An approach to dynamics

Try this: start at m, meaning medium.

Wait! I’m forgetting something.

First either sit at the piano or go get a paid of drumsticks. Take your time. I’ll be here when you come back.

Ok, got it? We ready?

So, as I was saying: start with m, meaning medium. You want an exercise. Ok, for the piano, put your thumb on middle C, you can add the third finger on the E above and the fifth finger on G, that’ll give you a nice C Major triad. Pluck those notes at regular interval. If you don’t know where middle C is, I know a great teacher that can solve all your piano problem. The drummer, meanwhile, can go Right Left Right Left indefinitely. Shall we look at our orchestra? Piano players repeating the C chord, ploom, ploom, ploom, not too fast, and the drummers going tap-tap-tap-tap. We’re good to go.

Now! Start by choosing a medium volume. Be careful with that. We’ll test it in a moment.

That’s a nice medium. I can hear through my windows, you guys are doing great.

Let’s try a little softer, what is describe in music as mp, for mezzo piano, or medium soft (“mezzo piano” is Italian, the language of music is Italian). Don’t go too soft. The variation should be minimal.

And a little softer again. We are on piano, meaning soft now. By the way, the name of the instrument “Piano” comes from the name “Fortepiano” which was the name of the beast originally. Are we settling in the soft?

Good! Let’s do our final step: very soft or pp or pianissimo. It’s not exactly a whisper, but it shouldn’t be shaking the furniture either. I can hear those tender notes filtering through the air. Sweet sweet notes… By the way, a common thing is for people to slow down when they go quiet. And race when they pound.

Now, here comes the test: from very soft jump back to medium.

Notice anything?

Wait, not everybody at once! Yes, on my left: you went faster. Correct! It was in the cards. Anything else? You, on my right: the medium of now is softer than the one you started with. Absolutely! That’s the surprising fact. If someone go softer and softer, their starting point changes, they get soft everywhere, their reference point has shifted. Why? Because you mind is on a different mode, you just trained it to be careful with volume. It’s an excellent exercise in dynamics on the instrument, but also with the way you conceive dynamics in your head.