How Do YOU Add Dynamics Into Your Playing?

Crescendo SymbolMusic without dynamics is a bit like listening to music coming out of a 1980’s computer that could just do beeps. Sure, you could make it play a recognizable tune, but there were zero dynamics!

There’s much more to music than simply the tune itself. Dynamics is the often unwritten, un-talked-about element that makes a song go from the depths of a valley all the way to soaring mountain vistas…. or completely fall flat. In proper written music, you’ll find this already present, with terms like crescendo, decrescendo, staccato, and many, many others. But in 99% of popular music today, you’re not going to find written music that is accurate to that level of detail. Most of the time, you’ve got a simple chord chart – at best – and somehow you have to make it sound good – you have to interpret it for yourself.

If we all spoke in monotone voices, the world would be a boring place to be. Thankfully, we have all kinds of natural inflection in our voices: we change pitch (that refers to the notes played) but we also change the volume, intensity, and the speed with which we talk, depending on what and how we’re trying to communicate.

The question is – how do go about doing the same things on guitar?

I’m right in the middle of creating a brand new course that will be at least partially addressing this important subject, so I’ve got some thoughts of my own on the subject, but I really wanted to get the discussion going here, and open it up to YOU.

So – how do YOU add dynamics into YOUR playing?

Share your thoughts below and hopefully we can all learn something from the discussion!

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21 Responses to “How Do YOU Add Dynamics Into Your Playing?”

  1. Ken October 7, 2014 at 10:34 am #

    I am an intermediate player. I play a lot of covers and sometimes me and my friends will make up our own stuff. Mostly when we are drunk and being silly. However the stuff we make up sounds good. Most of the time it is also hilarious. However we are talking about dynamics. When playing rhythm I often use chord variations. To get heads bobbing I go back and forth between say a major chord and variation of that chord. I may use a hammer on and pull off to do this. For instance something I have been working on lately is a melody that starts with an A major with a hammer on and pull off between that and an Asus4 before changing major chords.

    • Jonathan Boettcher October 7, 2014 at 8:02 pm #

      Great point Ken, chord variations are a good way to change things up and say something “different” all while saying the same thing…

  2. Steve Naples October 7, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    I like to use accents on some notes, which is a common way that I know we all use. Also there are sometimes occasions that I like to add some legato in between notes or phrases, only small bits like in Celtic music where rolls or taps are used. It just gives it some extra feeling. Definitely also use muting and the volume knob if on electric.

  3. Ummagumma October 7, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    Make it emotional. Make me cry, laugh, hurt, whatever but make me feel something as the listener. Try to make it “feel vocal”.
    Bends, vibrato, space and non uniformity (not all the same ie uniform).
    Shredding and burning riffs just because you can does not sound good or impressive, imho.
    Bends….different bends (1/4, 1/2, full, etc) at the right time can evoke emotion like nothing else.
    Vibrato….BB King, SRV, David Gilmour all have their own for a reason, so should we. And don’t be afraid to mix and match different vibratos for different “feels”.
    Space…Give the listener time to absorb enjoy what mood you’re putting out. Even if it’s hard driving and intense, occasional spaces of less intensity or even nothing actually add to emotional intensity. Intensity can lose meaning if it’s overdone.
    NonUniformity….Nothing, and I MEAN NOTHING, sounds better than tastefully ripping off a minor pentatonic lick that has been slowly (or not so slowly) built up to (thank you Jimmy Page). If you’re just ripping these out the whole time without good spacing and techniques you’ll be emotionally flat.
    Basically, learn the basics inside out and then just close your eyes and open your soul and sing with the guitar! If you’re not emotionally vested, how is the listener supposed to be.

    Just my two cents
    Onward through the Fog!

    • Jonathan Boettcher October 7, 2014 at 8:03 pm #

      Some great points in there, Ummagumma. Space is SO important.

    • Rocknurse October 8, 2014 at 11:01 am #

      Two cents? Very humble of you. My wife always asks me how I can play without looking. I ask her “how does Jose Feliciano play”? How did Ray Charles play? If you learn the basics, you can hear where the notes are. That must be you that I bump into in the fog. I thank you for leaving such an intelligent, well written remark. I guess that there’s still a few of us around. “Feel it, Be it”. Don’t be scared.

