Music Activities to Teach Dynamics

Teaching a subjective subject like dynamics will benefit the student by making it possible to describe music using the appropriate words. Rather than saying the piece is soft or loud, a student can refer to it as piano or forte. This prepares students for further music study in which the use of dynamic symbols becomes very important.

Voice Levels

Voice level activities are great for two purposes: discipline and teaching dynamic contrast. Create construction paper cutouts, with the piano dynamics (ppp, pp, and p) on yellow construction paper, the mezzo dynamics (mp and mf) on green and the forte dynamics (f, ff and fff) on red. Instead of asking students to speak softly, ask them to speak in a piano volume. Instead of telling them to use normal voices, tell them to use mezzo dynamics. When they are at play, tell them it is permissible to use forte dynamics. Show them what each dynamic sounds like by starting with a normal talking voice as mezzo-forte and then lowering the volume with each softer dynamic until you get to pianississimo (ppp). Go in the opposite direction for the loudest dynamics.

Listening Drills

Sing or play a musical instrument for the class at varying dynamic levels. Ask the children to determine if the volume is a piano (soft), medium (mezzo), or loud (forte). Then ask the students to vote on which level of loud of soft the dynamic was. Since dynamics are relative to individual performers, it is a good idea to start this exercise by playing a mezzo-forte so that the students have a reference point. Remember that a piano marking for a solo flute is going to be much softer than a piano marking for an entire orchestra. Explain that dynamics are relative to the capabilities of the instrument or ensemble.

Crescendo and Decrescendo

Have the students sing a single note, you can provide the note on the piano or sing the note. When given a reference pitch, children will be able to match pitch fairly well. It doesn't matter if the pitch is perfectly in tune since the object is to teach a crescendo. Start on a piano dynamic level and gradually increase the level until reaching a dynamic of forte. Don't go much higher than this since it can hurt the vocal cords if children start screaming. As students develop a sense of pitch, start using major scales to teach crescendos. Complete the same exercise while lowering the dynamic level to teach decrescendos.

Music Analysis

Select several songs that have different dynamic levels. Ravel's "Bolero" is a great example to teach about dynamics since it starts very quietly and slowly increases in volume. Have the students raise a hand every time the dynamic level increases by one complete dynamic level. If you use "Bolero" the students should have gone through the complete range of dynamics by the end of the piece. This will both keep the students actively engaged in the music and apply the concept of dynamics to an actual piece of music.


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