While studying in college I learned that although many teachers describe the dynamics forte and piano as “loud” and “soft,” a “finger attack” is a better description for these dynamics. If students think of the words “loud” and “soft” they may end up playing with either tense or floppy motions. However, using the word “attack” will cause students to have musical control as they play. The dynamic forte is a quick finger attack on the keyboard. Students must drop their hands into the keyboard using arm weight and they must do so quickly to create a full, resonant sound.
Some students struggle to play the forte dynamic. If students are struggling with quick falling motions onto the keyboard a good exercise is to instruct them to raise their arm about 1 foot above the keys and dropping fingers one at a time either on random keys or by playing the C/Do pentascale. Students probably will be surprised at the forte sounds that they are making come out of the keyboard! The dynamic piano is a slow finger attack onto the keyboard. Students must still use relaxed arm weight while playing piano sections, but their finger must land and attack the key slowly in order to create a light, feathery sound. A forte dynamic uses a quick finger attack (think: elephants stomping) while a piano dynamic uses a slow finger attack (think: kittens walking).
Word pictures are very helpful as students learn about dynamics, and visual reminders are also excellent lesson aids. An activity I once thought of and have used during lessons is telling students to place animal stickers beside the dynamic markings in their musical pieces. Have students decide which animal noises work best for the various dynamics in a song. If there are the dynamics of forte, mezzo forte, and piano in a song, a student could, for example, choose these three animals based on the noises that they make: an elephant (for forte), a dog (for mezzo forte) and a cat (for piano). Using these stickers will force students to find the dynamics in their music. Also, the stickers will be an extra visual reminder for students to play musically while they are practicing at home.Explaining “finger attacks” and demonstrating arm weight makes a tremendous difference in how a student plays dynamics. Also, using stickers provides a fun activity for students while encouraging musical growth.If you are a piano teacher and notice that a student is having trouble differentiating dynamic sections, teach students about quick and slow “attacks” using visuals as a supplement. If you are a parent, listen to your children’s pieces and encourage them to make their pieces interesting by reading the dynamic markings and playing a variety of sounds rather than playing all the notes at just one volume. If you are a piano student, experiment with dynamic sounds on the keyboard and incorporate these sounds into your musical pieces to play expressively.