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Beyond The Realms Of Conventional Guitar Thinking - Part II

Watch Those Dynamics!
For my second installment in this series I'd like to address an element of playing that EVERY serious musician should work on mastering... Dynamics. What are dynamics you say? Well, the musician's definition would be something along the lines of: "The changing degrees of loudness or softness within music." A great example of killer dynamics in action that most should know is "Tin Pan Alley" off Stevie Ray Vaughan's Couldn't Stand The Weather album. Stevie was all about using dynamics to express emotion, but there's more to it than just that. There have been many times when my dynamics control actually saved me from an embarrassing moment onstage.

"The most important aspect of using dynamics is to convey emotions and to signify the changing moods of musical passages."
See, I have to crank my amp's clean channel up a tad for certain tunes we play, and sometimes I'll forget to reset it after the song is finished (I blame it on the beer mostly - hee, hee). Well, when I then switch to the clean channel in another song where the band's overall dynamic level is lower and the first note I play comes out like a friggin' elephant's roar over the din... in a nanosecond I immediately bring the volume under control via dynamics (i.e., softening my attack to match the volume of everyone around me). That way I don't have to rush back to my amp to turn it down, thus breaking the music's flow and my whole vibe in the process.

However, that said I feel the most important aspect of using dynamics is to convey emotions and to signify the changing moods of musical passages. Like a tastefully developed vibrato, I think that having a good feel for dynamics is essential if one is to ever become a player's player. A good way I've found to work on dynamics (other than with a dynamics-conscious band) is to work on accents when playing your scales and exercises with a metronome (always with a metronome). Granted, most of us know how to accent the downbeat [One, two, three, four, One, two, three, four...] but try using syncopation (accenting the "weak" or off-beats) in combination with your regular routine [One-and-two-and-three-and-four-and, One-and-two-and-three-and-four-and...]. Pay particular attention to the loudness of the accents and the softness with which you play the unstressed notes exaggerating the loudness and softness degrees if you have to. Whatever it takes for you to get a feel for the varying degrees of note intensity possibilities. This way you can add dynamics on-the-fly that aren't necessarily dependent or relative to the overall dynamics as a whole.

Until next time...

Craig Smoot — Musician, Web Site and Info Systems Developer — is 1/2 of the guitar team for Black Label, and also runs Hellecasters.com and Rivera.com in his spare time.