Dynamics- crucial in music from the start?

Each musical instrument (including voice) can distribute its dynamics (from quietest to loudest sounds) by various degree but what makes it essential to hear these nuances? We hone our sound. That’s our desire surely, whether it be our hobby or profession as a music player. Not much refinement has occurred for a pleasing sound if dynamics are neglected.

Why then, is it so often left to the last few rehearsals to include the scribed dynamic markings?! This is something I can never accept! I won’t apologise for it.

The tone and execution of each note is dependent on how quietly or loudly you play it. Forget the loud and quieter passages and you may as well say you have accepted being a beginner for life.

A major point of the pianoforte development and design was the essence of its name. Its life force had not been neglected by the likes of composer Ludwig Van Beethoven who took dynamics to the nth degree for that time in history (1800s).

Like an artist searching for the perfect shade on her palette, musicians colour air with sounds, invisible to the eye but at the forefront of the ears and body. We say we hear and feel the music. Not much can be done in the way of feeling if everything is blasted at an equally loud setting. A sound engineer would be appalled. Not to mention the dissatisfaction of an audience. Care to critique the latest opera- sang fortissimo throughout? Probably not!

As a continually learning musician, I advise everyone to find their voice in music. It will be unique but it must have something to keep yourself and listeners alert and interested. Otherwise, what is the point? A monotonous sat nav will drive you crazy when the emphasis of local landmark names are pronounced with inaccuracy and emphasis on a different syllable. You notice this too, right?

When approaching the next piece of music you want to learn, I invite you to notice the dynamics or if not penned (as frequently not with pre-Classical era), where you feel the changes in louder or quitter passages could be suitable made in the piece. This means that your practising will be inline with how you play and not just what you play. It makes a world of difference. It sounds much more natural at its finished state than if you were to throw dynamics in last minute, playing faster in loud sections and slower in quieter sections without having thought carefully about dynamic as equally importantly as tempo or pitch.

Sometimes songs can be more obvious in this aspect due to lyrics, but not always. How many times have you heard a cover of a song and thought ‘wow, that’s so different to the original?’ Perhaps very little was changed by way of instrumentation or tempo. Perhaps the singer changed how s/he emphasised some lyrics. Perhaps they showed emotion and dynamic adjustments at a different point in the chorus. Maybe they didn’t crescendo where you expected, or they whispered, ironically.

When painting a room you don’t just pick the first colour that comes to mind. Likely you will have numerous shades to narrow down to the best fit. Music is art. Sometimes we forget that when obsessing over eradicating mistakes but neglecting what could be considered a more obvious element to sound.

Listen. Seriously listen to others playing that music. You don’t want to be a carbon copy but you don’t want to resemble a robot either. How does their emotion reveal with dynamic colouring? Don’t avoid expressing your sadness, excitement, joy, peace or whatever emotion adheres as you play. Permit yourself to explore and change dynamics and observe how the listener’s experience changes too. Record yourself. Review. Keep working, keep playing, keep having fun. Just please do it at suitably different dynamics. You and your audience (no matter how small) will thank you for it.

9 replies to “Dynamics- crucial in music from the start?

  1. Another thoughtful blog entry Suzanne. Dynamic contrast is really important. It was always made obvious to me, but I always found everything below ‘p’ quite hard to master from a technique perspective. And the ability to tackle dynamics comes down to technique. From the beginning (as you rightly point out) one needs to be shown HOW to make gradations of tone through different weightings of finger, wrist, forearm, upper body. I never really discovered or understood how to do this once I got to University (by which stage it was too late)! It really does make the difference between a good technical performance/interpretation and a musically great one.

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  2. Another thoughtful blog entry Suzanne. Dynamic contrast is really important. It was always made obvious to me, but I always found everything below ‘p’ quite hard to master from a technique perspective. And the ability to tackle dynamics comes down to technique. From the beginning (as you rightly point out) one needs to be shown HOW to make gradations of tone through different weightings of finger, wrist, forearm, upper body. I never really discovered or understood how to do this once I got to University (by which stage it was too late)! It really does make the difference between a good technical performance/interpretation and a musically great one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Seth. It is so true. Body movement really has a lot to do with the execution of dynamics also! But never say ‘too late’ I believe you can master this at any stage with application and committed practise 🙂

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      1. I know, it’s fun, right! It’s so hard getting the ppp or pppp in tune on a wind instrument. One of the bubs is doing an audition, and I’m brainstorming ways for her to get it right.

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      2. Yes, I like that too. Karen North did a great book about musical games that have some fun dynamic games, too. Who’s your favourite music teacher?

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      3. My favourite online drum teacher is Dorothea Taylor (does great Instagram content) and my favourite online resource for piano teaching would be ‘Pianote’ where a teacher named Lisa give some great tips and ideas to get enthusiasm and motivation into learning piano.

        Liked by 1 person

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