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When to add dynamics to a piece (Read 1465 times)

Online zebra555

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When to add dynamics to a piece
« on: August 28, 2019, 08:42:56 PM »
Iím interested to know if thereís a general consensus on when to add dynamics when learning piano. Iíve been learning for a few years with a teacher who taught me to add dynamics along with the rhythm, notes, articulation etc.  This teacher left the area recently so I needed a new one. After a few weeks with my new teacher I feel itís going well, but I find there are wide differences between the teaching methods the two teachers use. One that Iím struggling with is that my new teacher believes that itís important to learn the piece solidly first (notes, fingering, timing, articulation) and once that is achieved the dynamics are added.  My first teacher said the exact opposite!

Is there a usual method for learners adding dynamics, or is there no one Ďrightí way?  Iím interested in the different opinions that there may be.

Offline Bob

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #1 on: August 28, 2019, 11:10:00 PM »
I'd agree with both.  Aim for "as soon as possible" though.
Favorite new teacher quote -- "You found the only possible wrong answer."

Offline georgey

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #2 on: August 28, 2019, 11:36:22 PM »
Looking for opinions is great, but you will ultimately need to decide for yourself.

I tend to agree with your new teacher:

"Itís important to learn the piece solidly first (notes, fingering, timing, articulation) and once that is achieved the dynamics are added."

I would say the time to add dynamics is after the piece is solid.  I think a perfect way to practice dynamics NOW is to add dynamics to a few old pieces that you learned a while back that are easy for you now (assuming these old pieces are reasonably solid in regard to notes, fingering, timing, articulation, nice balanced tone, etc.).

But if you are learning a new piece and you have a natural urge to play with dynamics, it may be fine to try to add them before being able to play the piece solidly as long as it is not interfering with your learning of notes, fingering, timing, articulation, nice balanced tone, etc.  It's tough to say if the dynamics are interfering though, so safest may be to disregard dynamics at first.

Here would be my order of preference:

Notes, fingering, timing, nice balanced tone all take #1 priority at the very start.
Articulation, phrasing, correct use of sustain pedal - a close second.
Final icing on the cake: dynamics, rubato (if applicable).

All imo as I type.  I may change my mind in a few minutes.  ;)

Offline perfect_pitch

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #3 on: August 29, 2019, 08:56:47 AM »
I completely disagree with Georgey unfortunately.

You take for instance a very fast rapid piece with flourishing semiquavers and you learn the notes - but only then try to play them at the right dynamic of pianissimo without having ghost notes means you're executed playing them one way and then have to physically change the way you play them from then on.

Same goes for fast chordal passages which are meant to be fortissimo. Playing them soft means you might feel good with the notes, but the extra power involved in playing them fortissimo forces you to again change how you approach the notes and means you have to physically use more energy to play what you thought were very managable chords.

It's easier to learn a piece slowly and correctly first time, than having to rectify, modify and fix mistakes many times later down the line.

Offline brogers70

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #4 on: August 29, 2019, 11:06:31 AM »
My teacher would say that you should aim for the sound you want right from the beginning, all the dynamics, articulations phrasing, etc, and that if, in order to do that, you start just by learning to shape the melody without playing any of the other notes, that's the way to go. The type of sound you want to make in the end will determine all the subtle movements that you make, so if you learn the notes without focusing on how you want the piece to sound you'll end up having to relearn a lot of your motions. Moderation in everything, though; this doesn't mean that you can never just focus on knowing what the notes are, only that the idea of how you want the piece to sound in the end should always be with you.

Offline georgey

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #5 on: August 29, 2019, 11:51:02 AM »
Yea, but the OP just got a new teacher, so I'm going to come to his new teacher's defense.

My original comments are more suited to players that are earlier in their development.  I think the OP's new teacher may have been thinking:  It is better not to focus on dynamics too much if the other, more foundational items are not solid.  Sort of like if you are building a house on unsound land.  You don't want to be focusing your attention too much on choosing the color of the wall paper for the dining room if the walls are starting to develop large cracks.

Offline georgey

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #6 on: August 30, 2019, 01:33:04 AM »
However, I think valid arguments can be made for both sides of this debate (as shown here).

