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Dynamics Markings

Advanced Studies

Lesson 2 - Section 1

Dynamic Markings (Volume)

Jazz is a very passionate music to play. Like Classical music, Jazz can be played very loudly and very softly throughout the whole song. These changes in loudness and softness are called Dynamics. In the image for this section are some common dynamic markings. These markings are used by the composer to show the player when to play softer or when to play louder! These changes in loudness and softness make the music much more exciting and interesting to listen to. If you were to play a song with exactly the same dynamic level throughout, it would be very boring to listen to.

You might remember some bands or musicians that play at the same dynamic level throughout the entire performance (such as a loud rock or heavy metal band). This kind of performance can be really boring and a mark of poor training in music. Even Jimi Hendrix, a famous electric guitar player in the 1960 ‘s, used many dynamic variations in his music including feedback from his guitar and amplifier. Feedback is a high pitched electronic squeal generated when a microphone or a guitars’ pickup gets to close to it’s own amplifier. Hendrix was certainly a master of dynamics and feedback.

The names for each dynamic marking is as follows:

pp – pianissimo
p – piano
mf – mezzo forte
f – forte
ff – fortissimo
fff – fortississimo (play with an attitude)

The dynamic markings are placed just below the note were the composer wants the change to occur. Please refer to the image. If you see the dynamic marking and no other lines next to it, the change should be abrupt. In the next section is an example of dynamic markings that change gradually and not abruptly.

Crescendo and Decrescendo

Lesson 2 - Section 2

Crescendo & Decrescendo

Look at the image for this section. If you see the dynamic markings with other lines next to it, the change should be gradual. The lines show you how long to make the transition from one dynamic marking to the next. In other words, how long to make the change from one volume level to the next volume level. These lines are called crescendo if you are growing louder or decrescendo if you are growing softer.

Articulation Marks

Lesson 2 - Section 3

Articulation Marks

Changing volume (dynamics) is one way to create interest in a song. Another way to create interest is by changing the way each note is played. Look at the image for this section. In the first measure, a dot is added over the top of an F note. This dot is called a staccato marking. This mark tells the player to strike the note sharply (very short and abruptly).

In the middle measure there is a short line (dash) drawn over the top of an F note. It is the opposite of staccato. This line is called a legato marking. This mark tells the player to give the note a dull strike and hold the note for its full value.

In the last measure, there is an arrow-looking symbol drawn over the top of an F note. This symbol is called an accent mark. This mark tells the player to strike the note harder, not shorter or longer, just harder.

All of these marks are called Articulation marks. Someone may ask you to articulate a note using one of these methods described above. And, you will now have the knowledge to know what articulation they are talking about.

Changing the Pace

Lesson 2 - Section 4

Changing the Pace

We’ve seen dynamics and articulations so what would come next?

What is another way to generate interest in a song?

How about changing the tempo (pace)?

There are 3 common ways that composers change tempo in a song.

They are:

ritardando (rit. or ritard)
A tempo (a tempo)
accelerando (accel.)

Ritard or rit. tells the player to gradually and smoothly slow down. 

A tempo tells the player to return to the original tempo after a slow down or a speed up.

Accel. tells the player to gradually and smoothly speed up.

In the image for this section, both a tempo and rit. are shown.

Notice the wavy line after rit.? As with dynamic line markings, this tells the player what measure(s) or what part of the song to slow down. The wavy line is the length of the ritardando. In the image example, the ritardando is expressed over 5 quarter notes.

Additional Markings

Lesson 2 - Section 5

Additional Markings to Add Interest

Let’s look at one more way to generate interest in a song before we look at some Jazz specific ways.

What if we were to stop playing, stop counting, and stay perfectly still for a moment or two?

This puts the audience and the player(s) in a state of tension and they will stay that way (if you don’t stop too long) until you play the next set of notes, rhythms, or chords.

It’s great fun to add into a song, especially at the last few bars (measures) of a song.