  4. Richard October 7, 2014 at 11:27 am #

    In my playing, I like to remain with the basics of varying the rhythm, tempo and attack on the strings, keeping it simple and focusing on the actual music instead of special effects.

    • Jay Silverberg October 7, 2014 at 3:49 pm #

      It’s the old saying, “Sometimes, less is more”.

    • Jonathan Boettcher October 7, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

      That’s a good point Richard – there’s no sense going for pyrotechnics unless the basics are completely mastered… and there’s so much that can be done with those “basics” !!!

  5. Matthew nazaroff October 7, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    As an advanced guitar player in my mid 16’s (I have been playing since 5) I have come to a sudden realization that great dynamics come through simple yet smooth licks in between chords. I will playing the chords with a nice beat and if I am jamming with my friends, I will just stop playing chords for a few seconds and quickly just rip out a nice 3-5 second lick and Jump right back into the chords. Not only will this mix it up and sound great, but it also makes you an better and smoother player

  6. Rocknurse October 7, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    I’m 60 years young. I still love guitar driven ROCK. All of my solos I attempt to to tell a little story, If it’s only a verse long then it’s a short story, My aim is to have you feel the emotions that the guitar is conveying. If it’s a sad ballad, one note will suffice. Hang on it, Bend it slowly and only a little bit for feeling. Try to make the listener know that you’re very sad. If you’re burning through a lot of notes, a guitar player might say “wow” but the lay person won’t get it. I even do this on acoustic leads.

  7. Lem G October 7, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    Dynamics are such an integral part of developing skills as a musician that even as an elementary school student, I was fascinating by the subtleties of its many uses. Developing listening skills and performing with other like minded musicians who are better than you was one of the first things I recommend to beginners. As a harmonica soloist in various bands and recording sessions, my skills as a songwriter were crucial to ensuring that the lyrical or melodic flow of a composition were honed to a point that I could perform precisely what was needed and without drawing undo attention to my solo. The performance piece has an an ebb and flow to it and learning the nuances of volume control, intensity, harmony and knowing when NOT to play are all individual traits that comprise the proper use of dynamics.

    • Jonathan Boettcher October 7, 2014 at 8:05 pm #

      Ah… listening skills! You don’t find many people talking about that, unfortunately. Take two guitar players who can play equally well – the one that listens to the band better is the better of the two. Great points you made.

      • Rocknurse October 7, 2014 at 8:59 pm #

        Excellent comment. A great band all listen to each other. As for your comment, I have found that with 2 equally good guitarists in a live situation, the one that knows how to use body language is thought to be better by lay people.

        • Jonathan Boettcher October 7, 2014 at 9:01 pm #

          Can you explain more what you mean by body language? Are you referring to communicating with other musicians via body language? Or crowd-pleasing body language?

          • Rocknurse October 7, 2014 at 9:16 pm #

            Certainly, crowd pleasing body language. When I was 18 years old, a GREAT 25 year old guitar player and I took turns on stage playing lead to Blue Suede Shoes in the key of A. I know that he was much better than I was so I decided to prance around the stage and eventually go down on my knees and let my long hair whip around. It’s sad but at the time it was “better to look good than to play good”.

    • Ruth Blizzard October 12, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

      very interesting. bout to fall asleep Good Night.

  8. Minh Hoang October 7, 2014 at 6:21 pm #

    Dear, I am just a basic guitar player, so I have never thought of about dynamics and what it is. Perhaps, here is the first time I heard such a strange thing. And I curiously wanted to know or understand more about it. Can you give me some examples?

  9. Hai October 8, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    Dynamics starts with the simple or maybe not so simple fact of keeping up your improvisations in the right beats and bars

  10. Farley Fox November 18, 2014 at 6:23 am #

    I guess I would call myself an intermediate player (I guess). I play mostly traditional stuff on a flat top box. I don’t do a lot of covers but prefer to put bits a phrases together to make my own compositions. I find that a strategic use of bends, hammers, pauses and sustains can give amazing power to relatively simple tunes.

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