Psychology of Music, Vol. 19, No. 1 (1991) pp. 33-45.
A study of 435 piano works by 14 composers reveals a significant asymmetry between increasing and decreasing dynamics. Specifically: (1) there is an association between incremental crescendos and abrupt diminuendos for successions of static dynamic indications, (2) crescendos are more frequent than diminuendos, (3) crescendos tend to last longer than diminuendos, (4) crescendos will more commonly follow low dynamic levels than will diminuendos follow high dynamic levels, and (5) sudden changes in dynamics are much more prone to be reductions of loudness and than increases of loudness. These findings support the existence of a "ramp archetype" for musical dynamics in which the music tends to build in a gradual way, but tends to subside relatively quickly. The results replicate and extend a previous study of musical dynamics in Beethoven's 32 piano sonatas. The results are consistent with a well-adapted strategy for maintaining passive auditory attention/arousal.