In this lesson we will take a look at dynamics and tone - one of the most important aspects of playing and music in general. Great dynamic control is what makes your playing sound like it means something and it is one of the key things that separates the average players from the “pros”.
Hello everyone! In this lesson we will take a look at dynamics and tone - one of the most important aspects of playing and music in general. So, what does the term “dynamics” mean? Dynamics in music is simply the relative ratio between the loudness of the notes in particular phrase/song/performance. Great dynamic control is what makes your playing sound like it means something and it is one of the key things that separates the average players from the “pros”.
To really understand the importance of all this, fire up and listen to the guitar pro file I provided. You’ll probably notice that the guitar pro file played the same exact notes I played in the lesson, the rhythm was also the same, but the final result still didn’t sound like an actual piece of music. There was no contrast, everything was flat and lifeless and that’s for a number of reasons - the timbre of the midi file is not even close to a real electric guitar, the timing is way too precise and mechanical… but it’s the lack of dynamic and tonal variations that really makes the big difference here. Of course, we are talking about a guitar pro midi file, the software wasn’t designed to have a realistic output, but the big question is - how can you avoid sounding like this in practice?
Technically speaking, your dynamic range is determined by the loudest, the most powerful note you can play and the quietest, the most subtle one. To have this sort of variety, apart from the obvious way of sounding a note with various levels of attack, you have stylistic techniques, equipment and tone variations at your disposal. Speaking of tone - in the world of rock guitar, changing the dynamic level is closely related to a change of tone - accenting a note with hi-gain settings does not result in a dramatic change of volume, but rather a change in tone, and making subtle tone changes (playing style variations, pickup switching, turning pedals on/off, turning the tone pot up/down etc...) often results in a change of dynamics. This lesson is focused more on the dynamic approach and the tone changes are treated as a by-product of the dynamic variations.
Apart from all the techniques and ideas used for dynamic variations, I also tried to demonstrate the hierarchy levels those variations can occur at. The concept of dynamics and tone can apply to a few bars / a phrase / whole piece of music / performance set. In this lesson I really concentrated on song-level and phrase-level dynamics.
As far as song-level dynamics go, I suggest you analyze the backing track I provided, its arrangement and how the lead guitar mimics the dynamic levels of the different sections of the track. As a matter of fact, every instrument in there has it’s own peaks and valleys, as it’s very important to match the dynamics of the whole composition, instead of just concentrating on your own parts. Apart from that, another way to look at dynamics is variations inside one phrase. Your overall feel can be aggressive and loud or soft and quiet, but that doesn’t mean every note within a phrase has to be exactly the same. If applied wisely - accents, muting and different levels of attack can make a world of difference. This is the essence of good dynamic and tonal control, so my recommendation is to spend as much time as possible on practicing phrase-level dynamics.
At the end, I want to point out that the guitar is very expressive and responsive instrument, so it’s almost impossible to summarize all the elements that can affect the dynamics and the tone of the instrument. The idea is to experiment and play everything you know loud, soft and everything in between, experiment with the controls on your guitar, your equipment, so at the end you are playing music that has emotional weight instead of playing just a series of notes. The scales I used are E Aeolian (natural minor) and E Pentatonic minor. I hope you enjoy this lesson!