Online zebra555

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #7 on: August 30, 2019, 01:41:03 PM »
Thanks for your replies. Iím reassured to know that there are different views that are valid on this aspect of learning to play piano. I expected to find differences between teachers and their methods but this particular thing is a struggle.  Personally Iím finding the dynamics difficult to add after Iíve been learning a piece for a couple of months without them. And I have a feeling that my new teacher wonít be flexible on it either as she has strong views, most of which are helpful and making practising easier, but not this one.

Offline georgey

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #8 on: August 30, 2019, 03:28:33 PM »
Thanks for your replies. Iím reassured to know that there are different views that are valid on this aspect of learning to play piano. I expected to find differences between teachers and their methods but this particular thing is a struggle.  Personally Iím finding the dynamics difficult to add after Iíve been learning a piece for a couple of months without them. And I have a feeling that my new teacher wonít be flexible on it either as she has strong views, most of which are helpful and making practising easier, but not this one.

ďIím finding the dynamics difficult to add after Iíve been learning a piece for a couple of months without them.Ē

This seems like a very long time to practice a piece without dynamics.  You should talk to your teacher. Flexibility is important to good teaching. 

Online zebra555

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #9 on: August 30, 2019, 08:03:08 PM »
Thanks for replying again. I feel it is a long time too and probably explains why Iím finding adding dynamics difficult. It also probably says something about my rate of learning!  The first steps are getting the notes, fingering, rhythm, and articulation and phrasing - once these have become ingrained then the dynamics are added as the last stage. I have a lesson most weeks and I practise most days, but it still takes 6 weeks or so to get to the stage of adding dynamics. I will try to discuss this with my teacher as you suggest.

Offline Bob

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #10 on: August 30, 2019, 10:11:25 PM »
I've heard three weeks for thing to be engrained.  I understand what you mean about just getting the notes under your fingers.  (Some teachers [one of Bob's] will freak out about things like that.)

Add in that it's possible your teacher, any of them, is explaining more "to themselves" rather than to you individually.  If they would just perform the piece with dynamics, than so should you, and it's blasphemy to say otherwise.  *Bob projects what a past teacher said for Bob's situation onto the original poster.*


Imagine if something like this was done without dynamics.  The overall goal is "the" performance.  Whatever you do in practice, with repetition, etc. is engraining that in your brain though.  Something to keep in mind.  Even with "everything" if that's not the piece or not what you actually feel during that moment, live in the moment, you might end up engraining something else.  I would put anyone in that potential situation.



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Offline pacific_pianist

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #11 on: September 03, 2019, 07:33:12 PM »
Iím interested to know if thereís a general consensus on when to add dynamics when learning piano. Iíve been learning for a few years with a teacher who taught me to add dynamics along with the rhythm, notes, articulation etc.  This teacher left the area recently so I needed a new one. After a few weeks with my new teacher I feel itís going well, but I find there are wide differences between the teaching methods the two teachers use. One that Iím struggling with is that my new teacher believes that itís important to learn the piece solidly first (notes, fingering, timing, articulation) and once that is achieved the dynamics are added.  My first teacher said the exact opposite!

Is there a usual method for learners adding dynamics, or is there no one Ďrightí way?  Iím interested in the different opinions that there may be.


Wrong! Wrong! You do not "add" dynamics. No! You make music sing. That's what we do. Music must sing or shout or cry or console or cajole or inspire in other words it must SING. So you teach students all the fundamental rules of singing first. Then dynamics is just another word to describe what already happens naturally...

read this book for more

https://www.amazon.com/Piano-Song-Press-Friedrich-Wieck/dp/1409947203


Offline keypeg

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #12 on: September 06, 2019, 04:01:59 PM »

So you teach students all the fundamental rules of singing first.
So, how to physically place your voice, where the voice breaks.  How to breathe properly, and keep breath support.

Look, I sing, am told I sing well, and was told by a professional that I am a "natural singer".  But in relearning to play the piano (self-taught as child, returned after decades long hiatus) I am learning how to use the body with the piano and work in harmony with the instrument's mechanism / nature.  It is unlike singing.  For example, when I sing, I must work to produce a note for as long as it lasts.  On piano, the moment the note is struck, you "release" - either with relaxation in the hand while still having the key stay depressed, or via the pedal.  On piano, with pedal depressed, I can move to a new note ahead of time, and it is important to have this principle.  Singing: no such thing.

