Dynamic Control For Guitar Players: Simple Steps To Becoming A Better Musician

dynamic control for guitar players

Dynamic control is a crucial skill for guitar players to possess, but it can often be overlooked. Dynamics refers to how loud or soft notes are played, but there can be much more to it than that. Strong dynamic control will allow you to have more engaging performances, and elevate the quality of the songs you play to a whole new level. Here’s some examples of things to think about when implementing dynamics.

dynamic control for guitar players
Dynamic control is a crucial skill for guitar players

Loud And Soft

The concept of loud and soft is fairly self explanatory, but how do you do it, and how do you implement it? A good exercise to start with, is to take a single note, and play it as softly as you can. To do this, gently brush the tip of your pick across the string. Then, start to gradually play louder, by more aggressively picking, and catching more of the string with your pick. Practice going louder and than softer again until you feel comfortable and in control. From there you can start to implement the same exercise but with chord strumming. If you play an electric guitar, you can use the volume knob on your guitar, and adjusting it between sections to change dynamics in conjunction with your picking technique.

Now that you have control over dynamics it’s time to start implementing that control. Typically dynamics are used to help differentiate different sections within a song. 

E.g. Verse: soft, Chorus: Loud, Final Chorus: VERY LOUD.

Try experimenting with this in the next song you learn.

Leave Yourself Room

Always consider what comes next and where the song needs to go in relation to dynamics. If you start playing super loud right from the first verse of the song then you will have no room to raise the dynamics in the chorus. You can only ever play so loud. There is a point where you can’t strum harder, amp wont go louder or you start to drown out the rest of your band. Save that point for the climax of the song, but how do you do that? 

Try pulling out a pen and paper, and writing out the structure of the song. Figure out what section in that structure you want to be the climax, and play that first, as loud as you can. From there work in reverse through the loudest to softest sections. This will ensure you never run out of headroom.

Leave Room For Your Bandmates

Listen to the rest of the band while your playing, take note of how loud or soft they are playing, and to play accordingly. This is especially important if you are new to the concept of dynamics and unsure of where to use what volume. 

E.g. You are playing rhythm guitar in a song with a band and another guitarist is taking a solo. You should in this case play relatively softly, so that the solo guitarist can be heard. 

Leaving room like this for your fellow musicians will make the music sound much better and also shows great respect. Nobody likes being played over the top of. Showing this kind of courtesy will encourage people to want to continue to play with you, and to do the same for you when it’s your turn to take the lead.

Don’t Be Afraid To Stop Playing

Dynamics isn’t just about your own playing, it’s about the whole band and what’s best for the song. Sometimes what’s best, can be to play nothing at all! By not playing anything in some sections of the song, the parts you do play have far more impact. 

E.g. You are playing in a band and a song you’re working on is sounding the same right the way through with few differences between section. You could try dropping out all together in one of the verses and come back in loud and strong in the chorus. 

The audience is more likely to take notice of, and appreciate your great guitar playing if it’s taken away in some sections, and the brought back again.

As you have probably figured out, dynamics comes largely from a mindset, rather than from practicing a technique. That means that you can improve your playing using dynamics, just by thinking about dynamics. If every time you’re practicing, rehearsing or performing you consider dynamics, you’ll start to develop far more interesting music than you have before. The key things to remember with all of these factors, is to maintain a balance between soft and loud. Without one you cannot have the other.

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Maximise Your Guitar Practice: The Metronome

maximise guitar practice using metronome

Metronome practice is one of the most effective methods for improving your playing quickly, especially for technical, high tempo pieces. Unfortunately, for many of us it can also be a tedious way to practice and as a result is often overlooked or not done properly. Use these tips to maximise your metronome practice so you can spend less time with a metronome and more playing the fun stuff.

maximise guitar practice using metronome

Go Slow To Go Fast

Learning songs at a very slow tempo is likely something that has been relentlessly drilled into you already, its especially important for metronome practice. Usually it is recommended that you should start your metronome far lower than you might think, as low as 50-60 bpm. By starting at a tempo this slow, you are forced to thoroughly understanding the rhythmic placement of each note in relation to the beat of the metronome. It is important to note that reducing the tempo much below 50-60bpm is not recommended. Slower than this makes it extremely difficult to keep time due to long pauses between each beat. 

Take Small Steps

Once you are able to play the song fluently at a very low tempo, you can start to increase it. This increase should be very small. You should only ever increase the tempo by 1-5bpm at a time. By making small changes like this, the increase in speed is barely noticeable, and you will be able to adapt to it more quickly and accurately. It may seem tempting to increase by 10-20bpm, but you will likely end up struggling to play accurately with that big of a change and have to reduce the tempo again anyway resulting in lost time, and developing bad habits/mistakes.

Be Accurate

It is extremely important while using a metronome to be as accurate as possible. Small mistakes at a slow tempo will become large mistakes at a fast tempo. To maintain accuracy you should never increase the speed until you can play a section perfectly at least 3 times in a row. You should be able to play at the current tempo relatively effortlessly before increasing the tempo.

Tips For When You Get Stuck

With almost anything you learn, you will inevitably encounter a tempo that you struggle to get past. E.g you are learning a technical shred solo and can’t quite get the last 15 bpm you need. Here’s some tricks to gain that last bit of speed.

  1. Temporarily boost the speed to far beyond what your capable (e.g. full tempo of the song) and attempt to keep up with it a handful of times before reducing the speed again. When you reduce the speed back to where you started, it will feel relatively very slow and more achievable. Use this trick sparingly as using it too much will result in sloppy playing.
  2. Don’t be afraid to take a break if your struggling. Go for a quick walk, watch tv for half an hour, come back the next day. Whatever you need to do to clear your head and try again. 
  3. Try breaking the practice up into small concentrated chunks. Try spending just 10 minutes of heavy focus on the part you’re stuck on, then do something else for 20. Come back and do another 10 minutes and repeat. You will find these small blocks of intense focus will yield better results than if you tried to bash away at it for hours on end.
  4. Drop the tempo back down and check for any small mistakes. Sometimes we can get stuck at a speed because we have progressed to fast and started making mistakes.

Practice Songs You Already Know With Metronome

The metronome isn’t just for learning new songs. It’s also a fantastic tool for keeping on top of what we have already learnt, particularly for technically challenging songs. You will find that even in songs you have know for years, sitting down with a metronome and practicing it slowly for a few minutes will dramatically improve how accurately you can play it.. 

Where Do You Get A Metronome

Luckily for you, you will already have access to a metronome through either a computer or mobile phone. Google has a built in free metronome app, all you have to do is search “metronome”. For practice that requires non-standard time signatures and subdivisions, there are many great mobile apps that offer these features for free. So there’s no excuse for not using one.

So next time you sit down to practise with a metronome, try using these tips to maximise your practice time. The better you are at using a metronome, the less time you’ll have to spend using it. You’ll become a much cleaner, more accurate and faster guitarist for it.

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