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#968491 - 01/06/05 07:10 AM The Rules Of Dynamics
Cindysphinx Offline

Registered: 02/14/03
Posts: 6416
Loc: Washington D.C. Metro
Can anyone help me out with a problem that keeps coming up?

It seems that composers like Chopin sometimes included some dynamics markings, but more often than not there aren't many dynamics indicated in the original work. So far, I've dealt with this by following whatever marks are written and then just doing whatever else I feel like doing.

I like to call this "creative musical interpreation." ;\)

But there must be rules on how you approach dynamics, right? Like, if you're in 4/4 time, you accent the first beat some and the third beat a bit less. And you usually or maybe even always play the melody line louder than the accompaniament line.

So that's two rules. But how do you approach upward runs versus downward runs? How do you know when to get louder in a piece? When is it OK to vary your tempo and how do you know when you are doing this so much that it is no longer dramatic but is just annoying? How about figuring out the right speed for a piece? Pointers on phrasing and articulation?

Please, someone, tell me there are rules I can follow? I'm good at following rules!

I'll take guidelines if that's all you've got. ;\)

Cindy -- who never seems to play a piece the same way twice
Vote For Cindy!!


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#968492 - 01/06/05 07:32 AM Re: The Rules Of Dynamics
RonTuner Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 1873
Loc: Chicagoland
Hey Cindysphinx-

A little detective work never hurts... What I mean is to study the score and look for:

1. phrases - try building towards the middle and ending a little softer. Generally speaking, it's best not to be static; music should almost always be coming or going somewhere.
2. hidden gems - are there notes hidden in the jumble that could be brought out to make a statement?
3. lines that cross between your hands - keep the line consistant.

Maybe the best guidance without a teacher is to listen to many recordings of the same piece that you are already familiar with. What differences can you pick out? What's the same?

enjoy the journey!
Piano/instrument technician

my piano videos:

#968493 - 01/06/05 10:55 AM Re: The Rules Of Dynamics
DuCamp Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/02/04
Posts: 263
Loc: Mexico City
I think I can help you, Cindy... concerning Chopin. But this might be applied to other romantic composers.
a) Speed: Contrary to what many performers do, Chopin's works in its majority aren't supposed to be played as if they were Liszt's compositions. Chopin's tone was very controlled, delicate and minimalist... so blazing speeds aren't appreciated by teachers when they listen to a student race through Chopin's works.
b) The left hand is suposed to accent (but not loudly) the bass note and blurr to a whisper the rest of the chord or accompainment.
c) The mordentes are not supposed to sound like you accidentally stroke a note wrong. They have to be very distinct from the note that has it attached.
d) Phrases are easy to identify, play them as they are written and then give your own little touch to them. One thing you can actually do that you can't with authors like Mozart or most of Beethoven is that with Chopin you can add your touch of rubato to "customize" the phrases. But this is just with the phrases, don't let the rubato mess the rythm flow because this is what turns annoying a piece.
e) There musical lines that are riff-like phrases or arpeggiated lines, cadenzas, etc. that have to keep a water-like flow. This are the hardest one to achieve cause they are not just any type of phrase and this are the ones that a good teacher will guide you on how to get them right. In my opinion, Rubinstein got them elegantly and his recordings could be a guide for you with this aspect of Chopin's works.
f) Pedal is very important with Chopin. There are a lot of scores that do not indicate the use of pedal but it's implicit on how the notes are ligated.
This are the ones I consider to be very important, and I'm sure others will add theirs to help you.
Visit my architecture studio website (it's new and soon to be available in english)
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#968494 - 01/06/05 01:17 PM Re: The Rules Of Dynamics
pianojerome Offline
9000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/05
Posts: 9868
There are natural accents in the time signatures. With accents on a scale of 1 (strongest) to 4 (weakest):

2/4 goes 1 - 3 | 1 -3 | ...
3/4 walzes go 1 - 3 - 3 | 1 - 3 -3 | ...
3/4 mazurkas go 3 - 1 - 1 | 3 - 1 - 1 | ...
4/4 goes 1 - 3 - 2 - 3 | 1 - 3 - 2 - 3 | ...


It is important, especially with Chopin's music, to know the differences among waltzes, mazurkas, and polonaises. They all accent different beats, even though they are all in 3/4 time, and thus have different feels to them.

Also, upward runs tend to crescendo and accelerate, while downward runs tend to decrescendo and deccelarate.


"When is it OK to vary your tempo and how do you know when you are doing this so much that it is no longer dramatic but is just annoying? How about figuring out the right speed for a piece?"

Actually, I will answer these questions with other quotes: \:\)

"There are many ways of performing a given work, but the artist must be convinced that his way is right. That is what gives authority to his performance." -- Byron Janis

"An artistic interpretation may be close to or far from the composer's indications. But one thing is absolutely crucial: an interpretation has to be convincing." -- Shostakovich

"Today’s audiences go to the concert hall to hear Beethoven and Schubert and Brahms and so on. But back in Godowsky and Hofmann’s day, we went to her what the pianists had to say about the composer; we went to hear the pianists, and the same thing went for every other great pianist. When you went to hear Cortot play an all-Chopin recital, you went to hear what Cortot had to say about Chopin." -- Jorge Bolet

"I must tell you I take terrible risks. Because my playing is very clear, when I make a mistake you hear it. If you want me to play only the notes without any specific dynamics, I will never make one mistake. Never be afraid to dare." -- Vladimir Horowitz

#968495 - 01/06/05 03:43 PM Re: The Rules Of Dynamics
Kreisler Offline

Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13827
Loc: Iowa City, IA
There really aren't any rules.

But, there are conventions, and those are best derived by listening carefully to good performances. If you get into the habit of listening to good people play, then you'll start to listen for the same things in your playing. (And, despite what some people think, I don't believe this cramps your own individual style.)
"If we continually try to force a child to do what he is afraid to do, he will become more timid, and will use his brains and energy, not to explore the unknown, but to find ways to avoid the pressures we put on him." (John Holt)


#968496 - 01/06/05 07:42 PM Re: The Rules Of Dynamics
ShiroKuro Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/04
Posts: 3555
Loc: not in Japan anymore
Regarding rules, remember the saying "rules are made to be broken" when you think about applying them to actual music. A few people have mentioned phrases, and it's important to be aware of them in the piece. So I might follow a rule that says accent here, but when the phrase goes beyond that, I want to prioritize the phrases rather than the rule.

Listening to good pianists is also very important, especially if you can listen to different pianists playing the same piece, because then you can hear some different interpretations, which is an invaluable exercise.

Cindy, you also said:
"how do you know when you are doing this so much that it is no longer dramatic but is just annoying?"

I laughed when I read that! That is so me! either there is no expression in my playing, or there is so much that it leaves goop all over the piano and sheet music when I'm done- ick!

Of course, having the opinion of another person is great (my piano teacher is always happy to tell me when I'm overdoing it!) but another thing I like to do is tape myself, and not listen to it right then, maybe wait until the next day or a few days later (I do this when I am listening for dynamic and expressive things. when I record myself for technique things, I tend to listen to the tape right then) This will let you hear your own playing as a listener not as a player. Being able to evaluate myself is one of the things I'm working on, and I find it very difficult, but by leaving the recording alone for a bit and coming back to it, I find I can listen with "fresh ears" so to speak.
Started piano June 1999. My recordings at Box.Net:


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