I was taught that pp means as softly as you can play (with control) and ff means as loudly as you can play (with control). So what would ppppp and fffff mean? Just kidding Aldevis. I know exaggerated dynamic symbols are common in some music.
An exercise I used with my young band students was to watch the second hand of a clock and start softly on the 12 and crescendo to the 6 then rest and do the reverse. A variation was to start on the 12 crescendo to the 3 and decrescendo to the 6. This could be done in individual practice as well watching the needle of a tuner.
My question is how do you quantify dynamics? This is my greatest struggle so far in terms of playing. I can't chose what mezzoforte sounds like, so how can I crescendo from mezzoforte to forte and then down from forte to pianissimo? I guess the problem is in my head as I have no trouble crescendoing from pp right up to ff and then coming back down again. I should note I haven't had much formal music education - most of what I learned was from messing around with my sister and her old sax. Last week was actually my first sax lesson - I have the feeling that there's a lot to learn, and there's no other feeling like that one.
Now I'm all off topic. Any help would be appreciated!
There has been a lot of good advice given in this thread already. In actual musical performance, the role of dynamics is to provide contrast. Often times exaggerating the written dynamic changes produces the desired musical effect. I used to tell my students that the difference between an amateur player and a professional is that the amateur "sort of" plays the style and dynamic markings in the music, but the professional "really" plays them.