Dynamic and pitch contours

In our studio lesson this weekend, M’s teacher diagrammed the dynamic shape of a passage in With Steady Hands, M’s working piece. She numbered each note in the phrase, then drew the numbers from small (quiet) to large (loud) and back to small (quiet again).

Because M and I are still working on recording the Twinkles, and particularly on incorporating dynamic contrast into them, before our lesson I decided to try making a similar diagram for the A section of Twinkle. The diagram is below.

Looking at the staff, M noticed that the notes rise and fall just like the volume, so  we discussed the similarity between the dynamic contour and pitch contour. She did the “pitch shape” drawing in the upper right-hand side of the drawing and labeled it. Her pitch shape is more accurate than mine!

This exercise translated unevenly into her playing. Yesterday, she typically had great dynamic shape on the first A section and both B sections, but when she got to the last A section, she played it all at the same volume. Today, she had some dynamic shape in both A sections, but the shape was too flat — she started piano and never got much louder than mezzopiano.

The trick now is to get her to use her range. (You’ll note that I ruled out the extreme soft and louds in my diagram: when she plays very soft, her right-hand technique falls apart, i.e., she brushes the string rather than lightly plucking it.)
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – dynamic and pitch shapes

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