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I'm currently finishing an arrangement in Sibelius. One of the last things I'm adding is dynamic markings. For context, there is a string section, an electric guitar, electric bass, piano and vocals in the score. I have a good understanding of dynamics in general, but a poor understanding when it comes to percussion. Does a drum kit follow the same rules as more orchestral instruments regarding dynamics? I feel like telling a drummer to play certain passages pianissimo, for example, would make no sense.

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  • If you’re thinking that pianissimo on every instrument should be about the same volume, then that’s probably what’s behind the question. Obviously a drum kit can be played louder than a classical guitar, and would be very hard to play as quietly as a classical guitar played pianissimo, but every part of the symphony orchestra has its own range of volume. Dynamic markings are for the instrument and how loudly you play it within its range of intensity. They usually don’t match between instruments. This is why we have orchestrators and arrangers. Dec 21 '20 at 13:50
  • Whilst some of us realise telling a drummer to play pianissimo makes no sense (!), there are in fact some drummers who are capable of doing just that, so yes, drummers ought to be given the chance to play whatever dynamics are shown.
    – Tim
    Dec 21 '20 at 13:51
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Yes, dynamic markings are the same across all instruments.

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All percussion instruments can be played at varying dynamic levels, so that includes snare, toms, hi-hat, cymbals and kick. So, certainly, dynamics need writing in for any percussion parts when appropriate. Just bear in mind that something like guitar at 'mp' might need certain drums to be marked 'pp' to retain a sensible level between them. But realise all markings are relative.

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