How to Use Dynamics to Improve Guitar Playing | 11 Tricks & Tips to Play the Guitar Better
You don’t have to be an expert guitar player to add dynamics to your performance. Start with what you know and experiment with guitar dynamics from there.
Using different guitar dynamics is essential when playing guitar as dynamics they help to spice up your performance, and also your songwriting. Using dynamics can help you to make your performance stand out from the crowd.
Dynamics are also a simple way to add emotion and expression to a song when playing the guitar.With a guitar in hand it can throw off even the most experienced of performers, so you will maybe have to have the mindset as if you’re starting performing from scratch.
The importance of varying your guitar dynamics
How to use guitar dynamics
You will need to build your confidence and perfect your stagecraft. Read on for some guitar playing tips to help you when performing with a guitar.
Guitar playing tips to help you when performing with a guitar
Learning dynamics for guitar playing is fairly simple. Following these tips will assist you in knowing how to employ dynamics into your performances:
- Use exercises
- Work with tempo
- Use muting
- Vary dynamics in the context of a song
- Use pedals to change the tone
- Have different picking techniques
- Use amplifiers
- Think emotively
- Listen to other songs and play along
- Film yourself
- Play low-stress performances
Tips for beginner electric guitarists
Make sure your guitar is set up
Before we start, it’s important to note that when performing with your guitar live, for your instrument your instrument needs to be in tune. Your strap needs to be the correct height, and your batteries need to be new if applicable. Also Remember to carry back up equipment like spare batteries, cables, and picks.
Another one of our guitar playing tips is to Buy yourself a pair of strap locks to protect your prized possession. It happens too often that a guitar strap doesn’t fit correctly or is weak and it breaks on stage.
#1 Use exercises
When you’re a beginner or intermediate guitar player, you may not consider dynamics as an important part of a performance. If your playing sounds flat, or friends comment that you should try playing with more attitude or feeling, you should incorporate playing with dynamics into your performance.
Guitar dynamics exercises
When it comes to playing loudly or softly, dynamics can be applied to both rhythm and lead guitar playing. For this first exercise, try to listen to the dynamics of your favourite song.
Play along with the song in any sort of way, and try picking out certain notes or sections that are louder or softer. Concentrate on incorporating the dynamics, and don’t worry if it initially feels forced.
Moving your focus from what should be played to how it should be played will be a major milestone in your guitar skills development.
This next exercise starts very simply. Choose a single note and start picking it in straight 8th notes. As you pick the note, focus on picking it softly. It should be barely audible, to begin with.
While still picking a single note, try to increase the intensity of your picking hand, and slowly start playing the same note louder and louder. Bring it up, in terms of volume. To do this, you need to pick quite intensely.
The goal of this exercise is to become aware of the volume range in which you pick notes on the fretboard. This range depends on your picking hand technique and the force that you apply.
In this exercise, take a scale, such as C major or G major, and play it by going up and down the scale for 1 octave. Next, try to accent every other note by playing it louder than the notes in-between.
Once you’re able to do this, try playing two notes aggressively followed by two notes softly. The goal of this exercise is to practice control over dynamics.
As guitarists, we can concentrate too hard on which notes are being played. Sometimes we can completely disregard all the possibilities of how we can express each of those notes.
#2 Change the tempo & work with tempo
Another way to bring guitar dynamics to your performance is to change up the tempo of the song to spark the attention of the listener. The tempo of the song is the speed at which the underlying beat goes, and altering this can be an interesting way to bring guitar dynamics to a song.
A slower tempo will can help give a mellow feel to the a song, whereas a faster tempo gives can give an a more upbeat impression. Changing up the tempo can help to bring more of an effect to the song and helps the guitar player to emphasise certain sections of a song accordingly.
Slow songs can still be loud and expressive though. Take “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” by Aerosmith. It’s very slow, but throughout that song, the band incorporates quiet sections followed by expressive passages to keep their listeners interested.
Guitar playing tips for beginners
#3 Use muting
Muting your guitar with your hand is a brilliant way to change the dynamics to improve your guitar playing. It can also change the tone of a guitar to add variations to certain sections of a song. Here are the steps we recommend to take if you’re learning how to perform this technique.
- Rest the outside of your strumming hand (the area at the edge of the palm, on the same side as your little finger) across the strings to be played,just next to the bridge (which is the area where the bottom of your strings attach).
- You only need to rest this hand gently on the strings – if you do this too heavily,you’ll deaden them too much, plus, you still need to be able to play the strings with this hand.
- The closer your palm is to the bridge, the more sustain the notes will have. The closer it’s positioned to the neck, the ‘deader’ the sound will be.
- Now play the muted strings, making sure to leave your strumming hand in place, muting the strings.
If you don’t get it right at first, try moving your muting hand closer to the bridge. This is probably the most common mistake, and as guitar bridges differ, so does the ideal position to place your hand.
As mentioned, you can use this technique in all sorts of musical situations. Try using it to subdue a strummed chord pattern on an acoustic for added dynamics and drama.
Put silence/rests at the end of a section
#4 Vary dynamics in the context of a song
Using silences and rests in your melody can add extra guitar dynamics, which helps to bring more emphasis to specific areas of your song. Silences and rests can be used to emphasise a lyric, or even just to build anticipation for the next section of the song.
