Dynamics is the aspect of music that relates to degrees of loudness. Or, to put it another way, dynamics refers to the volume that we ascribe to each note.
For drummers, dynamics are one of the most important ways of shaping musical phrases and the drumset itself is perhaps the most dynamic instrument of all - being capable of playing both whisper quiet and ear-splittingly loud as well as being able to switch between the two in a fraction of a second.
In basic music theory we most commonly encounter six dynamic levels:
- pianissimo (very soft) which is represented on paper as pp
- piano (soft) which is represented on paper as p
- mezzo piano (medium soft) which is represented on paper as mp
- mezzo forte (medium strong) which is represented on paper as mf
- forte (strong) which is represented on paper as f
- fortissimo (very strong) which is represented on paper as ff
Admittedly, when we play drumset we are most commonly concerned with two dynamic levels: accents and ghost-notes, which depending on context might be played ff and pp respectively. In such situations, informal motion serves us very well but there are other contexts (such as a snare drum piece) in which you might be required to play the full range of dynamic levels and for this, formal motion works particular well.
This is because in formal motion there is a direct relationship between the length of the stroke and the velocity with which the stick strikes the drum. We simply divide up the 90º arc between the drum head and the stick when held in the vertical position into six fifteen degree increments, each one corresponding to a dynamic level as illustrated right.
Other dynamic devices
As well as those described above, there are couple of other ways in which we might be required to execute dynamics:
This is a gradual increase in loudness occurring between any two dynamic levels.
Decrescendo (or Diminuendo)
This a gradual decrease in loudness occurring between any two dynamic levels