Piano technique - Dynamics

Executing dynamics well is another piano technique available is one’s arsenal to attack a composition with panache. Amplify it during practise and make it gradual

Playing piano with ‘dynamics’ is one of the most engaging part about learning to play the piano. When I heard of the term for the first time my thought was, “Dynamics?...What a fancy word!. Such a sophisticated term used to describe a playing style on an instrument that was invented more than 400 years ago,” I chuckled to myself. In case you are wondering dynamics is defined as; varying loudness of sound; markings in a musical score that indicates the desired level of volume [reference: WordWeb 4.3]

One of the earliest lessons I received as a beginner was to play with dynamics when playing with both hands. As in; to play the accompaniment with the left hand softly and the melody with the right hand louder than the accompaniment. As a beginner it was difficult to do, so I was taught to practise one hand at a time. Practise the accompaniment softly with the left hand only, then practise the melody with the right hand only a bit louder compared to the accompaniment. Afterwards play them together with the dynamics included. The final result had me in amazement. The contrasting shade of tone between the left and right hand was astounding.

Dynamics as a piano technique

As I progressed deeper into music studies, I learned to sprinkle dynamics into phrases. Becoming adept at it that I dared to insert some into short phrases with an ascending sequence of notes even though there were no indications to do so. Of course I was reprimanded by my piano teacher, but she admitted that it was a clever play.

The key to good dynamics is to make the varying of loudness occur gradually. For example a common marking one comes across is the crescendo so at the sight of it I used to immediately play the note under which it was marked loud, then incrementally play the following notes louder. How naive...

The piano technique of making
gradual dynamic changes

It was then my piano teacher shared with me one of the most valuable lessons in piano studies. The note under which the crescendo is marked should be played soft, then increase the volume of the tone gradually. The same concept is applied to diminuendo. At the sight of the note under which diminuendo is marked, play as loud as the note that precedes it, therefore no change in tone. Then decrease the volume of the tone gradually until the sound of the final note in the sequence fades into a whisper.

During practise to grasp the difference between the tone, it is wise to amplify the dynamics. Make the soft part very soft and the loud part loud enough but without making the neighbors angry. For instance playing pianissimo instead of piano and fortissimo instead of forte. It is good practise for beginners because a common mistake they tend to make is to play both accompaniment and melody at equal volume.

Dynamics enriches the texture of the sound produced. The accompaniment and melody provide two voices to the composition. In addition to the varying rhythm, dynamics vary the tone. Which adds another dimension to the listening experience as well as the process of the music making itself.

Being able to play with dynamics skillfully is another piano technique available is one’s arsenal to attack a composition with panache. Beginners tend to make the common mistake of playing both the accompaniment and melody at similar volume. As a countermeasure to fix this mistake, amplify the dynamics during practise so that you can listen to the difference in tone between the accompaniment and melody. Make the change in the dynamics gradual. For example going from soft to loud if it is a crescendo. If it is a diminuendo, gradually going from loud to soft.

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