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I am learning violin as a beginner (2.5 months), and one of the early practice pieces contain dolce and piano. The latter is more like playing quietly and gently, so it makes some intuitive sense and I think I know how to pull that off. However, I cannot seem to play "sweetly", most likely because I do not quite understand what it would entail. It's probably not just a matter of playing softer, and maybe I need to take specific care on how to change notes and position of the bow between the fingerboard and the bridge.

As this is in beginner's practice pieces, I would assume that this is not one of those "you will get it after few years" kind, though I might be wrong. Any help, conceptually and practically, would be greatly appreciated!

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I think the taste metaphor does capture it quite well: while piano and dolce are both “soft” in a sense, they are so in very different ways. p is a shy, fragile kind of soft, in the way a balm mint leaf is soft. But dolce is a thick, embracing kind of soft, more like the way a custard pie is soft. As well as how it's sweet.

So, how do you play it? It's hard to explain, this is in fact one of the things that requires lots of practise to really get the feel. A couple of technical elements that can contribute to a dolce sound are

  • bowing sul tasto, i.e. further away from the bridge and almost over the fingerboard. This tends to allow generating a smoother, less harsh sound, if you get the pressure and speed right.
  • legato phrasing. In particular, avoid rythmically accenting the start of notes, but don't allow the notes to “wear thin” at the end. In fact, you can try outright delaying the note onsets – start very softly but then let the notes bloom. This isn't something you would do in a mere p passage, that should keep the phrasing as-is.
  • vibrato. Here I seem to disagree with Old Brixtonian – IMO dolce can come out very nicely with strong vibrato, only it must not be too hectic. Not too fast or too wide, but thick and soothing. (Whatever that's supposed to mean...)

While you're still a beginner, don't worry too much about really getting a noticeable dolce sound within a piece. More important is that you try out how different the instrument responds when you play it in certain ways, that's what will eventually give you the right sense, feeling, for such nuances.

  • That's a good answer. I agree with 'almost over the fingerboard,' I'm not sure about delaying the note onsets, and I disagree about thick and soothing vibrato. I feel you are veering towards the espress. the composer so didn't ask for! p, is not "a shy, fragile kind of soft": dynamics tell us only how loudly or softly to play. There's no more shyness in p than there is gregariousness in f. Dolce, though, does suggest a degree of fragility: not, for me, a 'thick embracing kind of soft' - Custard pies? Get outta here! - but as I said: such music is tender, simple & sometimes childlike. – Old Brixtonian Jan 1 at 4:13
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piano is simply p: more quietly than mp, but not as quietly as pp.

Dolce means, as you say, 'sweetly', and I think it often suggests a degree of simplicity in the playing. The composer might have written espress. but has chosen NOT to. I think such passages should be played with little rubato and with little vibrato. Music marked dolce is tender, often simple and sometimes childlike.

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    I don't think “little vibrato” is commonly agreed, rather the opposite. – leftaroundabout Dec 31 '19 at 19:33

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