Music - Dynamic Performance Practices

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Bring out a more dynamic, engaging performance for the audience.

Many folks over the years have asked me how to enhance their performance. They wanted to bring out something more dynamic – more engaging for the audience. I’ve always responded by asking “what do you think is missing”? “What do you think you could do yourself?”

It’s interesting that several players over the years thought that playing the piece a little faster (especially a piece in allegro) might help. That’s when I interrupted them and said “there’s other factors much more important than having to do that”. “Music isn’t a race and the clarinet (my instrument) isn’t a Ferrari!”

Many players today are playing major compositions out of character by performing them too fast. I believe the times in which the composition was written need to be studied: and, that the quality and style of instrument that was being used should be studied. These are two strong indicators of tempo. Regarding clarinet, my specialty, it becomes easy to see that much of the music written in the 1700’s and for the next hundred years are being played way out of character, in terms of tempo, today.

However, there is great flexibility regarding the dynamics of the composition. Earlier composers (1700 -1900s) left much of the interpretation of their piece to the virtuoso to determine. Tonguing, slurring and the mix were often decided by the soloist. Cadenzas were mainly ad-libbed as well. I think today’s performer should keep those thoughts in mind when deciding how to perform a composition today.

Contemporary composers have a tendency to almost over-mark their music trying to maintain more and more control as to how the composition is going to be performed. In today’s atmosphere, the performer has less choices than he/she had a just a hundred years (or slightly more) ago.

In the end however, we, the performers, still retain a few major choices we can make – even with the strictest composers. And that is in the area of dynamics.

Dynamics are indicators of contrast. The composer marks “pp” to bring out a quietude compared to “FF” to bring out a “loud-a-tude”. (I love making up words!) The part and score will be full of these markings. But we really have to look at the bigger picture of what the composer is trying to get at. These unique markings are not definitive. They are, in some way, approximated and always have been. There is no real set standard for a forte or double forte or triple forte. I look at the dynamic’s markings as suggestions. This opens the door for greater dynamic playing.

The composer is gives indications of contrast. IE: “I want it louder here; somewhat softer here … and really loud here. These markings reflect the composers thinking but do not actually quantify it. “How loud is a forte?” “How quiet is a triple piano (ppp)?” There is no clear and crisp answer. They are all approximates.

So, in the end, the performer has every inch of the music he/she is going to perform to decide how different passages compare to each other, in tempo and loudness. How soft is this section “compared” to the next”. How loud does the crescendo actually go? How is this ppp going to be played? How long do I hold the fermata?

On and on, the performer can indeed make choices. And, it is in these choices, the music becomes alive – the music develops character. It’s that music’s character the top virtuosi of today should be shooting for and NOT how fast they can play an allegro or a difficult passage. Unfortunately, many virtuosos play to show off and do not consider the damage that they’re doing to the music through their careless egos.

Remember, and be brave: the performers still retain many choices on how they perform almost any piece. I suggest the following:

1) exaggerate the dynamics

2) push/pull the audience with them

3) play quietly and just a little more than the composer asks (maintain a good tone)

4) play strongly and louder by just a little bit more than the composer asks

5) take advantage of “contrast” by accentuating the dynamics – by stretching them

wider than the audience would expect and beyond the composer’s dreams

6) slow down a little more than it seems requested by the composer

7) speed up a little more than suggested

8) use these skills to tug at the audience and engage them into the music

These few things will change the way you engage the audience forever. They will leave the audience breathless and fully appreciative of the music and your performance. You will be a virtuoso of much more than your instrument. You will be a virtuoso of the music itself!

Give it a try; and, enjoy the results of playing more musical, and therefore, more engaging!


lucia anna
Posted on Dec 13, 2010
Don Baird
Posted on Dec 12, 2010
Ileen Zovluck
Posted on Dec 12, 2010
Don Baird
Posted on Dec 11, 2010
carol roach
Posted on Dec 11, 2010