Dynamics Creep

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Bonwin, Apr 16, 2012.

  1. Bonwin

    Bonwin New Member

    Hi, this is my first post so a big hello to everyone out there! I wonder if anyone else has experienced what I call "Dynamics Creep" within bands? This is a phenomenon whereby players will tend to play at the level of the loudest player regardless of what dynamics are actually written on the music. It sometimes only takes one player to start this off and I often wonder what causes others to follow. If other players stood their ground and continued to play at the correct dynamic I'm sure that either the culprit would soon realise or the MD would take corrective action - but I have rarely seen this happen. Even experienced players seem to follow and I was wondering what other players thought about this. Maybe you think it is more important to play up in order to balance the sound?
  2. euphojim

    euphojim Member

    Hi Bonwin and welcome to TMP. I don't know if there have been any scientific studies on this but it is something that I recognise and often experience at rehearsal. I must admit that I am probably as guilty as the next player but my excuse (if you can call it that) would be that it is all about maintaining balance and if the general dynamic of the band moves up a notch you either go with the majority or risk your part being lost.
  3. Gazabone

    Gazabone Member

    An alternative approach is to give the culprit something technically demanding, that often makes people play a lot quieter, even when FF is marked!!!!
  4. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    Its not just individually either, you will get situations where one section is intentionally marked louder in a piece, yet other sections creep up to match that dynamic!

    In rehearsal its one thing to keep it down on your own to make the point, but in a performance? i think the balance is probably more important than point making.
  5. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    and how is the other section supposed to know that they have a different dynamic (unless the MD has told them)?

    Are they playing too loud or are they trying to balance?
  6. Adamskied

    Adamskied Member

    Is there a dynamic less than FF for Bass Trom players?
  7. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    not in our band there's not ;)

    seriously though, I think it usually happens because people don't realise that different areas of the band have different dynamics marked, because they think their part is more important and should therefore be louder, or just an attempt to maintain some sort of balance.

    Playing even quieter to force the dynamic back down is great in theory, but it only works if other players stop blowing the a*se out of their own part long enough to notice they can't hear anyone else!!
    If the noisy ones don't realise they're doing anything wrong, then its ultimately down to the conductor to rein things in.
  8. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    It's mostly a question of knowing where you sit within the mix.

    Melody is the most important line, so needs to come through. After that, counter-melody. Following that, bass, and below that, harmony. Each one should be balanced slightly lower than the last.

    Generally speaking, the 'dynamic creep' you refer to is symptomatic of players not knowing - or indeed occasionally not caring - where their part sits within the structure of the piece. Balancing up is a very important thing for lower chairs, but balancing down to allow the leading lines through is equally important.

    As a bass player it often annoys me from both sides. A band's sound should be bass-led if it's to sound warm, deep and whole, and there are only four basses on the stage. the rest of the band - and percussion - can usually blow us off the stage on weight of numbers alone if they so choose. The othe side of the coin is that bass sections are usually well aware of that and, in their attempt to provide a solid foundation for the band, end up playing everything two or three dynamics higher than it's marked and contributing heavily to the 'Dynamic Creep' you mention.

    I know several conductors who repeatedly bemoan the fact that "quiet playing has gone out of fashion" and they have some justification in that. Not at the very top level to be sure, bands like Dyke, Fodens et al can produce an electrifying pianissimo and it's very much to their credit that they do. But they are all capable of massive sounds as well, so the dynamic contrast is huge. I think what is upsetting said conductors most is that bands of a slightly lower level are reluctant to drop to the very quiet dynamics for fear of splitting notes, and as such, have nowhere to go for the higher dynamics and end up overblowing.

    More than one MD I have worked under has told me that there are two rules every player should remember which, on their own, solve a whole multitude of balance issues if everyone does them.
    1) If you're not playing the melody line, and you can't hear it, then you're too loud.
    2) It's not how loud you can play that matters, nor is it how quiet you can play - it's the difference between the two that is the key.
  9. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    If I might focus in on a specific instrument, I have always found that the how-do-I-please-people-the-most test when applied to playing bass trombone in a brass band produces rather schizophrenic answers.

