Perhaps volume is one of the easiest ingredients to understand. The music can be loud or it can be soft. It can blow your speakers or be so soft that you can’t hear it; and in between, there are an infinite number of levels.
However, three aspects of volume (or as it is called in music – “dynamics”) must be noted.
First, the volume range of any instrument or voice has relative ranges. A solo violin, unassisted by any sound system, can never play so loud as to fill an amphitheater of 40,000 seats. The physical makeup of the instrument limits the total outcome. Each instrument and voice has different dynamic (or volume) ranges.
Second, the choice of volume, whether soft or loud or somewhere in between, should be reflective of both the type of music being played and also the subjective emotional “feel” of the song. A tender love song played at a level loud enough to peel paint at one hundred yards will not successfully carry the attitude of tenderness. In the same way, a rousing march or power song played at a whisper would lose all excitement. The choice of volume, then, should fit the occasion.
Finally, because each instrument and voice has distinct dynamic ranges, when they play or sing together, there must be an awareness of balance in the simultaneous volumes. If the singer is the most important sound, it needs to be louder than anything else. If the guitar takes a solo in the middle, but plays chords before and after, a volume change should happen to bring the guitar out from the mix when it is the dominant part of the whole. Balancing the volumes between voices and instruments is the responsibility of both the musicians (the singing and instrumental kinds) and when using a sound system, the sound engineer. If the concert is purely acoustic (non-amplified), then the performers are responsible for the balance. If the concert is amplified with a sound system, then the sound technician behind the mixing board provides the evaluative “ears” for balance.
Volume in music is easy for the listener to understand, but balanced and appropriate volume is sometimes difficult for the performers to attain.