For music educators - By music educators
What are some good ways to obtain a well-balanced Forte-Piano with a small middle school band? There's always those kids who don't make a difference, then there are those who get too loud too fast. Anyone have any tried and true methods that work for them?
I have found the following process is fun for the students and a valuable tool in getting them to understand the difference between each of the dynamic levels. Hope this helps:
Find a section in the band music - or create a short piece of music for them to play. Post a dynamic level chart as a visual: ppp-pp-p-mp-m-mf-f-ff-fff (For the triple f - I say, "Very, very loud, but never louder than lovely." Next; Ask them to play the short piece (or section of music) nine different times; each time, play the next dynamic level posted on the chart. Record them. Let them hear the dynamic differences they recorded. Now, ask them to play the music where they should be producing different dynamic levels - play it using each of the nine dynamic levels. Bingo! they will get the message - and enjoy doing it as well. You will need to do this activity often. The students will do a much better job after you do this activity, but they will also soon forget. :-) Another approach: Select six to eight students to do the activity for the band. When I do this, I only use: p-mp-m-mf-f-ff. (a time-saver.) This approach helps you assess which students are accomplishing the task and which students still do not understand. Enjoy!
Young people need to be drilled on this skill as it is a difficult one involving strength of embouchure and proper reed strength. They can totally achieve this...
Simply ask them to notice how many counts are involved in the event and turn that into your warm-up on concert Bb, Eb, Ab or F. We call it "Sting it and Bring it!" After we sting it, the questions becomes... "How many counts do I leave it down" then the next question becomes "How long is this event (crescendo)?" 1 bar event, 2 bar event, 3 count event, 6 count event...
5 minutes of Rehearsal.
1. First. Warm up with Sting it and "Leave" it. Bb concert scale. Sting and leave it down for 4 counts, up to the next note.
2. Next. Warm up with Sting it and "Bring" it over a 4 count event. Same scale.
3. Next. Increase the counts to 6, then to 8. (This is tougher by a bit.)
4. Next. Split the band and have one side Sting it and leave it and then the other side Sting it and bring it. Use Harmonies if you like on these notes. I like making them tune open intervals... Do and Sol. (Or select chords to be tuned in their literature.) This can also be accomplished with any major scale in canon. Fun!
5. Next. (variation) Switch sides. Keep Harmonies or switch if you like. If using canon... begin with a different group... say tenors or altos.
In one week... voila... Forte/Pianos. Easy.
I've found giving them a syllable to sing helps reinforce what I'm talking about. Forte-piano="tah-oo". Full sound at the beginning and smaller embouchure to continue the air stream at the softer dynamic without going flat. Each kid/instrument will be a little different, but that usually satisfies the initial idea. I don't even discuss the crescendo part for a while.
Practice saying it aloud keeping the oo for at least 4 counts.
Then try releasing air as if they are playing without buzzing for at least 4 counts.
Then brass on mouthpieces/clarinets on barrels/saxes on goosenecks/flutes on headjoints for at least 4 counts.
Finally on instruments. I like Russ's exercise suggestions above.