When you’re learning guitar it’s important to master the basics, but there are also some tricks you can use to boost your guitar sound. Musical dynamics affect the way you play notes on your guitar. Understanding how to use them can help you sound like a more experienced guitarist. In this guest post from Will B. from GuitarFella.com, you’ll learn about dynamics and how you can start using them to boost your guitar sound…
Guitar dynamics are like a big secret that everyone knows, but never talks about. We could dare to say that playing guitar dynamics is what makes us sound like “pros”. All our guitar idols are masters of dynamics and have complete control over this valuable technique.
What’s really cool about dynamics, is that with proper application and use, beginner/intermediate players can start to sound like pros.
What Are Guitar Dynamics?
Dynamics are essentially the foundation for what everyone calls “the feeling”. The most common and basic concept of dynamics is how loud or soft we play. If we pick a certain note with more force, it will come out loud and angry. On the other hand, when we pick a note gently, the note will be soft, like a whisper.
Imagine that you’re having a conversation with someone, you would not speak completely flat. Instead, you might speak softly or yell if you’re angry. We naturally accent certain words and letters by increasing the intensity of speech; the way we do it depends on what we’re talking about. We whisper when we wish to make a certain statement more mysterious, unofficial, or confidential. The way we talk with others in terms of dynamics, and how loud or soft we speak and which words we accent, is as important as the words we say.
Having said this, imagine that the words are replaced by notes on the guitar. Our playing dynamics define how loud or soft we’ll pick those notes. We get to choose to accent certain notes by playing them louder in comparison to other notes. Dynamics boost guitar sound help us sound more natural.
How to Incorporate Dynamics in Your Playing
When you’re a beginner or intermediate guitar player, you may not play with dynamics, and you may be completely unaware of the issue. If your playing sounds flat, or fellow musician friends comment that you should try playing with more attitude or feeling, what they’re really trying to say is that you should incorporate playing with dynamics into your performance.
The first exercise starts by choosing a single note. Once you have chosen a note, start picking it in any rhythm you find interesting. For example, try picking that note in straight 8th notes. As you pick the note, focus on picking it extra soft. The note should be barely audible.
While still picking a single note, try to increase the intensity of your picking hand, and slowly start playing the same note louder and louder. Bring it all the way up, in terms of volume. To do this, you need to pick furiously. Don’t worry, you won’t break the string.
The goal of this exercise is to become aware of the volume range in which you pick notes on the fretboard. This range depends on your picking hand technique and the force you apply.
In this exercise, take your favorite scale and play it the way you usually do, probably by going up and back down the scale. Next, try to accent every other note by playing it louder than the notes in between. The pattern should go like this: 1-2-1-2; where “1” is always a loud note and “2” is always a soft sounding note.
Once you’re able to do this, try playing two notes aggressively and two notes softly. In this case, our pattern is: 1-1-2-2.
The goal of this exercise is to practice control over dynamics. Sometimes, we concentrate too hard on which notes are being played, and we completely disregard all the possibilities of how we can play each of those notes in terms of expression.
In terms of playing loud or soft, dynamics can be applied to both rhythm and lead playing. For the sake of this exercise, try to focus on the dynamics aspect when you play your favorite song.
Play the song and try picking certain notes or sections louder or softer. Concentrate on incorporating the dynamics, and don’t worry if it feels weird at first. Moving your focus from what needs to be played to how it should be played will be a major milestone in your guitar skills development. Have fun and rock out!
This is an interesting concept that’s a bit more advanced, but it’s still important to be familiar with the essentials when starting out. When we play our first improvised solos, we may play all the notes in the same note duration, which is a common mistake for beginners.
For example, we might concentrate so much on which notes from the scale we fret in order to play a lick, that we almost automatically pick all those notes in quarter, eighth or sixteenth notes. Usually, we just go back to playing the licks, riffs, and solos in the note duration patterns that feel comfortable.
If we want to incorporate phrasing dynamics in our playing, we need to mix up the note durations in our solo. For example, try to break up a quarter note into two, eighth notes to make it more interesting. Then, we can follow up with four, sixteenth notes instead of playing another pair of eighth notes.
This concept follows the same rules we talked about earlier when we mentioned picking dynamics (picking loud or soft). In order to make our phrases interesting and natural, we need to combine note durations in intricate ways when we compose our licks and solos. If we don’t do that, our solo will just sound like we’re playing an exercise.
Playing with dynamics should be one of your primary goals from the very beginning. If you consider yourself to be a beginner player, that doesn’t mean that you don’t need to think about dynamics just yet. On the contrary, utilizing the power of dynamics early on will help you boost your guitar sound, even if you don’t have the amazing chops yet. Dynamics are the secret sauce, this is what usually comes with years of experience and practice.
Over time, we naturally start incorporating dynamics intuitively, but there’s no excuse to just skip practicing dynamics altogether. Epic sounding single-note solos, like the ones by John Frusciante, inspire us to work on our own playing dynamics.
Playing with expressive dynamics is so rewarding, and once you get the chops down, you’ll be amazed at how tremendously different your playing will sound.