As a guitarist and a performer I HATE the mezzo forte. It is the dynamic marking of somebody without an opinion.
Composer: “Well, I kinda want this passage to be a loud, but kinda not.”
As a performer, particularly on classical guitar, it is best to think of ppp to fff without mf and mp. If I see an mf in the score I ignore it and make it either a p or f, depending on context. There is such a subtle change between mf and f that this is neutralized in a performance situation, particularly on the classical guitar, where you have a limited dynamic range to begin with (compared to the piano, flute, violin, etc.). As a performer, you are close to the sound source and can hear the subtle dynamic changes. An audience member 10 feet away probably won’t hear those changes. So how do you make the audience hear your dynamic changes? Exaggerate the dynamics, make the f louder and p softer. There is no room for the mf.
Play a single note or chord over and over. Start with ppp and gradually work up to fff and then back to ppp. It would be best if you could record this by putting the mic 10 or more feet away. Listen to the recording and make adjustments.
I’ve been meaning to get a few guitar tips up and I finally did it. I decided to make a couple videos because I figured it would be easier for the reader (or watcher) than if I had explained it by writing, tabs, etc.
The first video talks about the chromatic scale. I use this scale to warm the fingers up and to get my two hands to work together. I also give suggested picking patterns as well.
The second video contains three stretching exercises for the left hand. The purpose of these exercises is to loosen up the left hand as well as to teach the fingers to be independent. This is needed if you are interested in playing chords and switching from one chord to the next in a timely manner.
I am in the middle of making several recordings. I have two guitars I am using and they are both quite different. The first is an Alverez built in the mid-80s and the second is a Rameriz from the mid-70s. The Alverez is easy to play because it has a narrow neck and the string action is fairly low. The Rameriz is a bit more difficult because it has a wider neck and the string action is high (to limit the buzzing of the strings.) Here is a video of me playing Leyenda using my Alverez:
Here is an example of me playing my original, Renaissance Dance, using my Rameriz:
The Alverez is a loud instrument compared to the Rameriz. When playing the Rameriz I find myself trying to hit the strings harder to make it as loud as the Alverez. It suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have to do that. When recording with the Rameriz I can just turn the volume up on the mic and then I can still have the same dynamic range as I get with Alverez.
The point of all of this is that if you are having difficulties with a passage, or if you find that your hands are getting tired, lower the volume of your playing. Instead of making forte at X loudness, try making forte at a slightly lower volume. Dynamics are relative. If you make forte at X volume, then piano will be a little softer, pianissimo will be a little softer than that, etc. What you will find, by lowering the volume, is that you have less tension in your hands, which will make stretches easier, you won’t fatigue as easily, and you will be able to play faster. I read once that Agustin Barrios Mangore was a quiet player. If you have ever heard any of his recordings you will know that he was not hampered by fatigue in his hands. His hands flew around the neck.
In a live setting, I prefer to use a little (ever so slight) amplification even if the hall is small (200 people). I don’t like trying to push my sound so that the people in the back of the hall can hear me. That limits my dynamic scale and my hands get fatigued. Microphone technology is much better today than in the days when Andres Segovia would forbid using a microphone.