This is just impractical advice, to "make music sing".  When we learn to play, we have to master various things.  Also, making music thing is through things like articulation, dynamics, not to mention voicing between different notes playing at the same time.

Or, how did you mean "fundamentals of singing" (as applied to piano).

Online zebra555

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #13 on: September 08, 2019, 01:32:27 PM »
Thanks for more perspectives topic. Iím really interested in the different views and approaches.

Keypeg, are you willingness to share how youíve been taught to play dynamics - or which youíve found the most successful method for you?  I think you may be implying that aspects of playing need to be tackled separately in the early stages, but I could be misinterpreting.

Offline keypeg

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #14 on: September 12, 2019, 03:02:49 PM »
Keypeg, are you willingness to share how youíve been taught to play dynamics - or which youíve found the most successful method for you?  I think you may be implying that aspects of playing need to be tackled separately in the early stages, but I could be misinterpreting.
I think I'll answer your opening post separately.  In my last post I was responding to Pacific Pianist about "making music sing" and teach piano students "the fundamental rules of singing" - and hoped to hear back from PP.  For example, what might the fundamental rules of singing be in PP's ideas (it cannot be things like voice placement, breathing technique).  I wrote what I did in the hope that it would get PP to be more on what, specifically he/she meant by, for example, fundamental rules of singing.

Offline keypeg

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #15 on: September 12, 2019, 04:02:49 PM »
So:
Keypeg, are you willingness to share how youíve been taught to play dynamics - or which youíve found the most successful method for you?  I think you may be implying that aspects of playing need to be tackled separately in the early stages, but I could be misinterpreting.

The opening post:

Iím interested to know if thereís a general consensus on when to add dynamics when learning piano. Iíve been learning for a few years with a teacher who taught me to add dynamics along with the rhythm, notes, articulation etc.  This teacher left the area recently so I needed a new one. After a few weeks with my new teacher I feel itís going well, but I find there are wide differences between the teaching methods the two teachers use. One that Iím struggling with is that my new teacher believes that itís important to learn the piece solidly first (notes, fingering, timing, articulation) and once that is achieved the dynamics are added.  My first teacher said the exact opposite!

Is there a usual method for learners adding dynamics, or is there no one Ďrightí way?  Iím interested in the different opinions that there may be.

I am a learner myself. As a child I was given a piano and some old books, mostly sonatinas, and my playing developed that way.  Then no piano for 30 years. So I'm all over the place.  At this point - just discussed it with my teacher in fact - I think there is no black and white to your question.

In general: How, as a beginner, do you physically do the things to create music, before you have to coordination and skills to put in the physical things that you do not yet know how to do?  Also, if piano keys are brand new to you, notes are brand new to you, everything is brand new ---- If you try to do all things at once, can you properly concentrate on, and develop, any of the components?  Or are you scattered in a dozen directions at once?  In this case, working on only a few elements - mechanically - and adding the others after the skeletal elements are second nature - makes sense.  That is the path I adopted for a long time.  It works.

A question:  When you did the "all at once" method with the first teacher, how well did that work?  Were you able to pull it off?  And without strain, tension, and frustration?  Are you convinced that you can actually produce the dynamics, articulation etc., that you want to produce?

I found this layered, stage-wise approach, very useful.  The music I ended up producing sounded good and convincing, and the skills themselves seemed to improve.  But eventually I found I had done it too rigidly: It seemed silly to use one articulation in practising, and then re-practise into another.  Where I'm at, at present, is to shuttle between the two approaches, and use what is needed, and when.  I still lean toward skeletal and building on the skeleton.

An additional thing is:  In how I learned it, one doesn't have to do the whole piece as skeleton-only; then fleshed up etc.  You can work on a section along its main components, then build in the other parts - or if the music is easy, add dynamics right away, but then pull it back down into skeletal, and back up.

