Dynamics is the relative loudness or quietness of a note section of a piece of music. Guitarists with a solid grasp on dynamics can control the volume of their instruments with nothing more than their hands and their guitars. The following exercises will help you learn how to control the dynamics in your guitar playing.
Different Volumes Exercise
The "different volumes" exercise is one of the most basic and simple guitar dynamic exercises. Pick any song that you already know how to play and start playing it at a normal volume. After a few bars, start playing the song as loudly as you possibly can. Accomplish this by physically striking the strings harder with your pick or fingers. After a few more bars, soften your technique and start playing as quietly as possible. Once you are comfortable with playing at three different volume levels, try smoothly transitioning from one to another. This "fade" effect will help you find and master in-between dynamic levels.
Although palm muting is most associated with heavy forms of rock 'n' roll, it can be used as a dynamic tool in all different styles of music. To perform a palm mute, rest the back edge of your picking hand against the strings where they emerge from the bridge and then pick notes as you normally would, stifling the vibration, and therefore the volume, of the strings. Practice playing a few riffs while adjusting the pressure and location of your picking hand in order to hear the effect that this technique has on your dynamic control.
It is easier to control guitar volume with your fingers than with a pick, especially for softer dynamics. If you are not accustomed to finger picking, practice some simple chord changes and riffs using your fingers to pick the strings. Once you are comfortable with this technique, practice playing parts of your favorite songs as quietly as possible with your fingers. If you usually use a pick, practice playing one part of a song at a normal volume with the pick, and then slipping the pick into the back of the palm of your hand (holding it in place with your little finger) and finger picking the next section at a very low volume. With a bit of practice, this technique will become second nature.
Do not ignore your electric guitar's volume knob, as it can be an extremely useful dynamic tool. Practice using your little finger to seamlessly lower the volume of your guitar while you're playing when you shift from a loud part to a quiet part and vice versa. Volume pedals are also extremely useful for dynamic shifts; a volume pedal can be placed between any electric or electric acoustic guitar and its amplifier to control the volume with your foot, leaving your hands free to play.
- Guitar for Dummies; Mark Phillips et al; 1998
- The Lone Guitarist; Two Exercises that Teach You Dynamic Control; 2010
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