Teaching Musical Dynamics

Dynamic markings are the means composers use to communicate how loud the music should be played or sung. We use Italian terms because the concept of writing music as we know it today was developed in Italy. 

Choose a song you know well, such as Are You Sleeping, Brother John to teach the concept of dynamics in music. Make signs with cartoon figures demonstrating words such as pianissimo or mezzo-forte; the figure’s mouth is open wide for fortissimo, showing that it means very loud, for example.

As one child holds up a sign, everyone in the family must sing the song at that dynamic level. Young children love the feeling of power that this brings, especially if they get to change the volume part way through the song.

A second game helps children to develop volume control. For this game, hide a small object while one child is out of the room. The family helps him find it by singing Are You Sleeping louder when he is close to the hidden object and softer when he is farther away. For variety, sing it in different languages (see below) or have a child who plays an instrument play softer and louder as the seeker gets farther or closer to the hidden object. This helps to build control of the instrument.

Carry the learning over into daily life as you remind your children that their inside voices should be mezzo-piano (medium soft) and to reserve their forte (loud) voices for outdoors.

(C) 2009 by Marcia K. Washburn. For more games and activities to teach dynamics, check out Beethoven Who? Family Fun with Music here.

Dynamic Markings in Music

♫ Pianissimo—pp—very soft
♫ Piano—p—soft
♫ Mezzo-piano—mp—medium soft
♫ Mezzo-forte—mf—medium loud
♫ Forte—f—loud
♫Fortissimo—ff—very loud

Wikipedia lists Are You Sleeping in 57 languages here.

Here are a few favorites:

Are you sleeping, Are you sleeping, Brother John, Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing, Ding-ding-dong, Ding-ding-dong!

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques, Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines! Ding, dang, dong, Ding, dang, dong.

Bruder Jakob, Bruder Jakob, Schläfst du noch? Schläfst du noch?
Hörst du nicht die Glocken, Hörst du nicht die Glocken?
Ding, dang, dong, Ding, dang, dong.

¡Fray Felipe!¡Fray Felipe! ¿Duermes tú? ¿Duermes tú?
Suenan las campanas, Suenan las campanas. ¡Ding, dang, dong! ¡Ding, dang, dong!

Eh Yakobo, Eh Yakobo, Walala? Walala?
Amka twende shule, Amka twende shule, Haya njoo, Haya njoo.

Click here for more great music  games & activities.