    I sit there honking away quite a lot, for a couple of reasons:
    1) It's fun; and
    2) It's expected in a brass band that the bass trombone will overbalance at least somewhat in the louder dynamics.

    Does (2) make musical sense? I don't know, but it's what brings in compliments, from audiences and adjudicators alike... We are all trying to sound like the old G trombones, but on huge modern equipment. We can get that brightness and edge that slices through the band sound, but it's more difficult, and requires the application of a lot of volume, in contrast to the older instruments, which sounded like that right down to piano. What we can't get is the hosepipe-like constipatedly squeezed sound that all but the very best of the old G trom players got (listen to archive recordings if you don't believe me). That one's probably a good thing.

    So it's idiomatic in brass bands for the bass trombone to overbalance at louder dynamics, due to pragmatic historical reasons. And people like to hear it (with the possible exception of 1st baritone players, eh Keith? [if you're reading]). But it certainly does contribute hugely to 'dynamic creep', as other people try to match it. And that leads some bass trombone players to make very specific equipment choices that optimise for extremely loud playing at the expense of extremely quiet playing and playing with a focussed sound at lower dynamics.
  10. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    What you are speaking of is very common. In fact, it's the same principle that causes feedback with a microphone if you think about it.

    Thirteen Ball has the best advice. There is always the option of picking another part as well (a counter-melody or even an instrument/section) to play soft enough to hear. It's always important to stress that the part that needs to be heard should not play louder, but everybody else must play softer!
  11. Accidental

    Accidental Supporting Member

    Yep, definitely not just Keith..... no matter how we arrange the chairs, the bass trom's bell always seems to end up about an inch away from the 1st bari's ear! :biggrin:
  12. Morghoven

    Morghoven Member

    I agree that dynamics "creep" of the type the OP described is a common problem; but interestingly that wasn't exactly what the thread title brought to mind for me.

    In many ensembles - not just bands - I've often experienced that getting a true pianissimo is not as difficult as maintaining it for more than a few notes. The dynamic "creeps" louder and louder until it gets to a level that is less hard work to maintain. Good fortissimos can suffer in the same way (though not as often in bands ;-) ).

    The two are related I guess in that someone always has to be the first to break the pianissimo and start getting louder, but it's not as obvious as what the OP describes.
  13. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    I wish it were my advice, but it isn't. As I said in my post, it's come from several of the best conductors I've ever worked under. Notable advisors of both points whom I've played under include John Roberts, Sandy Smith, William Rushworth, Mike Fowles, Stuart Derrick, Stan Lippeatt, Derek Broadbent, Geoff Whitham.... in all fairness, folk who really know (or knew - RIP Geoff) what they're talking about!

    So credit where credit's due. Not really my advice at all.....
  14. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    I was rehearsing Siciliana and Giga (Tenor Horn solo) with a band. Half way through I stopped playing and the MD stopped and asked was I lost. I said. ''No, but it's a tenor horn solo, my marking is Mf, I'm blowing as loud as I possibly can and still can't hear myself!'' He took the hint and constantly reminded the band to play their markings.
  15. yoda

    yoda Member

    if most players drove cars like they read dynamic markings then insurance policies would go through the room and there would be way more speeding tickets :)
  16. P_S_Price

    P_S_Price Member

    First run through - trying to Balance, but once its pointed out; then there is no excuse. I know that in general its that lots of players (and I include myself in this) just aint good enough; and I suspect that it is a bigger problem in less capable bands than in top bands (as has been mentioned elsewhere in this thread.

    On the Bass trombone issue - whilst there are times that the G trom needs to stand out there are other times when it doesnt. A lot G trommers dont seem to grasp this concept; just parping it because its fun.
  17. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    when we are playing

    those are called rests - we need time to recover for the next onslaught

    Try it, you'l love it :)
  18. Pav

    Pav Member

    God, I wish I played Bass Trom.
  19. MoominDave

    MoominDave Well-Known Member

    The world is made up of two types of people...

    Those who play bass trombone and those who wish they did.
  20. Adamskied

    Adamskied Member

    3. Those of us who think we can lol

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