Dynamics give feeling and expression to a musical work. Without dynamics, a composition would lack the emotional buildup from a crescendo leading into the climax of a piece, or the subtle pianissimo of a languishing adagio section. Teaching dynamics to children at an early age instills a sense of dynamic range early on, and gives them the terminology needed to understand how to perform a musical work.
The national standards for music education require students to sing a varied repertoire of music by themselves and as a group, understand music in relation to history and culture, and listen to, analyze and describe music. With younger students, before you can get into a discussion of dynamics, you must first teach them to recognize soft and loud music. Play a variety of musical works that the children can learn to sing along with. Ask the students to raise their hands when the music plays loud, and put their hands over their ears when the music gets soft. This helps teach the difference between loud and soft, and sets the stage for learning how to differentiate between additional subtle dynamic markings. Inform the students that music can be soft, medium soft, medium loud and loud. Once they understand the concept, teach them about the related dynamic markings -- piano, mezzo-piano, mezzo-forte and forte.
Educators use various methods to let students know the appropriate volume level for a classroom discussion. Rather than using numbers to indicate how quiet or loudly students should speak, teachers can use dynamics. When the teacher instructs the class to speak at pianissimo, then the students know to whisper in class. By making classroom volume a game, you can engage students who might otherwise not want to stop speaking. Mezzo-forte and forte can indicate to students they can speak louder. Create symbols for each of the dynamic markings, and point to the dynamic on the board to provide a quick way of managing classroom volume levels. Students learn what each dynamic means and how to apply the dynamics in a practical setting.
Once students have learned the difference between the major dynamic markings, it's time to teach them how to get there. Crescendoes and decrescendos provide subtle increases or decreases in volume. Write a phrase or the first stanza of a lyric from a familiar song on the wall. Ask students to start the phrase at piano, and then reach forte by the end of the phrase. Then, starting at forte, work back down to piano while repeating the phrase. Draw a picture of a crescendo underneath the phrase and tell the students that the symbol indicates they should increase in volume gradually, and then do the same thing for a decrescendo marking. Once students have mastered this technique, have them sing a song that incorporates dynamics.
Using a simple rhythm played at various sound levels gives students a way to understand the concept of dynamics without adding the complexities of singing pitch and maintaining breath support. Hand each child a rhythm stick or drum, or have them clap a simple rhythm. Notate the rhythm for more advanced students, and have less advanced students repeat a rhythm demonstrated by you. Write the various dynamic markings on the board and point to each symbol to indicate how loud or soft to play. Teach rhythms in a relative manner at first by playing an example at mezzo-forte. After you play the example and inform them that you played the rhythm at mezzo-forte, tell the class to play the same rhythm at piano. Continue with different dynamic levels until the students begin to understand the concept of dynamics.