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What are dynamics?

Teachers Notes

1. Basic definition of dynamics is making a piece of music vary in volume from soft to loud or loud to soft
a. Dynamics use symbols and also Italian words to indicate the sound level
b. Dynamics add musical contrast and expression to the music
i. Gives flexibility and range to music through volume
ii. Execution: stylistically and functionally
Ex. The difference between staccato and legato
1. Staccato (to detach) Notes played rapidly with distinct separation between them.
A dot above or below a note indicates the detached style.

2. Legato is a musical term that directs the performer to play or sing a series of notes
smoothly and without any interruption. Legato is indicated in music by a curved
line above the notes.

c. Dynamics dependent on tempo marks and the general mood of the piece of music
d. Accents
i. Sudden changes in dynamics may be notated by adding the word subito (Italian
for suddenly) as a prefix or suffix to the new dynamic notation
ii. Accented notes (notes to emphasize or play louder compared to surrounding notes)

1. Ex. One particularly noteworthy use of forzando is in the second movement
of Joseph Haydn's Surprise Symphony
2. Notated sforzando, sforzato, forzando or forzato (abbreviated sfz or fz) referring
to "forcing"

e. Gradual changes
i. Crescendo (cresc.) referring to gradually becoming louder
1. For greater changes in dynamics, cresc. molto and dim. molto are often used,
where the molto means much

pp p mp mf f ff

ii. Diminuendo (dim.) means gradually becoming softer
1. For slow changes cresc. poco a poco and dim. poco a poco are used, where poco
a poco translates as little by little
2. Ex. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's fantasy overture, Romeo and Julie

2. ff f mf mp p
This is slowly getting louder, louder, louder; now its getting even louder; Holy COW!
THIS is starting really loudly but its getting softer, softer, now I can hardly hear it.

5. Dynamics will sound different from an ensemble to solo pieces
a. Some dynamics are hard to distinguish the difference between their volumes
i. Dynamics are relative and do not refer to specific volume levels
ii. Interpretation of dynamic levels are left mostly to the performer or ensemble
1. Performers use dynamics to be sensitive not to just the melody, but the harmony
and bass line
2. All parts need to be heard and equally balanced out
b. Most music in the baroque and classical period stay between forte and piano
c. In romantic and modern pieces dynamics have large contrast
i. Beethoven was the marker for the transition from classical to romantic period
ii. In these time periods the composer wanted to reach the highest point of passion in the
piece and would fade to another extreme dynamic
1. Ex. Holsts The Planets goes to forte fortissimo (FFF)
2. Ex. Tchaikovsky uses (ppppp) in his Pathetique Symphony
6. Why are Dynamics in Italian?
1. European music was first written down in Italy
a. Italy was the center of musical learning
b. many musicians came to study the state of the art practices, they carried those
advanced practices back to their own countries