PDA

View Full Version : Dynamics Creep



Bonwin
16.04.2012, 18:21
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?

euphojim
16.04.2012, 19:30
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.

Gazabone
16.04.2012, 23:55
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?

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

P_S_Price
17.04.2012, 08:24
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.

stevetrom
17.04.2012, 09:30
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!

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?

Adamskied
17.04.2012, 09:35
Is there a dynamic less than FF for Bass Trom players?

Accidental
17.04.2012, 10:07
Is there a dynamic less than FF for Bass Trom players?
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.

Thirteen Ball
17.04.2012, 12:02
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.

MoominDave
17.04.2012, 12:31
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.

DublinBass
17.04.2012, 12:32
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.



1) If you're not playing the melody line, and you can't hear it, then you're too loud.


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!

Accidental
17.04.2012, 13:01
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])
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:

Morghoven
17.04.2012, 13:08
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.

Thirteen Ball
17.04.2012, 13:09
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!

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.....

Rapier
17.04.2012, 13:17
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.

yoda
17.04.2012, 13:53
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 :)

P_S_Price
17.04.2012, 14:11
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?

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.

stevetrom
17.04.2012, 14:19
On the Bass trombone issue - whilst there are times that the G trom needs to stand out

when we are playing


there are other times when it doesnt

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



just parping it because its fun.

Try it, you'l love it :-)

Pav
17.04.2012, 16:03
God, I wish I played Bass Trom.

MoominDave
17.04.2012, 16:12
The world is made up of two types of people...

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

Adamskied
17.04.2012, 16:21
3. Those of us who think we can lol

P_S_Price
17.04.2012, 16:31
...those are called rests - we need time to recover for the next onslaught
...

As does the rest of the band!:)

MoominDave
17.04.2012, 16:31
The world is made up of three types of people...

Those who understand binary and those who don't.

Wait, that's not right...

P_S_Price
17.04.2012, 16:33
The world is made up of three types of people...

Those who understand binary and those who don't.

Wait, that's not right...


I prefer my Age in Hex : 33

Thirteen Ball
17.04.2012, 17:45
I think it would be fun to play bass trom, and from the brief attempts I've had at playing one I think the instrument might suit me.

Problem is when you've attained a reasonable level of competency on one instrument (...OK, using the word 'competency' loosely enough to encompass a BBb Bass player....) it's difficult to find the time to break off and try something different.

I've often toyed with the idea of buying a cheap student model bass trom and joining an entry-level band to try and broaden my knowledge a bit - learning to read something other than transposing treble clef for a start - but I have enough trouble fitting in playing BB and writing things as it is..... :S

Edit: PS_Price - you're mighty good at typing for a three year old.....

DRW
17.04.2012, 19:00
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.

So, is it the bass or melody that should be most prominent?
What happens if there is no obvious single melody?
As the ear naturally focuses on the melody, does it actually need to be louder than the other parts or just maintain the illusion of being louder? An organ playing a hymn doesn't have a volume differentiation between the SAT&B parts, so why should a brass band (or other ensemble)?

I don't understand rule 2. Surely if, on a scale of 1 - 10 my loudest was 5 and my softest 4, the ability to differentiate between the 8 dynamics between ppp and fff is limited.
A band should sound balanced and produce an appropriate tone at all volumes. I.e adjust to the weakest link and adapt the range accordingly.
A problem I often witness is sections of the band blowing harder to compensate for weaker sections. I suspect this could be another cause of dynamic creep and certainly does not generally create an attractive sound.

Bonwin
17.04.2012, 21:30
Lots of interesting opinions here. I think the situation I was initially referring to but didn't perhaps articulate very well was that of "weaker" players just not reading the dynamics correctly. My concern is that when others adjust to the weakest link it then becomes impossible for the MD to isolate the individual at fault and they continue making the same mistake over and over again. Agreed, it would seem foolish not to adjust in a performance for the sake of balance but then making the culprit look like an idiot in public might actually be the kick up the **** they need to pay more attention!

Adamskied
17.04.2012, 23:38
Some people say "your only as loud as you weakest player"

Been in a few bands that if I was to play as loud as them
then I would only be playing at my loadest mp.

nethers
18.04.2012, 00:33
I've often toyed with the idea of buying a cheap student model bass trom and joining an entry-level band to try and broaden my knowledge a bit - learning to read something other than transposing treble clef for a start - but I have enough trouble fitting in playing BB and writing things as it is..... :S

And as you have played an Eb bass you would probably find the reading and pitching pretty easy.

Dynamic creep - yes an issue which a decent conductor will stay on top of, just like tempo creep.

The thing I hate most, and come across depressingly often, conductors with such an obsession for playing quietly, not overblowing and playing to the weakest player that all dynamic contrast falls down the pan and you end up with a band of players sucking their instruments. Surely everyone should be encouraged to match the strongest player instead?

My own rule of thumb is that a good FF should leave me out of breath and be parting the euph players wig (big sound though, not hard) while matching the other section leaders and a PP should be as close to inaudible as possible while being played assertively. And I should not be compromising in the rehearsal room for those who can't do it. They should be trying harder.

On stage however, compromise is necessary!

pbirch
18.04.2012, 01:03
There is definition of a real gentleman (or lady for that matter) that might be pertinent, it is a person who knows how to play the ( bass) trombone, but refrains from doing so

Thirteen Ball
18.04.2012, 12:09
So, is it the bass or melody that should be most prominent?