If you are adept at working at the level of the simplest components, then you can pull in any aspect at will, in any combination.  I think it is worthwhile to work with your new teacher's ideas, see where they bring you - first work in the way he prescribes - and eventually find what works best for you between the two of them, and a third person, your own.

Does this make any sense?

Offline sucom

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #16 on: September 14, 2019, 08:47:39 PM »
Hi,
I don't feel there is a 'right' or 'wrong' time to add dynamics to a piece but I will say this from my own personal experience:

You have to remember that even when playing pianissimo it is important to give each note a singing quality.  If the notes are technically difficult to achieve, or the phrasing is difficult to achieve, then don't practice the notes or phrases pianissimo.  Instead, practice on getting your fingers to play the notes in a controlled manner.  Once those notes and your fingers are secure, then you can try pulling back or pushing more to achieve a different dynamic.  But even though I say this, there is no right or wrong time or situation - each is different and may require a different approach.  There is no 'one size fits all'.

There will be times when it is helpful to practice a crescendo; there will be times when it is helpful to practice playing with sonority.  Equally there will be times when it is helpful to practice quietly while trying to achieve a singing tone or while trying to achieve a particular shape.

In general, (and I do mean general) if the notes are technically difficult to play, then forget the dynamics and get the notes secure first.  Technical control will help you to achieve the dynamics you want anyway.  What I don't agree with is trying to practice something technically difficult while at the same time attempting pianissimo because the technical control aids the dynamic control.

A piece will flow much more naturally when you have technical control of the notes and the placing of your fingers on those notes.  Once you become fluent, you should be able to feel a natural flow and a shape beginning to arise.  At this point, you can then try to fine tune this flow.  Trying to shape the piece before you feel technically competent will make the whole process that much more difficult.

Have you considered trying both at the same time?  Some parts of a piece are usually easier or more difficult than others.  In the easier sections, practice dynamics and while still attempting fluency, concentrate on getting those fingers secure.  Once they are secure, your fingers will flow more easily anyway and you will be able to add or release pressure from your body in a natural way rather than a forced way.


Online zebra555

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #17 on: September 15, 2019, 06:24:41 AM »
These replies are very helpful.
Keypeg, yes what you say makes complete sense to me. Iím always aware that just playing the correct notes in time can be a challenge when I start a piece, precisely because the piano is quite new for me. Working in the simplest components, as you say, is much more doable.
Sucom, what you describe is exactly what my new teacher tells me - that I need to be able to take complete control of playing the piece technically, then itís much easier to pull in the dynamics.
Thank you both for explaining this method of teaching pieces. Having had a few more weeks since I asked the question I am beginning to see the strength in learning this way. In a sense it deconstructs the elements and puts it all together, and this last step is turning out to be easier than it sounded on the few pieces Iíve been working on recently.  Iíll continue trying.

Offline lostinidlewonder

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #18 on: September 15, 2019, 07:15:02 AM »
It of course depends on the situation. If you are studying a piece which is not too difficult you should be able to add everything at once. If something is challenging then sometimes taking it step by step is more sensible because doing too much early on can just be confusing. I think however that articulating the melody for instance should always be done immediately, if the supporting part is just overpowering the melodic lines then you will just set yourself up for more work in the future balancing it all out.
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Offline Bob

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #19 on: September 16, 2019, 10:53:17 PM »
There's probably something worthwhile in practicing just pounding the notes out, even if you can play it perfectly.  I had one teacher who did that just to drill things into the fingers.  Another one seemed to expect a perfect, final performance of a Chopin etude each week.
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Offline j_tour

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Re: When to add dynamics to a piece
«Reply #20 on: September 17, 2019, 10:54:51 PM »
You know, this is a pretty good question, and I am also thankful to the responses.

It's not unlike how one might approach ornamentation in Bach, for example.

I don't have much to add, except to draw that analogy, and FWIW, I personally tend to the view that you should practice as you want it to sound.

But then again, that approach leads IME to not being as flexible with the "product" as it ends ups.

I suppose this is one reason I like to "practice" most things away from the keyboard.  Studying the score, marking up the score (in pencil!). 

I don't think that's the most efficient way to learn a piece, though:  it takes me a long time to just "get the notes," even with repetition at the keyboard.
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