively softer
If you know these – you’ve got the basics!