How do you play Dynamics? (accurately and musically)

May 6, 2012 at 11:10 PM · Ok I know that for piano you play softer and for forte you play louder, but how do you do that on the violin? I mean this in way that the dynamics sound accurate and clean. Everytime I play piano it sounds soft but not musical and same with forte. The real question is how to play dynamics musically?

Replies (22)

May 6, 2012 at 11:55 PM · How long have you been playing?

Sometimes it's just bow control. We could go over a few techniques, but it really just takes time, and experience of the muscles.

Think of it like dribbling a basketball. When a little kid, or anyone dribbles a basketball for the first time they use their entire arm with very little control over the bounce, and speed. You could give the person a bunch of tips, but the only way he or she will get better, and have more control is to learn to use his lower arm, wrist, and finger muscles through time, experience, and repetition.

May 7, 2012 at 01:03 AM · Generally, use less bow (1 cm) for piano and more for forte (4 cm). When practicing, focus on exactly how much bow you are using for each note. Using masking tape sparingly to mark bow divisions may help.

May 7, 2012 at 01:44 AM · Greetings,

the first thing you might consider changing is the concept.

The violin does not have a huge range of sound like that of the piano or a trumpet. Try thinking of dynamics as energy level rather than volume.



May 7, 2012 at 02:25 AM · I do not agree with the previous statement

May 7, 2012 at 03:52 AM · Although I disagree about Mr Brivati's statement that violin has less versatility than piano or trumpet, I do agree with the energy level statement, if only partially.

The stringed instrument family happens to be the most similar in variety of tones to voices. So, apply whatever musical dynamics voices have to stringed instruments. There is a definite differentiation between a piano for a voice singing a lullaby and a piano for a voice singing someone on the deathbed. Similarly, a "piano" marking for violin can mean many things, from "soft and sweet" to "soft and hushed" to "soft and tiptoeing". That is part of the musical experimentation and expression.

Let me give an example. The beginning of Sibelius' violin concerto, 1st Mov is marked mezzo-forte. The beginning of the same concerto, 2nd Mov is also marked mezzo-forte. Yet most violinists differentiate by the following:

1. Bow speed. Most of what I've seen have slower bow speeds with 1st movement, allowing a thinner, clearer, sharper tone. The second movement has more hair contact, is broader, and therefore sounds bolder and louder.

2. Vibrato. 1st movement: narrow vibrato, not too frantic. 2nd movement: deep, broad vibrato.

Try singing to see what you're doing with dynamics. Are you singing all fortes the same? Or are you varying them? I'm guessing the latter; violin works the same way.

May 7, 2012 at 03:53 AM · Me neither. Just ask a trumpet to play pp.

Anyway, to play loudly, use lots of pressure. I mean, press hard. Really bear down. Pretend your fiddle is a tube of toothpaste and you have to get that last little bit out.

To play softly, press less hard.

May 7, 2012 at 04:08 AM · Greetings,

please could you point out where I used the expression 'violin iOS less versatile than trumpet.'

I wait with baited breath.

Likewise I am intrigued by mthose who think a violin can play louder than a trumpet.


May 7, 2012 at 04:43 AM · Creating dynamics and projecting in a concert situation is not just about volume, but more about intensity and tone color. Those differences can be achieved by changing the point of contact, bow speed, arm weight, bow hold, vibrato, etc. This is how we can still hear a violinist over a 85+ piece symphony orchestra.

As for playing pianissimo on a trumpet, it's only the beginner 4th graders that have trouble with that. :)

May 7, 2012 at 05:31 AM · Buri:

"The violin does not have a huge range of sound like that of the piano or a trumpet."

That sounds like you're saying violin has less range of sound, which can mean less versatile.

May 7, 2012 at 05:38 AM · If a violin could play as loudly as a trumpet, most of us would be out of a job.

May 7, 2012 at 07:21 AM ·

May 7, 2012 at 12:35 PM · Is because of this possibility to play more softly and sensitive I love violin and trumpet not.

May 7, 2012 at 01:10 PM · What is misleading to inexperienced string players in orchestras is seeing on their copy dynamic markings such "fff" and "ffff". What they don't realise is that this applies to the orchestra as a whole, and almost all that loudness on those occasions is provided by the brass, woodwind and percussion. There is absolutely no need for the strings to try to match the heavies'"ffff" (anyway, it can't be done). Just play "ff" and "look" busy and as if you're playing "ffff".

