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Music Theory for Singers - Dynamics


This is almost more of a quick vocabulary lesson than it is music theory. This is a brief explanation of what Dynamics are. Firstly, the word dynamic, when used in music, means the volume of sound created. So you could play at a loud dynamic or a soft dynamic. Next, you have all of the symbols in the above image. Starting at the left, here is each symbol, its name, and its meaning:

pp - called pianissimo (pronounced like the beginning of piano followed by easy-mow with a hard "s") - This means to play or sing very quietly.

p - called piano (like the instrument) - simply a good old fashion regular quiet sound.

mp - called mezzo piano (the z's are pronounced like in pizza) - means just a little quiet.

mf - called mezzo forte (forte is pronounced four-tay) - means just a little loud

f - called forte - means your everyday plain old loud sound

ff - called fortissimo - means to play or sing very loudly.

Finally, the long "less than" sign under the letters in the above image is called a crescendo. A crescendo (pronounced cruh-shen-doe) is when you start quiet and progressively get louder. If you draw it in reverse, its called a decrescendo (day-cruh-shen-doe) and means to get quieter.

So why use these dynamics instead of just saying, "play a little quieter" or "loud" or whatever else? Well, some musicians do that, but when playing in large or multiethnic groups, its easier to communicate in a universal language. When I say loud, one player might think fortissimo while another might think mezzo forte. Additionally one might not even speak English and just be confused. These terms give an excellent way to express a thought musically and universally that will have everyone doing the same thing.

Another reason to use these terms, is that loud means play/sing loud, but dynamics are a bit more fluid than that. Its difficult to explain without someone having been a part of a large musical group before, but the space you sing in or the size of the group have an effect on the volume you should play at. Essentially, dynamics tell you the volume at which the audience should hear the sound, not NECESSARILY the volume you play/sing at. Piano tells the musician to play so that the sound is heard at a piano, whereas saying "play quiet" in a huge space may be heard as pianissimo or not heard at all. Sometimes you must play loud in a large space to even be heard at a piano. Microphones help with this, but don't eliminate the concern.

If you have additional questions about dynamics, or how to control your voice when changing dynamics, reach out and we can try some singing lessons!

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