Music can be very loud or very soft. It’s something that even a novice music student is somewhat aware of, but new musicians are not always aware just how much control they have over dynamics.
In fact, in the music world, the word “dynamics” is used to describe the volume level of the music. Simply by varying the volume, it is possible for a musician to change how exciting or emotional a piece of music is.
Sometimes, music teachers have a tendency to overlook dynamics in the classroom. They are preoccupied with concepts like pitch, rhythm, beat and many others because everyone already knows that loud music makes you feel very different than soft music.
However, that isn’t necessarily the case. Young musicians may not have a solid enough grasp of nuance to know how much dynamics affects the quality of their playing. This means that it is critical for music instructors to introduce and reinforce the concept of dynamics on a regular basis.
Dynamics are considered an expressive element of music. As such, it becomes clear just how essential they are to giving a great performance and enhancing everyone’s enjoyment of music. Without things like dynamics and other expressive elements, music simply becomes a well-selected collection of notes without any heart underpinning it.
That means that dynamics can seem like a really challenging thing to teach. It may be easy enough to introduce concepts like soft and loud as well as vocabulary like “forte,” but it isn’t always easy to address why these expressive elements are such a fundamentally important part of music.
Accordingly, it is crucial for teachers to have numerous exercises and activities available to them that will help kids to explore dynamics. This may include activities such as responding, creating and performing to ensure that students get a really good picture of what dynamics are all about and how they affect musical performance.
Responding activities are among the first that are introduced to young music students. This is because these exercises help students to identify dynamics and respond. Generally, it’s a great idea to incorporate movement into these activities, which is something that little kids always enjoy.
Some of the most popular responding exercises include:
- Big and small
- Circle discussions
Let’s explore each one in more detail.
Big and Small
For this exercise, you can use any piece of recorded music or play the instrument of your choice. Either way, the piece of music that is played should have lots of dynamic contrasts. Ask your students to stretch their bodies out long and wide or make big movements when the music is loud and to scrunch themselves up or make tiny movements when the music is quiet. This is a wonderful method for really internalizing the idea of dynamics.
Start this activity as simply as possible by asking your students to stretch their arms as wide as they will go when the music is loud, and then bringing their hands closer together as the music gets quiet. As the students learn more, you can introduce basic conducting patterns. Next, ask students to “conduct the orchestra,” making their movements larger for loud music and more contained for the softer passages.
For this exercise, you’ll need a stretchy band for each student to play with. Students who are visual learners will find this activity especially helpful for introducing the concept of the extremes of dynamics and the many levels that are in between. All you have to do is to ask your students to stretch the band wide as the music crescendos, and then let it come back into its original shape as it decrescendos.
Many wonderful kids’ books dealing with emotions are out there, and reading one of these to your class can be a great way to introduce the idea of expressing feelings through all sorts of creative outlets like drawing or music.
One particularly effective selection is Niko Draws a Feeling by Robert Raczka with illustrations by Simone Shin. Niko is a young boy who likes to draw sounds, but most people don’t seem to understand his work until he meets a special friend. Kids will want to read this one again and again.
Another winning selection is Allie All Along by Sarah Lynne Reul. On the surface, this seems like a really simple and straightforward tale, but looking deeper reveals some important strategies for helping kids to deal with really big and sometimes difficult emotions.
This teaching strategy is more effective with slightly older students. It gives every student in the room a chance to let their voice be heard as the basic concept involves going around the circle until everyone has had a turn. In fact, only one person is allowed to speak at a time. Designate an object like a stuffed animal or any small item in the music classroom as the “talking piece.” Only the person who is holding the talking piece is allowed to speak. The teacher starts the discussion by asking a question like, “How does a loud dynamic make you feel?” Then, the talking piece is passed from student to student, with each one supplying their answer.
In addition to responding activities like those described above, it similarly makes sense to have students experiment with performing utilizing dynamic contrast. These exercises can be lots of fun for kids as well. For instance, the teacher might make lots of big motions or small motions, asking kids to respond by playing instruments or singing at a dynamic level that matches the motions.
Other times, the teacher might conduct from the front of the class, asking kids to vary the dynamics of their playing or singing based on how large or small the teacher’s conducting movements are.
At the conclusion of such activities, it is worthwhile to ask students which dynamic level is their favorite in a piece. Then, ask them why that dynamic level works so well for that particular section. This is a meaningful way to help students get accustomed to the concept that varying dynamic levels can convey various meanings to the hearer.
Dynamics similarly may be introduced in other lesson areas as well. For instance, if the class is working on reading rhythm notation in four-beat patterns, it can be really helpful to ask the kids to perform the rhythm using different dynamics. This may mean playing the entire pattern “forte” or “piano,” or choosing to play a certain beat louder or softer.
Along with responding and performing activities, creating exercises are a wonderful way to ensure that kids are really understanding the concept of dynamics. Some of the possibilities include:
- Big and small
As an example of a fun activity, consider having your students select a dynamic level for a song that is about to be sung or played in class. Once the students make a choice, the teacher asks them why this dynamic level seems right for the song.
When the students seem to be making pretty good choices with regard to dynamic levels, it’s time for them to start working with their own creations.
Let a student conduct the class as it sings or plays instruments, with the conductor using big and small hand movements to indicate how soft or loud the class should sing or play.
Props also are fun for creating with dynamics. Students love seeing lion puppets to demonstrate loud sounds and fish puppets to demonstrate soft sounds. Another excellent prop is a Hoberman sphere, which easily demonstrates the contrasts between loud and soft.
Even vocabulary can become fun when it involves dynamics. Let students take turns at pointing to dynamic vocabulary words or markings on the chalkboard or even holding up vocabulary word cards when they hear different dynamic levels.
Older students always enjoy the opportunity to make their own expressive choices with original compositions. When students are making written compositions, teachers can ask them to practice the dynamic markings. When students are performing compositions, the teacher might request that the student perform their piece more than once, each time using different dynamic levels.
Get Inspiration from Prodigies
Dynamics are a critical part of understanding and appreciating music. They work in concert with many other concepts to create a unique and beautiful language.
If you and your kids or students are ready to explore more about the world of music, look to the innovative lessons at Prodigies.