Dynamics in music refers to the volume markings used by composers as an element of musical animation. Whether it be the peaceful ebb and flow of waves on the sand or the triumphant shout of a returning warrior, volume can be an effective means of communicating a story or a mood to the audience.
Some of the common Italian musical terms and symbols for dynamics in music are given in the table below. Adding this element into your music playing will add a depth and expression not possible by playing the notes alone.
Changes in volume can be sudden and dramatic, or more gradual over several bars of music. The more gradual changes (called crescendos and decrescendos/ diminuendos) are indicated using arrow symbols or sometimes dashed lines. The length of the arrow or line indicates the duration of the volume change. Letter symbols at the beginning and end of the arrows usually indicate the starting and final level of volume. Sometimes there’ll be no letter symbols indicating the magnitude of the volume change. And so it will be open to the interpretation of the player to give the piece a little of their own personal flair (looking at the dynamics in the sections surrounding can give you a hint on what’s likely appropriate).
Dynamic changes for flute players can be challenging as they require the player to make adjustments to their embouchure to avoid two critical playing issues: playing out of tune as well and losing good flute tone. A flexible embouchure that allows you to easily modify the speed and direction of air entering the flute, good breath support as well as learning to actively listening to yourself are essential in good dynamic control.
Listen to this quick audio tutorial as I take you through some of the common mistakes made when first trying to play different dynamic levels. I’ll also share some techniques you can try to maintain perfect pitch and rich, clear tone over the entire dynamic range.