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As in title - which is better (if any)? Specifically for flutes and oboes. enter image description here

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    It's quite hard for a woodwind instrument to change dynamic abruptly (while remaining in-tune) without re-articulating, are your sure you don't want a hairpin between the tied notes? Jun 21 at 14:07
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    You say "flutes and woodwinds" - if you have several players you could get the effect you're after by having everyone playing at the start of the bar, and then have most of them stop after the first minim, leaving one or two players. Jun 21 at 14:33
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    Dynamic notation is completely instrument-independent. And, @ElementsinSpace that's simply not true for even mid-level skilled players. Jun 21 at 17:01
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    The tie might be confusing. Could you just mark it legato? Jun 21 at 17:44
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    @Pam - not quite the same - sf is suddenly loud, whereas f is just loud, loder than the previous note/s, but not sf. And sf/p is usually a short sf, longer p, from experience.
    – Tim
    Jun 22 at 14:04

2 Answers 2

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No.2 if you want the 'p' to start exactly on the third beat.

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    Agree. Version 1 is just plain confusing. Jun 21 at 13:23
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    For any instrument. I would take v 1 to mean literally "change from F to P anywhere within the measure that seems good to you." Or rather would come to that conclusion after scratching my head a long time about whether it was a fp with strange spacing, or whether a note was missing, or it was a mistake. Jun 21 at 14:25
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    Yep, Version 1 is (or should be) illegal. If you wanted a decrescendo then you'd annotate " F [hairpin] P" . But in any case it doesn't hurt to write , in version 2, "F subito P" so that people aren't tempted to perform a decrescendo. Jun 21 at 17:04
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    @VictorEijkhout version 2 is equally confusing. Is it a tie or a slur? The performer is likely to conclude that it can't be a tie, because if no articulation is intended it should be a whole note.
    – phoog
    Jun 21 at 22:24
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    @phoog - wasn't aware that a slur could ever be used between two of the same notes, particularly in the same bar. Therefore it must be a tie, making the dynamics appropriate,
    – Tim
    Jun 22 at 6:59
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Both versions are problematic. The first version, as you noticed, is imprecise as to the timing of the piano mark. The second version could be interpreted as asking for a rearticulation on the second note.

That problem aside, following forte with piano is ambiguous by itself as it says nothing about the rate of reduction of the volume. Some interpreters will infer a decrescendo, while others will change suddenly from loud to soft.

It's better, therefore, to be explicit: use a decrescendo wedge or write sub p, where sub is short for subito, which means "suddenly." (Even this, however, leaves room for interpretation; the underlying problem is that dynamic markings are inherently imprecise, which is one reason why we use the term "interpretation." One part of learning to be a composer is learning to cede control of your creations to others.)

Traditionally, the timing of dynamic variation within a single long note is given by precise alignment. If you find that insufficient, you could invent some new notation. In option 1, you could place little half notes next to the f and p, or in option two you could add the text "tied" or "without articulation" above the second half note.

Another option might be what copy editors call "recasting": rethink your orchestration. Revoice the chord in the second half of the measure, having each instrument drop an octave or perhaps just to the next lower pitch, or, as Brian THOMAS suggested in a comment, have some of the instruments drop out in the middle of the measure.

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  • The rate of reduction isn't in question - it comes as soon as the second note is due - looking at the 'p' placement. I feel it's pretty categoric, with little wriggle room for readers. The 'sub' idea is a ood one, re-inforcing what's already being told what to do. A decrescendo it is not - tha would be easily written with a hairpin.
    – Tim
    Jun 22 at 11:10
  • Are you certain that the composer does not desire a gradual change from f to p? Even if you are, and even if you are correct, not everyone reading this notation would share that certainty. I mentioned the possibility of an explicit decrescendo in case that was in fact the composer's intention.
    – phoog
    Jun 22 at 11:32
  • if a gradual change was required, surely a hairpin would suffice - f at the start, p at the end, if absolutely neccessary. It's really up to the composer to be as accurate and clear (or not) as to what he expects readers to play.
    – Tim
    Jun 22 at 11:36
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    @Tim and a "hairpin" (which I called a "decrescendo wedge" in the answer) is one way of notating a decrescendo explicitly -- and a more precise way than simply using the word, of course. I'm coming at this with memories of long debates in leaderless rehearsals about the specific meaning of notation. Surely you've had similar experiences? You know, 10 people in the room, 9 of whom are convinced that it's definitely subito, the other thinking that there's an implicit decrescendo, and 4 of the 9 thinking that even though it's obviously intended to be subito, composers' dynamics are optional.
    – phoog
    Jun 22 at 11:39
  • Too many times! That's why it's either me or some other sucker who's the leader - and his word goes, like/lump it. But there's more than a subtle difference between no. 2 and a decrescendo, so there shouldn't even be a discussion - 1st note f, 2nd p., which isn't anywhere near a decrescendo.
    – Tim
    Jun 22 at 14:01

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