4. Dynamics: Are they just in your imagination?
by Daniel Nistico

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How often have you thought you were playing extremely loud or so soft it was barely a whisper, but when listening back to a recording or getting feedback from listeners, it was barely perceptible to you or them?

This happened to me, so I’ve experimented for years to find habits that ensure my dynamic intentions come across.

Here are four habits that can help you ensure your imagined dynamic intentions really become a reality.
Habit #1: Write down every single dynamic intention into your score with coloured pencil
This sounds very simple and straightforward, but do you actually do it? I’ve had many students turn up to lessons with blank scores. Blank scores mean blank minds. You may have had many wonderful thoughts and intentions about your pieces, but if you don’t record them somehow, they will escape into the realm of the past and eventually into non-existence.

Why use coloured pencil? Answer: If you spend weeks, months or years writing ideas into one score in lead or pen, it will all become an indistinguishable blur.

You can view an image of one of my scores below. I would love to see your colourful scores once you get started, so please send them to me! You can actually make your scores quite beautiful and personal by doing this. Think of the score as your personal musical diary.
Habit #2: Record Yourself
Again, this is simple and straightforward, but do you actually do it? There is almost no excuse in this digital age to not record ourselves frequently. Here is an opportunity to actually use those distracting devices for a good purpose!

So, after marking your dynamic intention on the score and working on it briefly, record yourself. Make sure the dynamic intention is coming out into reality and isn’t just stuck in your imagination.
Habit #3: A default
If you’re ever stuck for ideas about when to add dynamics, here’s a simple default that you can apply to any piece/etude/exercise.

1. Rising/ascending melodic lines = Crescendo

2. Falling/descending melodic lines = Decrescendo

I found myself working on this deceptively simple approach to adding dynamics in almost every lesson with the great lutenist Paul O’Dette.
Habit #4: Add dynamics to your 15-minute time block of fundamental practice
Not too long from now, you’re going to get to love that open first string. I love it and practice fundamentals on it every day. I work on my tone, rhythm and dynamics, just on that first string. Why? Because it eliminates most other technical concerns and allows you to pour much more of your focus into your musical intention.

String players practice open strings frequently, it seems to be second nature for them. It’s not merely considered a rudimentary and boring part of playing. It’s a core fundamental that they pour their hearts into.

Have I convinced you yet? If there’s anything you get out of this series so far, I hope it’s this. Practice fundamentals on the open first-string on a daily basis.

I recommend practicing these three very basic fundamental dynamic shapes on the open first string. A video is below that shows how I do this, but you can discover your own way too.
Next week I will change gears and discuss habits and tools for learning pieces. This is what you will invest into the remaining 30 minutes of your 45-minute practice system. If you apply the habits and tools, you will improve memorization, increase motivation, and discover ways of practicing more creatively.

Before then, I will send you an email that I received personally from a wonderful Australian guitarist/composer. He shares his wisdom regarding the fundamentals of tone, rhythm and dynamics.
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Daniel Nistico · 1/644 Main Rd, Eltham · Melbourne, VIC 3095 · Australia

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