Dynamic Basic

August 29, 2019, 4:20 PM · I would like to ask if about assigning dynamics to a piece of music if it comes with little/no dynamic information (maybe the edition is old, etc).

I am working on a piece of music is written mainly in 4 bar phrase, with 2 bar question and 2 bar answer. The piece is written in early romantic period.

Rather than just randomly try something and see if it sounds good, I just wonder if there is logical/common practice on this. For example, crescendo on the question phrase, diminuendo on the answer. Or crescendo on first bar of the question and diminuendo next and repeat through-out the piece. Or piano on the question, forte on the answer, etc. Any suggestions?

Thank you very much for the help.

Replies (7)

August 29, 2019, 4:52 PM · Well all I will be confident ish about would be crescendoing when coming up to a cadence
August 29, 2019, 5:58 PM · The logical, common practise is to randomly try things and see what sounds good. Then when you know what sounds good you can look at the piece as a whole and refine it down to what sounds good and makes sense musically.
August 30, 2019, 5:58 AM · One thing you could also do is see if you cannot find larger phrases than just the 4 bars. In the many masterclasses given by Benjamin Zander that you can find on YouTube, that is a recurring theme. He lets students see the big picture, where initially it looks like three phrases of 4 measures each, he lets them see it as one huge phrase of 12 measures, and then with that phrase you can do other dynamic things with it.
August 30, 2019, 7:01 AM · Seconding the Zander reference. He helps them "see" it with large arm movements and body movement. I love watching him sort of magic-wand them into longer phrasings.
Edited: August 30, 2019, 8:21 AM · On less inspired days I can try a "dumb" approach: getting louder as the melody goes up and vice versa. This gives me some crude dynamics to shape.

Or a more "zen" (?) approach: playing it with a nice tone but no dynamics, and let the music show me what to do next time round.

I remember working on the middle movement of Bach's A minor concerto: C major at each end an some complex minor passages in the middle; I could choose Joy, Doubt, and Joy; or Serenity, Anguish, and Serenity.

Cadences? They can be affirmation,.. or release.

August 30, 2019, 8:23 AM · My teacher is continually reminding me to "find the longer phrase."

The problem with a formulaic approach like "music goes up, dynamics goes up too" is that you end up with music that sounds formulaic. As Cotton says, sometimes you need to try the non-intuitive thing. Sometimes you need to surprise your audience, even (or especially) if they've heard that piece many times before.

Does it make sense within the context of the genre? Does it tell help convey a musical story? Does it sound good? If the answers to these questions are "yes" then your dynamics are just fine.

August 30, 2019, 9:03 AM · Definitely look for the longer phrases, but in general you only have a few options with question/answer trope. They are:
1. Loud on first, soft on second
2. Soft on first, loud on second
3. Crescendo through the whole thing
4. Decrescendo through the whole thing

There may also be internal dynamics like a hairpin within each phraselet as well.

All of the above is potentially correct; it really depends on the situation to find which is right. Try them all out and if you are still uncertain, listen to some recordings.

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