CRANKING!: My Unnecessary Explanation For Those That Need It

First, a quick music lesson… In music we have eight, commonly accepted, dynamic (volume) levels. We are taught to memorize the sign (and definition) that represent each dynamic level. These signs are sprinkled across the music serving as instructions on when to get louder or softer. After years of playing an instrument it becomes quite easy to follow these signs when they appear.  However, once we begin to apply sound to each dynamic level things quickly become very complicated due to every musician’s ever different interpretation…


Like many things in life, interpretation of a particular subject is impacted by many things; cultural and societal norms, ethnic differences, wealth & status, geographical location, educational level, etc… So what I interpret to be forte (loud) could be interpreted as fortissimo (very loud) to someone else… and vice versa.

young stack2In high school, anytime I played above forte (loud), my band director told me I was “blasting”. Based on his musical experiences, he had developed an interpretation of fortissimo that was different from what I, at the time, thought it meant to play very loud.

When I entered college, I quickly realized my interpretation of loud wasn’t loud enough. I was constantly told that I wasn’t “filling the horn up with air”, I wasn’t “blowing”.lil older stack They proceeded to teach me; how to “blow”, how to do it while marching & dancing, and how to keep a characteristic sound with good tone quality and proper balance. Before long I had that dark, mature sound college band directors love for their tubas to have.

Fast forward to today’s bands…

I believe what we referred to as “blowing” in those days is now described as “cranking” by the current generation. However, some may argue that unlike “blowing”, cranking does not adhere to the fundamental concepts of playing with good tone quality and a characteristic tone but rather the focus is mostly on how loud and, in some cases, how high you can play.

I agree and disagree…

I believe cranking is more about style. You don’t think of it like a slur or a staccato.. or even a measurable dynamic marking however it encompasses it all at a mastery level.  The mastery of those fundamentals are required for proper application. You have to know the rules to break them… very similar to Jazz music. That’s why some bands crank better than others. Those bands take the time to master the fundamentals so that they are able to crank up the sound without losing any of the style and control.

However, there are bands that are not as prepared and they do a great disservice to the style because those are the groups people point to when discrediting the entire style of play. These bands split tones, chop phrases, and wipe lips like nobody’s business. But worst than them are the fundamentally sound bands that have never cranked anything in their entire lives but since they are in a 5th quarter battle with SuperBand State University, they feel like they need to try to compete… to the detriment of the audience.

When it comes down to it we should look at cranking in the likeness of dancing… Some people are naturally good at dancing, and some people naturally suck at it. Some have mastered all the styles of dance from jazz, to ballet, to hip-hop… and some people just wing it. Either way, everybody thinks they can dance.




Published by Ernest Stackhouse

-Music Educator -Marching Band Show Design -Musical Arranger -Adjudicator -Fine Arts Administrator -Band Director -Writer

6 thoughts on “CRANKING!: My Unnecessary Explanation For Those That Need It

  1. Proper breathing techniques usually produce the desired affect. In that case, you play the desired dynamics and not noise. A 60 member band would sound as if it had 150 members.

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