# How to master dynamics while self-learning the piano?

I recently started learning the piano by myself, and is currently following the book "Alfred's Basic Adult All-in-One Course, Book 1" for getting things started.

I played a little keyboard back when I was in school, and so I am familiar with the basics of music and music theory and also know how to "move through" a keyboard/piano.

I have completed about 50 pages in a week (which I think is good progress). However, one thing I am very doubtful of how to proceed is the dynamics.

How do I learn the dynamics? Like, how do I learn what is p, f, mf, etc.? (Not the theory; I know what they mean. How loudly do I have to play?)
Is there some sort of reference or something?

TIA.

• It's all relative -- no absolute reference. alephzero's answer is a good one.
– user28
Mar 25, 2017 at 17:12

There isn't really a fixed reference for dynamics, in the sense that you can use some sort of measuring device to check you are "doing it right".

If you don't have any reference point at all (e.g. find another keyboard player and ask them, if you don't have a teacher) you could try this approach:

First, try to play as quietly as possible, while still making all the notes sound at a uniform volume level. Call that level "pp". Then, play as loud as possible, and call that "ff". If you are playing an acoustic piano that isn't a concert grand, you will probably find that you can hit the notes hard enough that the sound doesn't really get louder, so back off from that situation. (On the other hand, if you ever get to play a Steinway model D, you can hit the keys with the force of a boxing punch behind your hand, and the Steinway will just play the notes as if to say "OK, you can hit me harder than that if you want"...)

Then divide the dynamic range into equal increments between "pp", "p", "mf", "f", "ff" by ear.

Some composers often use "mp", in which case insert that as another (equal) increment between "p" and "mf". Some also use "ppp", "pppp", "fff", "ffff" etc - in which case you just have to use common sense. It's quite possible that "f" in one part of a long piece is the same level as "fff" in another part - humans are more sensitive to changes in the dynamic level than to the absolute level as measured by a sound meter.

You will probably find that your minimum "pp" level gets softer as you get more control over your playing, but the "ff" level is more likely to be fixed by the instrument than by your maximum strength. Different makes of piano, and even different instruments of the same make, can respond quite differently depending on how old they are, how much they have been played, how well they have been maintained (or not), the acoustics of the room they are in, etc.

• Great answer. +1. It will also be dependent on the size (and acoustics) of the room - although it's still all relative. Just like my Aunty.
– Tim
Mar 25, 2017 at 17:16
• @alephzero ""Then divide the dynamic range into equal increments between 'pp', 'p', 'mf', 'f', 'ff' by ear""... I have tried something like this, but the problem is that I can't achieve consistency with the dynamics. So, if I fixed on a "value" for 'p', the next time I play it won't be the same level. And how can you be sure that you are dividing the loudness range into equal parts?
– user37967
Mar 25, 2017 at 18:38
• Consistency matters from note to note within one piece of music. You master that by practicising! Everything else is subjective - listen to the same piece played by 10 different people (or the same person playing the same piece on 10 different days) and there will be 10 versions of the dynamics. Don't try to over think the problem.
– user19146
Mar 26, 2017 at 0:07
• ""You master that by practicising!""... Could you enlighten me on how to achieve this? Are there any exercises for this? I searched on the internet, but couldn't find the exact thing I was looking for. Maybe I am not searching for the right thing?
– user37967
Mar 26, 2017 at 8:45