Notating "Light and Shade"

For hundreds of years most of the Western world has been using a system of Italian symbols in their written music to indicate dynamic levels (loud and soft).  For some reason, pipe bands have yet to catch on to this system of dynamic notation.  Up to this point, lead drummers have simply given verbal instructions to indicate loud and soft:  "a little louder here" or "come right down after the flam".  If dynamic levels are included in the written score, drummers can learn the dynamics in advance without any help from the lead drummer saving a ton of time at rehearsals.

"Light and Shade" is a term often used by judges to indicate the need for extra levels of dynamics between loud and soft.  These dynamic "grey areas" can be achieved using the seven volume symbols below.  Including these in your written score can clarify exactly where these subtle dynamic changes take place.

To get you started, here are the dynamic symbols:

To use these symbols in a score, simply place them underneath a particular passage in the music and the corps will know to play that passage at the assigned dynamic level.  The lead drummer is responsible for defining (in advance) just how loud or how soft each particular level is.  Many lead drummers assign specific stick heights to each volume level to help standardize dynamics throughout the corps.  The example below demonstrates the correct placement of dynamic symbols.

Most drummers are already familiar with the symbols for crescendo and decrescendo.  A crescendo is a gradual increase in volume and a decrescendo is a gradual decrease.  Crescendos and decrescendos can serve as a bridge to connect two different dynamic levels and provide the means to notate a gradual change between these levels as in the example below.  Note the passage starts out very loud, then in bar three abruptly changes to soft.  The crescendo then builds the volume back up again over the next bar and a half to very loud.

Due to the nature of their instrument, pipers are unable to change their volume level.  It is up to drummers (both snares and mid-section) to express the dynamics in our music.  Using the Italian symbols in our written music is an easy way to introduce dynamics at the early stages of learning a score.  If dynamics are learned from the beginning they will be ingrained into the fabric of the score when competition season arrives!

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