At the other end of the dynamic scale I remember some years (decades?) ago being in a symphony orchestra rehearsal in Bristol's Colston Hall, in which we were playing the slow movement of some symphony or other (I can't remember the name) the last few bars of which ended in "pppp" and with a decrescendo. The conductor couldn't quite get what he wanted, so he told us to lift our bows just out of contact with the strings for the final bars, but to keep them moving. It worked a treat in performance and completely fooled the audience into hearing a pianissimo the like of which they had never before experienced.

Btw, "pressing" really hard on the string kills the tone and does not increase the volume. The answer is to move the bow faster and nearer the bridge.

May 7, 2012 at 02:27 PM · Trevor "pressing hard kills the tone" depends on your violin and technique. Some fiddles can handle a lot more pressure than others with surprisingly little bow, particulalrly nearer the bridge.

Rostropovitch once told a concert master he played beautifully but with such a "little tone". To make his point he took the violin and blew everyone away playing fortissimo very near the bridge. Others tried but couldn't get the same effect.

Scott, didn't you know it is politically incorrect to use the p word ;)

May 7, 2012 at 02:41 PM · Hendrik,

That's why I always use the term "pressure!" I am experimenting with other terms, though: saw, drill-baby-drill, nail it, wail, etc.

"Scrunch it!" may work really well for the timid student.


May 7, 2012 at 02:48 PM · CLAWS

C - Contact point - where the bow goes between the bridge and fingerboard

L - Lenght - small, medium, large amount of bow. Can also pertain to where: frog, middle, tip

A - Articulation - legato, staccato, accent etc.

W - Weight - light, medium heavy

S - Speed - slow, medium, fast or changing slow to fast, fast to slow etc.

Each one of these needs to be studied independently to master the different tasks.

You also need to know how combining them in different ways gets different sound effects. Ultimately in the end they are your tools in a toolbox to create the desired effect.

Smiles! Diane

May 7, 2012 at 03:20 PM · > there are a lot more nuances possible

> on the fiddle, compared to the trumpet

I don't think that's true. If you listen to artists like Hakan Hardenberger, Maurice Andre, and Sergei Nakariakov, and Doc Severinsen (there are many others of course, but just four that I personally enjoy listening to), you'll find that the trumpet is quite capable of a huge range of expression equal to that of any other instrument.

It's like saying to John Williams on guitar, or Emmanuel Ax on piano, or Christian Lindberg on trombone, Robert Dick on flute, etc. that their instruments don't offer the same capability for "nuance" (whatever that really means) as a violin.

I would venture that it is primarily the player that determines that, and not the instrument.

May 7, 2012 at 04:16 PM · I learn how to play musically and tone colors control from my current violin. My violin is one of my most reliable teacher.

You'll probably never learn how to play sensitively if you have a sensitive instrument to begin with.

May 8, 2012 at 02:25 AM · Well, this is for a solo with only a piano accompying me. I like the CLAWS strategy. I'm probably going to tape that to my music stand so I can remember it. :)

May 8, 2012 at 04:33 AM · I think what you are really asking is how to optimize your tone at soft and loud dynamics. So I would look for a book (or Fischer's video) on tone production.

The trumpet can indeed play PP. Just ask any good orchestral trumpet player to demonstrate.

Much of the violin's range comes not necessarily from decibels but from the different tonal qualities (I think Buri said 'energy levels' or such) that we can reach with the violin.

There are good ways you can make the most of dynamics. One way is to think carefully about the difference between crescendo and diminuendo as they relate to upbow or downbow and vice versa. Aaron Rosand likened the upbow and downbow to human breathing. You can explore this concept very effectively on open strings or VERY slow scales if open strings are too unbearably boring for you. Also remember the wisdom of Hans van Bulow, who said "Crescendo means P." That is, if you want a crescendo to seem more dramatic, start softer.

May 8, 2012 at 04:44 PM · Take Buri's advice. Pamela Frank (Professor at Curtis and Peabody, also the Chair of the Jury, 2012 Menuhin International Competition) also said something similar: “Dynamics are character markings, not volume markings.” See more masterclass notes in my archived blogs.

May 8, 2012 at 11:12 PM · I agree with the comment about bow control. It is like you can't play piano if you can't play forte... however, in orchestra there are a lot of fiddle players so I never play forte in orchestra as a rule otherwise people give me the stink eye. Its a lot of skill involved in playing lightly and control-ly first though find the forte so you can scale it down.

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