Dynamics and Articulation

If your arrangement were a script, dynamics and articulation would be the stage direction. These tools help your music become expressive, unique, and exciting. In most cases, they give the music that extra “push” when notes and rhythms don’t do the trick alone.

Some people feel that is its not necessary to write in dynamics or articulation in collegiate a cappella arrangements because the writer will usually be there to direct the group and bring his vision to life. Here’s why you should kick said people square in the groin:

  • The arranger isn’t always present, either because he’s absent from rehearsal, has left the group, or the arrangement has been picked up by another group.
  • The arranger possibly won’t/can’t always express or articulate his vision verbally.
  • The arranger possibly won’t remember all of the direction he intended when he arranged the piece.
  • The singers should be able to see the direction written out at every rehearsal.
  • No one listens to the music director anyway.

So, clearly, adding written direction into your arrangement is extremely important. We can break this practice up into two main groups (see title).


Dynamics, in music, is essentially direction on how loud or quiet your group is singing. This is not to be confused with intensity; in fact, there usually needs to be a greater focus on intensity when your group is singing quietly, because that’s usually when the group’s excitement tends to dwindle. We will assume that you’ve had some exposure to dynamic notation, but we’ll recap the basics here:

Forte (f) – Loud
Fortissimo (ff) – WAY loud
Piano (p) – Soft
Pianissimo (pp) – way soft
Mezzo forte (mf) – Kind of loud
Mezzo piano (mp) – Kind of soft
Mezzissimo (mm) – EXTREMELY moderate (okay, I made this one up.)
Crescendo () – Gradually increase volume over indicated time frame
Decrescendo () – Gradually decrease volume over indicated time frame
Sforzando (sf) – Sudden change in volume


Not as difficult to master as fluid dynamics, but...

Dynamics are deceptively difficult to master. This is mostly due to the fact that, as you may have suspected, they are not based on absolute measures. Rather, they depend on their relationship to one another based on the context of the piece. A forte in one arrangement may translate, in absolute terms, to a mezzo piano in another. This is why it is important to work with your group on understanding their dynamic spectrum and working together to create a unified sound. More on that in Advanced Explorations.


You can pretty much lump every non-volume-related direction into the “articulation” bucket. There are many different ways to express the notes you’re singing, and articulation helps better define these. The short list of terms is below:

legato: played smoothly
staccato: played in a separated or detached manner
slur: several notes played without separation
tenuto: note is held out to its full value (or perhaps a bit longer)
accent mark: note is emphasized in specified manner

There are many, many different articulations that can be used in a given piece of music.  The above is simply a quick refresher so that we may be sure to properly denote our direction on our arrangements.

Different dynamic and articulation options play a huge role in your piece’s overall sound and complexity. They breathe life into your music!   In Advanced Explorations, we will look at how these different directions can affect character, phrasing, intensity, and other key aspects of any engaging musical work.

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No one listens to the music director anyway. I LOLed.

Written By Yuri on July 29th, 2010 @ 4:33 am

Superb, Awesome, Excellent, Helpful.
I would like you to upload all the grades Articulation & Dynamics separatly

Written By Mystery Man on November 4th, 2011 @ 9:32 am

Wow, what a cool site to learn A Cappella arranging! Many thanks for all the marvelous things you posted on these pages. :-)

Written By Mario Lat on June 13th, 2013 @ 11:08 am

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