Often times, as percussionists, we focus on rhythms and articulations 1st (which you should), but many young percussionists tend to allow dynamics to fall by the wayside. A little louder here, a little softer there; doesn’t seem very important to an untrained ear, but it is! Here’s why dynamics and dynamic contrasts are so important…
Frame of reference:
As a child, you know that you live in the state of Florida (or whatever state you came from), but you first had to understand what America was, and Earth before that. Music is similar. For my audience/judges to understand that I am playing a soft ballad, I must at some point contrast this with a loud and brash ram. If I simply play loud and never show them soft, there would be nothing to compare it to. The frame of reference would be lost, diminishing the effect of the music.
Most experienced and seasoned musicians see music as an entity that can take on a life of it’s own. As humans, music should present a color and expressiveness in life that connects us to one another. You understand me because I somehow understandably convey what my idea is. Music is the same way, you want it to connect with the audience. Dynamics are a very large portion and what some consider the basis for musical expression. Creating and releasing tensions is a key role that dynamic fields play when utilizing musical expressions. Here’s an example: The arranger says, “I’d like to build this section of the piece a bit more without changing the entire structure, so lets utilize a crescendo.” This is often botched by many percussion groups. Lots of indoor shows tend to start with some sort of soft introduction or harmonic bed laid down by the mallet players and the arranger intends to introduce the drums by building into it, many times starting off with a battery solo. Often we hear these solos played way too loudly, breaking away from the track the arranger had put us on. Now we cannot build our volume into the drum sounds, there is no perceived crescendo, and we have just disconnected the audience. This also disconnects judges, and when that happens, scores suffer. These are the reasons dynamic expression is so important.
As a professional percussionists, it is my job to demonstrate impeccable control over my instrument’s sound. Dynamics are a huge part of this. Students who strive to take their skills beyond the high school realm must understand and demonstrate the same; as most colleges, independent lines, drum corps, and professional ensembles will expect a reasonable amount of dynamic control out of them. Being prepared for these ensembles is of extreme importance and demonstrates the type of attitude that they will look for. Sending a student into a post-high school audition without the tools that will allow them to achieve dynamic superiority would be a grave error for any instructor teaching younger children in our activity. We have a dynamic standard, and students who intend to continue with percussion must strive to meet it.
So for those students/instructors that don’t focus much attention on dynamics, you are doing your students and yourself a great disservice. Dig in, sculpt the music, and make those phrases sing out! It is an essential part of what we do.