When I was a 5-year-old beginner piano student, I remember being re-assigned one-/two-line method book pieces when the only thing lacking was dynamic contrast. And I remember being frustrated with this. My frustration was partly due to the fact that I was bored with the music I was playing; I wanted to be reading staff notation instead of pre-staff notation, as my mother taught me to do before she found me a piano teacher. Regardless, having to re-practice pieces that were already mastered, due to forgetting to drop from forte-piano to piano in one place was a hard thing for me to swallow.
Looking back, I do realize the importance of dynamics. As a teacher, I am a stickler about them even with the most beginner of students. However, as tempting as it is, I do not generally reassign a beginning-level piece from a method book if the ONLY thing lacking is the dynamics. I have decided that holding a student back in their progress is not worth it, because learning to observe dynamic markings is something that can be mastered over time through the next few pieces in their method books.
Rather than letting dynamics go completely, though, here is my spiel:
“Overall, you did a great job with this piece. Your notes were correct, and the rhythm was spot-on, too. But I didn’t really hear much of the dynamics…did you? *wait for them to confirm, then work on the piece together until they observe the dynamic markings properly* So, here’s the thing about dynamics: they are really easy to do…but they are not easy to remember to do. This is why you must practice the dynamics at home. That way, you’ll automatically do them when you come to your lesson, or perform on a recital. Now, I am not going to have you work on this piece another week just because of the dynamics, but we are going to continue working on the dynamics in future pieces. How does that sound?”
And I always follow through. This resolves the dynamics problem, without holding the student back or causing frustration.
My other spiel about dynamics is this, used in cases when students protest that they DID do the dynamics (but they were barely perceptible to my ears):
“There may have been enough dynamic contrast for YOU to hear, but if you want your listeners to be able to tell what the dynamics on the page are without having seen the score, you had better do a lot more that that! Exaggerate them. Make the difference between the various dynamic levels MORE than what you think is necessary.”
Sometimes, I will continue pushing their dynamic contrast to the point that it will “make me say it is too much.” Their idea of “too much” dynamic contrast, of course, rarely is. :)
Other language I use:
“Was that actually soft?”
“Is that really as loud as you can play?”
“Does that really sound soft to your ears?”
How do YOU handle these situations with your students? I’d love to hear your ideas!