Sensing volume of sound
When working on dynamics with young students I spend time expanding the range of their overall volume of sound. The process of creating dynamic contrast involves being able to hear how much sound is coming out of one’s instrument, interpreting dynamic markings, and having the bow technique to carry out the composer’s intent.
Interpreting dynamic markings
When working specifically on dynamics, I first make sure that students understand what various markings mean. For instance, in the second measure of the J.S. Bach Gavotte in G Minor in Suzuki Volume 3, students are frequently confused by what looks like a decrescendo to a higher dynamic. This is the perfect opportunity to talk about subito dynamics.
Developing a deeper sound
At this point in the Suzuki repertoire, I work on developing density by using arm weight. We talk about how softer dynamics are easier to accomplish if their forte is rich and strong. The upbeat to this same Gavotte is great for teaching how to use both bow speed and weight to create a pretty fast crescendo. I use the example of how it is like combining ingredients in a recipe to get just the right combination of flavors.
Dynamics in ensemble playing
Working on balance is yet another step in learning how to play with dynamics. I begin by making sure that students understand that a particular dynamic marking has to be carried out by not just the individual but by the whole group or section. Before students can work on balance, they first have to be able to hear all of the individual parts. They have to know their own part well enough to not be so hyper focused on it so that they can hear the other parts at the same time. It is a real sign of maturity when students can step aside and let another part shine through.