Go-to-ElevenHow loudly, or quietly, you play has a huge effect on how effective your performances are. The same music played at different volumes has different effects on listeners.

If you play more or less at one volume all the time, your playing might sound flat and uninteresting.

The best musicians play different sections of songs at different volume levels, and they also work to shape individual phrases, licks, and sections so grow or drop in volume note by note. This is the type of playing that is the most interesting – for you as a performer and for your listeners!

Before you can have such a wide dynamic palette in your playing, you’ve got to have the technique to easily change your volume level while playing. Here’s a good exercise to work on that:

The One-Octave Scale Exercise

Play a one octave scale. You choose which scale to play. Just make sure it’s something you know well, so you’re not thinking about which pitch to play next.
Version 1: As you go up the 8 notes of the scale, each note will get progressively louder. So the first note is as quiet as you can play and the last note is as loud as you can play. Then, you’ll go back down the scale from very loud to very soft. Go slowly and be sure to change your volume level on each note.

Version 2: This is the opposite of what you just did. Start the scale as loud as you can play. Get quieter on each note as you go up the scale. On the way back down, you’ll go from extremely quiet to extremely loud.

The Eight Dynamic Levels

The one-octave scale exercise is an amazing way to take control of your dynamics when you play. It gives you 8 different volume levels that you completely control with your technique. The exercise is extremely powerful and introduces you to a way of thinking when you play:

You can actually plan out which sections of a song will be played at which level. Or, you can say that you’ll crescendo during one phrase from Level 3 to Level 6. This gives you clear targets to enhance your expressiveness.

If you who read sheet music, you’ll see these 8 levels written down with specific markings:


Level 1: ppp (pianississimo – very, very quiet)

Level 2: pp (pianissimo – very quiet)

Level 3: p (piano – quiet)

Level 4: mp (mezzo piano – medium quiet)

Level 5: mf (mezzo forte – medium loud)

Level 6: f (forte – loud)

Level 7: ff (fortissimo – very loud)

Level 8: fff (fortississimo – very, very loud)

Be Expressive

Expressive_Singer1Using dynamics is one way to be more expressive when you play, and controlling these 8 levels of volume is the first step in effectively using dynamics to be a more expressive musician.

Once you control these dynamic levels, start experimenting with combining changes in your volume with changes in your tone, in how you attack notes, in how you sustain notes, and in every other subtle change to your sound you can come up with.

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