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I have been looking into articulation and dynamics over the past week, primarily focused on guitar (but I'm sure any learning musician can benefit from this regardless of your instrument). I believe I have a decent understanding of these two concepts, however it's hard to get a 100% solid understanding of them and how they relate to one another, even through endless googling sessions! So in this post I'll tell you what I think is a solid definition of the two concepts (and how they relate to each other), and you guys can discuss and correct me. :-)

I am under the impression that dynamics includes everything that changes the sound such as speed, volume, tone etc... and that articulation is:

  • 1) how you move into/out-of a particular note (or across a group of notes in time). This would including string bending, slides, vibrato, ornaments, etc... This would also encompass legato and staccato.
  • 2) how you utilise dynamics and effects for a particular note (or across a group of notes in time). This would include the sound of the attack if there is one (i.e. the momentary sound of the pick or finger nail against the string, or the "slap" when slapping the strings) and it's resulting affect on the tone (i.e. brighter sound from a string attacked from a pick at a particular angle or picking closer to neck/bridge, or that harmonic sound resulted from brushing thumb against , etc...). This would also include how you directly control the dynamics from devices such as the tone/volume knobs, or wah-wah pedal, etc...

So dynamics are effectively controlled and shaped by articulation.

What are peoples thoughts on this topic?

Cheers, Lost C.

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To me dynamics may include things like crescendo, decrescendo, fermatas, forte, piano, mezzo forte, mezzo piano, accelerando, legato, staccato and the like. Things that generally effect the speed and loudness

Articulation to me is a more specific question about how a performer executes the music he plays. The attack of the picking. The use of playing closer to the finger board for a Dolce sound and the playing closer to the bridge for a ponticello effect. The smoothness of the tremelo. They way in which he plays faster and slower. The depth of his legato and the general effect of portraying the music.

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I think that different musicians have different ideas about what distinguishes dynamics from articulation. There certainly appears to be a lot of fuzziness along the border between dynamics and articulation.

Traditionally, dynamics reference volume and how volume changes over time. This appears to be the general view taken by the wikipedia article on dynamics. However, even if the article deals exclusively with volume, it also comments dynamics "can also refer to every aspect of the execution of a given piece, either stylistic (staccato, legato etc.) or functional (velocity)".

The wikipedia article on articulation then includes the non-volume-related techniques of performance, giving the definition : "articulation refers to the musical performance techniques that affects the transition or continuity on a single note, or between multiple notes or sounds."

So if we take the traditional view, then articulation would refer to everything non-volume-related that is implied by the notation or performance.

I think we can all agree that the import thing is to be aware of all of the different aspects of effective performance - both dynamics and articulation. I don't think that describing a marking one way or the other would create any confusion.

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When musicians talk to each other, this is what is meant by these two terms:

Dynamics refers to loudness and softness, and how you vary these to get different effects. Dynamics can spell the different between boring and fascinating!

Articulation refers to how connected or separated the neighboring notes are with respect to each other, e.g. dry, staccato, slightly separated but with a bar over each note, legato, etc.

Once you have learned the basic notes of a piece, it is helpful to remind yourself to experiment with both articulation and dynamics, and also phrasing, intonation, tempo, timbre.

  • what about notes that are played separately in time but are not muted upon playing the next note; i.e. "let ring"? Would this fit into the topic of articulation? Surely this means they're connected? – Lost Crotchet Jul 28 '15 at 22:37
  • @LostCrotchet Sure, that's a nice example of articulation. – aparente001 Jul 28 '15 at 23:06

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