As I said. Melody first, because I'm talking about the relative importance of the lines, not their relative volumes. Do not confuse prominence with volume. A soprano cornet can be prominent and moderate over a very loud bass section. Likewise a bass-led band sound does not mean that the bass of the band is the most prominent part. It means that the foundation of the overall sound comes from the bottom of the band - the pyramid structure which Peter Parkes and others spoke of, and does not affect the order of prominence in any way.


What happens if there is no obvious single melody?

Then the player themself has a responsibility to listen to the overall picture and think about where their part fits within the overall picture. This is something it's difficult to teach but easy to learn by listening - musical sympathy. There are few hard-and-fast rules because whatever is true in one situation will be different in another, but mostly, if your part is moving while others are still, or is harmonically different to those around it then it needs to be leant on. If it isn't and is merely underpinning, it needs to be out of the way to let the interesting lines come through. It's this sort of thought process the MD needs to be encouraging if he/she is looking to work with musicians, not just players. Musicians who not only understand what they are playing, but the context in which they are playing it.

If it's not clear to the player at any time, then the conductor should decide which lines they want brought forward and which lines they want out of the way.


As the ear naturally focuses on the melody, does it actually need to be louder than the other parts or just maintain the illusion of being louder? An organ playing a hymn doesn't have a volume differentiation between the SAT&B parts, so why should a brass band (or other ensemble)?

Typically an organ player will use stops which bring the melody to the fore. Again, this does not necessarily mean it's the loudest line due to the dynamic restrictions of the instrument that you state - rather that the timbre chosen brings the desired line out. Since a band is very limited in terms of Timbre, sympathy in terms of dynamic is essential in order to allow the important lines through. As I've said before, (and which is what I think you're driving at too) prominence and volume are not the same thing, and part of what makes dynamics 'creep' is the confusion of these two, where players are not aware or not attentive to the context surrounding their own part.


I don't understand rule 2. Surely if, on a scale of 1 - 10 my loudest was 5 and my softest 4, the ability to differentiate between the 8 dynamics between ppp and fff is limited.

At the simplest level, it means that a band with a very big fortissimo but no real ability at soft playing will tend to sound dynamically flat - whereas a band with a slightly less massive fortissimo sound but also very controlled and composed piannissimo will show off far more contrast, and make musically far more sense - however you're slightly missing the point here I feel. The reason that P, MF, FF etc are referred to as dynamics rather than volumes is that you can't simply think of them in terms of numbers on a sheet of paper. They are about contrast, between volumes, not necessarily any absolute quantification of volume, and therefore have an amount of fluidity about them. For example, in an Air varie, the soloist is often marked piano, but will usually play what would, in ensemble playing, be considered a healthy mezzo-forte, whereas the band, also marked piano, will usually be down to what would elsewhere be considered piannissimo. Are either wrong to do so? I would argue certainly not in the context of the music and it really is all about context.


A band should sound balanced and produce an appropriate tone at all volumes. I.e adjust to the weakest link and adapt the range accordingly.

You're right to a point as there will always be differing strengths and weaknesses around the stand, but to follow this to it's logical conclusion, it leads to a flattening of the dynamic range of the ensemble overall, so I would argue all players should be encouraged to test both ends of their dynamic range and extend them as far as they can in either direction.


A problem I often witness is sections of the band blowing harder to compensate for weaker sections. I suspect this could be another cause of dynamic creep and certainly does not generally create an attractive sound.

This is definitely true, and I wholeheartedly agee it helps no-one, as it upsets the overall balance of the ensemble. Even one player trying to 'make up for others' within a section can lead to issues. Volume, warmth and depth of sound doesn't come from blowing your rocks off, it comes from a balanced section of players, playing absolutely bob in tune.

I remember a bass player I've sat next to on a number of occasions who famously tries to louden things up on their own, and ends up producing a tone like a bulldog attacking a badger. It's something MD's need to step on very quickly if it starts to happen!

Gazabone
19.04.2012, 00:04
when we are playing



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



Try it, you'l love it :-)
Never a truer word spoken!

mikelyons
19.04.2012, 07:30
:clap::clap::clap:
Andi, I take my hat off to you.

pbirch
19.04.2012, 07:45
The world is made up of three types of people...

Those who understand binary and those who don't.

Wait, that's not right...


That number is actually 10

stevetrom
19.04.2012, 09:30
I prefer my Age in Hex : 33

that makes me 2E ?

mikelyons
22.04.2012, 08:39
In Hex, I'm under 40 again!

mikelyons
22.04.2012, 08:42
I like to establish the dynamic range of the band as part of the warm up in rehearsal. It helps to begin by playing a hymn and then asking the band to play at their pp - ff on each verse. Once established, you can then keep them to the levels and even make them increase the aural distance between pp & ff but they need to remember what the levels are! That can be very frustrating!

Tubby
24.04.2012, 07:57
We have problems in our bass section whereby my dynamic range is far greater than the other 5 players we have so am I at fault or should I follow them?

Accidental
24.04.2012, 11:43
It shouldn't just be about the bass section - your dynamics need to fit with the rest of the band too. If the others are physically unable to play as soft and as loud as you then you need to compensate so you don't unbalance the whole ensemble.
If other players can match your dynamics but for some reason just don't, then your conductor needs to either rein you in or make the others work harder at it!

John_D
24.04.2012, 11:59
I like to establish the dynamic range of the band as part of the warm up in rehearsal. It helps to begin by playing a hymn and then asking the band to play at their pp - ff on each verse.

so that's from Pretty Powerful, all the way to Fairly Feeble. :D

mikelyons
25.04.2012, 07:37
Actually, it's from "Buqqer, it didn't start!" to "Splat! erm, was that straight before I blew?":)