Not to be too dramatic, but this might *actually* transform your playing! Here is one thing that, once you get it firmly under your belt, you’ll see, hear, and feel a noticeable difference in your overall musicianship.
Alright, alright – so what’s the big secret?
Dynamics, put simply, refer to how loudly or softly you play. They tend to change throughout a song, too – songs are rarely played at one volume straight through the whole thing. When you consider the dynamic changes that occur within the song, it comes down to how you structure the song to make it sound more interesting to your audience. This involves making creative decisions as to where to be quiet and where to be loud in the song. Depending on how you choose to do this, it can really impact the mood you’re going for!
Think of it this way – imagine if you played the same strumming pattern for an entire song. It would get really monotonous and boring! Not only would it be boring for you to play, but your audience probably wouldn’t be too excited to listen to that repetitive pattern over and over again for 3-4 minutes.
With dynamics, as with most things, if you understand the principles behind them, you can apply them as you will to songs you’re playing. You’ll also be able to hear them more obviously in songs you’re listening to.
Typical Song Structure
Most songs follow this basic structure:
Verse – Verse – Chorus – Verse – Chorus – Bridge – Chorus – Chorus
If you choose a song at random, you’ll find that it likely follows this pattern. Of course, not all songs do, but this is a good starting point for what we’re talking about today.
Storytelling with Dynamics
Using this structure to guide you, think of your song as a story you’re telling your audience, with the bridge serving as the story’s big climax. You’ll notice that depending on the song and the story it’s trying to tell, the bridge will either be very loud or very soft.
When you introduce dynamics into the typical song structure, you’ll usually find that choruses are bigger and louder than the verses. This is because the chorus is the main hook of the song. It’s the part that people remember, so as a musician, you want it to be loud and noticeable. This also encourages people to sing along with the chorus, which always makes for a great live performance experience.
Conversely, the verses are typically played more softly. This encourages the audience to listen closely and carefully, until…
You ramp back up into the chorus! This is a good signal for the audience to get pumped and ready for the chorus. If you’ve ever been to a concert (which I’m sure most of you have) you’ll be familiar with this concept. Changes in dynamics can happen abruptly or they can happen gradually, slowly building up from soft to loud or vice versa. Again, it depends on the journey you want your audience to go through.
How to Practice
When practising dynamic changes, keep in mind that it’s all on a spectrum between the softest you can possibly play and the loudest you can possibly play – so get to know what that range looks like for you.
Try playing as softly as possible and then as loudly as possible. Get comfortable with those extremes. Then, try going from loud to soft gradually and then from soft to loud. Maybe even try stretching out those build-ups over several bars or making them really strong and acute over just a few bars.
Oh, and if you’re playing with a band, practice these changes with your bandmates. The whole band should be on the same page as far as the dynamics of a song. It’s definitely something that needs to be addressed, discusses, and agreed upon as a band.
Everything is Relative!
When it comes to playing music, never forget that it’s an art form! There are rules and guidelines, yes, but at the end of the day, the music you play is an expression of YOU. Play the song how you like it best and/or how you think your audience will best receive it. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different dynamic changes until you find something that sounds good to you.
Remember – you’re trying to convey an emotion to your listeners. You want them to walk away from your performance feeling something. Even if you screw up a few chord changes here and there, their lasting impression will be more about how your song made them feel.
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