10.MNew Dynamics & Articulations

We touched on DYNAMICS briefly in week 9, and introduced f & p, meaning loud & quiet. Today's session introduces some other dynamics that you can use to add more subtlety .

Some dynamic effects aren't written because it's assumed that you'll apply them anyway. Every musical phrase should be shaped, for instance, typically building to a climax and then fading again. And you should always play rhythmically, so some notes should be played louder than others because they're on the beat etc. Think of dynamic markings as general levels to focus around, then, not instructions to 'flatten' the dynamics.

fff! - ppp!

Extra dynamic gradations can be created by modifying the essential f and p that you already know. You can write 'pp', for instance, to mean 'very quiet' or mf to mean 'moderately loud'. Here's a fuller list of the possibilities, from loud-as-possible to quiet-as-possible, with Italian terms and meanings -

fff! - fff - ff - f -mf - mp - p - pp - ppp - ppp!

fff! - loud as possible

fff - fortississimo - very, very loud

ff - fortissimo - very loud

f - forte - loud

mf - mezzo-forte - moderately/half-loud

mp - mezzo-piano - moderately quiet

p - piano - quiet

pp - pianissimo - very quiet

ppp - pianississimo - like, seriously quiet

ppp! - as quiet as possible.

. . . and Hairpins

You can also indicate gradual changes of dynamics with words -

cresc./ crescendo = 'getting louder'.

dim. / diminuendo = 'getting quieter'.

. . or you can use what most musicians call 'hairpins'. These are wedge-shapes written under the music, as below. The thinner end is the quieter end, of course.

  • Play the following and notice how the dynamics make it more expressive and atmospheric, but also give it a clearer and more satisfying shape.
  • Notice that a hairpin can carry over from one system to the next.
  • It's bluesy . . .

Here's how the tune should have sounded (on C, Bb, Eb instruments).

The Four Seasons

Here's a Chinese piece, The Four Seasons, to try your dynamic muscles on.

There are a couple of new tempo indications - rit. is short for ritardando, and means 'slow down gradually'. a tempo means 'pick up the original tempo again'.

The arrow-head over the first note is a 'percusssive' accent, and tells you to play the note with more attack than usual. The semi-circle over a dot in the penultimate bar is a fermata and indicates that you can linger briefly on the note, thus breaking the pulse.


Here's how the tune should have sounded (on C, Bb, Eb instruments).