Teaching Dynamics: Linking the Visual Arts to Music

December 14, 2016

Finding the perfect words to express what you mean and make the concept understandable to young students can be a challenge. When we finally figure out how to express our ideas, we tend to repeat these phrases over and over again.

I have been enhancing my students perfomances with dynamics (p, mp, mf, f) for many years.  I have accomplished this with two strategies:

1) Define Terms – I teach students to pronounce the terms and defined them.

1) Demonstrate – I play examples and explain the terms. Mezzo Forte (mf) is easy. You don’t need to work hard to play soft or to play loud. Mezzo Piano (mp) and Forte (f) are more challenging because they require extra effort. Piano (p) requires the most effort.

Nothing special here. It has worked well enough, but it was difficult to achieve artistry-level performances with grade school students… until now.

For the past 5-6 years I’ve been taking art lessons, and decided to see if a connection between art and music might help my music students play their music in a much more expressive way.

I introduced value.

Value refers to the visible lightness or darkness of a color, and is one of the most important design elements in a work of art.

So, how does this relate to music?

The following chart shows the four most common dynamic levels and assigns a value to each of them.


I found that drawing a box above a section of the music, and shading it with the appropriate value, gave students a visual indication of how loud or soft the phrase should be played. A light turned on for my students and it transformed their performances.

In some instances, you might draw a box above a four measure phrase and that will be enough. Other pieces are so well written, and your students so capable, that you might want to dig a little deeper -adding value boxes above individual notes.





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