“Only after I have become familiar with the style and character of the work can I start shaping an interpretation.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 24
On a primary level, musical interpretation conveys fluctuations in emotional intensity.
And one of the best ways to communicate changes in intensity is to vary volume.
Fundamentally, more volume equals more emotional power.
So we can set out to create an interpretation by increasing and decreasing volume to complement the gradations of intensity we perceive in a composition.
Three Ways to Shape Musical Dynamics
1. Adjust Volume in Line with Melodic Arc
When melodies ascend, they often grow in vigor; upon descent, they might repose.
As a rudimentary strategy, therefore, we can raise and lower the dynamic levels along with the melodic arc:
2. Adjust Volume in Keeping with Harmonic Intensity
Musical intensity isn’t generated from melodic layout alone; harmony also plays a vital role.
For instance, as chords depart from the tonic harmony, intensity rises, so we should adjust our volume in response to harmonic energy.
In Example 2, notice how the harmonies call out for dynamic shading as they progress away from and then return to the tonic chord:
3. Shape Volume According to Melody, Harmony, Meter and Text
With vocal music, the text guides the shifts in melodic and harmonic power.
In Example 3, the melody, harmony, and text align such that, as the melody and text rise and fall in intensity, the harmony moves in step; the strongest pitches, also the highest, fall on strongest downbeats and harmonic points:
What if a melody descends and the harmony becomes more potent? Harmonic intensity usually trumps melodic outline.
Also take into account that a piece may be structured with a single climactic peak that merits the loudest treatment, so we’ll often want to regulate our volume over the long haul so that we arrive at fortissimo only once.
Lastly, to evaluate our use of dynamics, we do well to record ourselves regularly.
© 2018 Gerald Klickstein
Adapted from The Musician’s Way, pages 25-26.