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What are Dynamics and Why are They Important?

Woman marking up in music sheet before playing
Calendar October 31, 2019

One of the defining characteristics of the piano is its capacity for a wide range of dynamic options. Notes on the piano can be both very loud, and very soft. It is, in a sense, the defining feature of the piano; unlike its predecessor, the harpsichord, which could only pluck the strings at one set volume. The hammer mechanism in the piano permits a player far greater freedom and expressivity when they play. In fact, the name ‘Pianoforte’ translates into Italian as “soft loud”, alluding to the potential for variance in volume.

What are Some Examples of Dynamics in Music?

If you cast your mind over some of your favourite songs, you’ll quickly appreciate how important dynamics are in music. Consider Blister in the Sun by Violent Femmes: without that quiet verse in the middle, contrasting with the booming choruses either side, it wouldn’t be half as recognisable. The Sex Pistols would have sounded very strange indeed if their songs were gently strummed on acoustic guitars! All of which is to say that, when it comes to virtually any piece of music, dynamics are an integral component in overall expressiveness. In the first place, different instruments vary in loudness and that also plays in music dynamics.

How Should You Use Dynamics in Your Playing?

Often, sheet music will feature dynamic markings (like pp, p, mp, mf, f, and ff) to help inform the player. There are also accented notes, crescendos, diminuendos, and a cavalcade of other indicators. Of course, sometimes the composer isn’t as instructive as they could be with the sheet music; a prime opportunity for some personal interpretation.

Why is it that Some Pianos are Better than Others?

Even now, hundreds of years after the transcending of the harpsichord, many keyboards have a binary dynamic range. Often, cheap MIDI keyboards won’t register the pressure applied to a key. At times, a good old-fashioned analogue piano might be hobbled when it comes to dynamics. On a broken or out of tune piano, certain keys might be louder than others. Some keys might even elicit an unpleasant buzzing noise when pressed firmly. To get the best results with dynamics in piano music, there’s no substitute for a good piano in good working order.

Choose a Quality Piano

Dynamics are important for piano players. Of course, when selecting a piano or looking at how to play a piece, there are many other musical considerations; tone, timbre, timing and so much else.

If it seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Whether you need a new piano, a tuning, or a new teacher, The Pianoforte can help. We’ve been Sydney’s leading experts for the last thirty years, and with convenient store locations in Sydney, it’s easy to contact us or pop-in for a visit. Call us in:

  • Chatswood – 02 9411 8911
  • Seven Hills – 0478 658 227