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teaching dynamics

teaching dynamics piano beginner

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#1 ten left thumbs

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 18:52

As a piano teacher, I have many beginners. I've been observing, and coming rather reluctantly to the opinion that beginners (at piano) do better without covering dynamics. I feel like I just want them to play first with good tone, which they can only do at mf. Ask them to play f and they bang. Ask them to play p and they lose tone. Ask them to even think about dynamics - well, why, surely tone, pulse and intention to engage the correct pitches are more important. 

 

So, in the first year I just want good tone. In the second year I want a shape to a phrase. I want the melody to sound more prominent than any accompaniment. If they've been singing it, they will do that quite naturally. 

 

Now, maybe it's just me. When I think of myself as a child learner, I took dynamic indications seriously. If a phrase was marked p then I played it all softly. If the next phrase was marked mp then I aimed to bring the dynamic up, just a little. I think I did genuinely believe that every note in the p section should be quieter than every note in the mp section. The result? I couldn't shape a phrase. I was scared to bring anything out, scared to put any natural accent on a note (unless it was marked) because of the way the music was written.

 

Any book I pick up has, for the tenderest of beginners, markings starting with f and p, which makes sense because mezzo is a whole other word to learn). So it's kind of hard to ignore them, and I feel a bit philistine saying, I don't want to teach dynamics till the 3rd year. But that really is what I think. Am I the only one?

 

Can someone help me out here? Give me another way to think about this?


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#2 Latin pianist

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 19:54

For beginners I do point out dynamics. I use Tunes for ten fingers and I particularly like the dinosaurs bedtime march and the bells in book 2 which encourage gradation of dynamics in descriptive pieces. It does depend on the student. Some can only just cope with the notes and rhythm and I dont make a big thing of dynamics or articulation with them at first. But others cope easily.I have to say that I do often alter dynamics in grade 1 exam pieces from mp to p and MF to f, otherwise students don't have enough dynamic variation. And then there are those students who don't have a touch sensitive instrument.......
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#3 Hedgehog

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Posted 15 July 2017 - 20:11

I agree with Latin pianist - it does depend so much on the individual student. If I have one who can only just manage the notes, we might just do one change of dynamics so that it is simplified for them. I also use a Dozen a Day and many of these exercises are repeated, so we play once quietly and once loudly, if appropriate, and this simplifies things but incorporates some use of dynamics.


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#4 Orchestra_JJ

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Posted 16 July 2017 - 07:48

I guess I see dynamics as a clue for producing the right sound. What I tend to do is ask the student what kind of piece it is (based on the title) and how they imagine it should sound. Then once they have some sort of vague idea in their head then if they're really not getting anywhere then I might demonstrate, but I really try hard to make them find the sound rather than me showing them. I don't have any books with me right now, but I recall the Grade 1 "Echo" piece (G major). The 3 kids (aged 5 - 7) that I've taught all got it right away - and tried to make it sound like an echo. I always try to think of it as teaching the student to try to imagine the sound they're after - rather than producing a physical reflex.


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#5 HelenVJ

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Posted 16 July 2017 - 09:54

I think it's important to teach even first-year students to produce a forte sound without banging - arm weight gets demonstrated at early stages ( Irina Mints's book Hello Piano has some great exercises for this), and it's also important to establish a flexible wrist early on, which will help to avoid harsh sounds. Most players find playing piano rather harder - obviously the same energy and speed needs to be used as for a forte sound, or the hammers won't strike the keys cleanly. Graham Fitch has some good demos on his website.

So many pieces, even for beginners, would lack any character if everything had a narrow dynamic range and was reduced to mf throughout. I think that as long as students are shown clearly how to produce different sounds, there is rarely a problem. I would tend to start working towards this in the third week rather than the third year!! Playing a melody with a different tone to the accompaniment, as ten left thumbs seems to advocate doing in the second year (?) is alaready a more sophisticated skill than playing f or p for a few bars with both hands equally.


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#6 Aquarelle

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Posted 16 July 2017 - 14:46

For me it all depends on the age and the physical capacity of the child. I have some who can manage dynamics quite well at an early stage. I even have a couple who seem to make the music speak naturally. I have others for whom just getting the right fingers to play the right keys is enough!


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#7 Gazzcool

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Posted 17 July 2017 - 22:52

Slightly an aside - but I remember when I was learning piano I would always get frustrated when I was learning a piece, I could play it through, but the teacher treated the dynamics as an afterthought, only incorporating them after I could fluently play the whole piece without them. If you're going to incorporate the dynamics eventually, you might as well learn to play the piece with them from scratch. It's almost like learning to play it a certain way - then re-learning it another way (And we all know how hard it is to re-learn something.)

Generally, I find the most important thing about teaching dynamics early on is to learn to play quietly without slowing down. This feels very unnatural and I tend to find it is a problem that everyone finds when they first incorporate dynamics - regardless of ability or experience.


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#8 sbhoa

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Posted 18 July 2017 - 11:22

For me it all depends on the age and the physical capacity of the child. I have some who can manage dynamics quite well at an early stage. I even have a couple who seem to make the music speak naturally. I have others for whom just getting the right fingers to play the right keys is enough!

And it's not limited to children. I've had adults who resist my attempts to get them to think of dynamics early on and sometimes they even think that the order of learning a pieces is notes, rhythm, dynamics (maybe).


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#9 ten left thumbs

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Posted 19 July 2017 - 10:08

Many thanks for these observations and comments. I shall see how it goes. I find the summer holiday is a good time for taking stock and thinking what I could do differently next year.


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