In contrast to a complete stop, what if we were to hold a note or a chord for an indeterminate length of time?

This is also great for the end of a song. One or several holds can be used to generate a big finish to a song.

When used in conjunction with a complete stop first, it really adds excitement to the finish of a song. Jazz and Rock drummers playing a wild solo at the end of a song are most commonly playing this solo during a hold.

Look at the image for this section. The two diagonal lines in the first measure (between the first and second quarter notes) tell the player to stop completely, abruptly and stay perfectly still. These lines are referred to as a Grand Pause, G.P. or the Cut Off

The symbol over the last quarter note in the first measure is tells the player to hold this note. This symbol is referred to as a Fermata, Birds Eye or Hold Sign. If you are playing or listening to Classical music, formal terms like (1) the Conductor’s Score, (2) a Grand Pause or (3) a Fermata are used to describe these interesting musical approaches and ideas.

If you are in the Jazz world, you will hear less formal terms used. Jazz is a less formal way of doing music. Being a Jazz musician myself, I would use terms like (1) the Chart, (2) the Cut Off and (3) the Hold Sign (or birds eye) to describe these interesting musical approaches and ideas.

The Author’s Bias

I have a bias and I will tell what that bias is here. This does not mean that you should develop the same bias. Follow your own path and not a path someone else has made for themselves. I chose my path many years ago based on many factors, musical, personal taste, environmental, and etc. You must do the same for yourself.

My bias is:

I believe Jazz to be the ultimate in musical expression. I believe Jazz to be a much higher form of musical expression, more so then Classical. I believe that most early composers were in fact Jazz musicians that were asked to write down their solos so that other people could play and enjoy them.

Performers of Classical music have many rules and restrictions forcing adherence to the original score. Classical performances offer little risk on the part of the players or the Conductor, when compared with Jazz. Jazz, at it’s essence, is risk taking and true music creation . . . and not just the recreation of music.

Musical scores become reference guides and not rule books in the musical world of Jazz. Each player is able to express themselves to any degree in the Jazz format. Making music without reading it from a page becomes an exercise in on-the-spot compositions.

Players become composers during a performance.

The players’ performance risk is much greater in Jazz then in Classical, but the rewards are equally greater for the player and for the audience. Music will be heard that has never been heard before and will never be heard again . . . unless of course someone captured the performance on tape.

Now let’s learn more about this wonderful genre and form of musical expression called Jazz . . .


Swing

Lesson 2 - Section 6

Swing Style

One of the most basic Jazz styles is the Swing style. Swing uses a staccato and legato mark to setup the basic Swing beat or rhythm. The Swing feel is similar to taking a triplet note and tying the first two notes of the triplet together. In Lesson Number 1 of Advanced Studies, the Blues listening example is in the Swing style.

You could also write the same rhythmic feeling in using a time signature of 6/8. For example, in your music note book, compose 1 measure of 6/8. Your measure should have 6 eighth notes in 1 measure. Now tie the first and second eighth notes together. Then, tie the fourth and fifth eighth notes together. Now sound out this rhythm. Sound out means to figure out vocally first (sing it), before you play it on your instrument. Notice that the rhythm sounds very much like the figure marked (b.) in the image for this section.

In Jazz, the shorthand way to write Swing is with staccato and legato marks. Look at the figure marked (a.) in the image. Figures (a.) and (b.) have the same rhythmic sound. Figure (a.) is less cumbersome to write and easier to read than a lot of triplets tied together as shown in (b.).

Later on, you will learn that many times when a composer labels their composition as Swing style, the staccato and legato marks are implied throughout and therefore will not be written over the tops of each note.

We have come to the end of Lesson Number 2. You have done very well. This was a long lesson.

Sometime over the next week, review this lesson and record in your music note book all the dynamic and articulation marks that you learned in this lesson. Keep it as a reference guide. You will need it in other lessons to come.


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