Go from a hard–driving section to a soft section
When playing the guitar it can be easy to fall into the trap of playing the same riff you’ve become comfortable with since you started playing. The problem with this is that your fans are unlikely to stay interacted with your music if all of your music has a familiar sound.
Therefore Using guitar dynamics exercises you can help to build the melody in different ways for each song you compose. A popular technique is to contrast between hard–driving sections to a softer section as it allows the song to breathe when changing up your guitar dynamics.
#5 Use pedals to change the volume and tone
A volume pedal can be used to vary the volume of a performance and create wild guitar dynamics. Volume pedals are popular as they are easier to use than the guitar’s volume control. Mainly This is because they can be operated hands-free, making it easier to do more complex tricks.
Using a volume pedal for playing guitar can help to regulate the volume of the instrument and ensure solos and rhythm sections are all played at the same level.
Whatever you do, keep it simple; there is no substitute for a good song and performance. These guitar dynamics should aid that so don’t get too carried away.
Overdrive pedals can sometimes be confused with distortion pedals, but an overdrive pedal has a different sound to other pedals. These can drive your valves to the point of distortion, or at the very least mimic what that would sound like if you have a solid-state amplifier.
The purpose of an overdrive pedal is to mimic the sound of you turning up your valve amp as loud as it can go, except this a far safer option. It’s the closest you can get to pure amplifier distortion without blowing out your windows!
Play softly and you’ll hardly notice the gain, but play full chords and you’ll notice a huge difference.
Distortion pedals are quite different to overdrive pedals. A distortion pedal is a little more aggressive than an overdrive pedal, as it takes your tone and completely changes it to create something entirely new.
Where an overdrive drives your amp or mimics a full, loud sound, a distortion will create a grittier tone.
With most distortion pedals, it doesn’t matter how hard or softly you play – you’ll usually get the same effect. A distortion pedal is a hard-clipping device that has one purpose – to distort your sound.
The fuzz pedal heavily saturates your tone and covers it in a woolly, “fuzzy” feel. This type of pedal offers a huge amount of sustain by processing your signal and creating a more artificial tone that is very different from the previously mentioned pedals
Fuzz pedals clip so much that playing anything other than lead lines or single-string riffs (such as full chords) sounds very messy. The amount of energy behind a power chord, however, is astonishing.
Jimi Hendrix was perhaps the most famous fuzz pedal player of all time, championing the likes of the “Fuzz Face”. Couple it with a Wah pedal and you’ll instantly recognise this blend that was used in the late 60’s.
#6 Have different guitar techniques – picking and strumming
Change the intensity
Changing between picking and strumming when playing guitar can be the easiest way to work on your guitar dynamics.
The benefits of picking the guitar are that you get a more mellow sound from the instrument, whereas when you’re strumming it can help to build up a livelier section of the song. You can consider striking a balance between both intensities using guitar dynamics.
Advice on guitar dynamics
#7 Use amplifiers
A guitar amp is a piece of electronic hardware that amplifies an electric guitar to produce sound at a higher volume and a different tone. Guitar amps are designed to strengthen the electrical signal from your guitar’s pickups.
Each amp has a unique tone and all amps have multiple adjustment knobs to modify that tone further to your liking.
When playing with an amp, you’ll notice that your guitar ‘senses’ are heightened – you’ll know how hard to play a chord if you want to play it loudly. You may be over strumming if you’ve never plugged into an amp before.
Different makes of amps include:
Each of these amps has different model numbers at different sizes and for different purposes. For that reason, there is no ‘best amp’ it’s simply down to preference.
A great starting amp, however, is the Roland Cube. It’s a battery-powered amp (as well as being able to plug into the mains) and has a simple interface. You can even take this one busking if you want to play some of your tunes to a guaranteed audience.
Beginner acoustic guitar tips
Dynamic guitar VST
An important thing to note is that you can buy software plugins for Digital Audio Workstations (like Logic, Pro Tools, Garage Band, Ableton) that will also help you learn about dynamics in your guitar plugins.
These are called VSTs. They’re an amp that’s built into a computer. Some great dynamic guitar plugins can be found on dskmusic.com. Plugging in to your computer (or an interface) and playing with the plugin can help you learn the dynamic range and tone qualities of your guitar.
Guitar tips for intermediate musicians
#8 Think emotively
The audience doesn’t necessarily support the most talented performers, but rather the most enthusiastic ones. Whether you have the talent or not, one of the best ways to engage your audience is to play with enthusiasm. Extra points if you’re both.
Enthusiasm doesn’t have to be loud, and gaudy-sincere love of what you’re playing is enough.It”s contagious, and truly enthusiastic performances are generally rare and appreciated. Be one of these performers.
Tips for learning guitar chords
#9 Listen to other songs and play along
Guitarists can often rush through the listening stage and proceed to their fretboards immediately. One of the best ways a song is to sing along and know the melody off by heart and when the chord changes are in the song.
Once you’ve learned these aspects of the music, listen to how the dynamics of the songs match up with the melody and chords. You might find that the root chord might be loud, at the start of the song’s chorus. The bridge, on the other hand, might be more subdued by using muted guitar and quiet strumming for example.
If you are looking to learn how to sing and play guitar at the same time, check out this article:
How can I improve my guitar playing?
#10 Film yourself
Filming yourself is always a good idea and may help you pick out your own faults whilst performing with a guitar before you get to that stage. For example, if you notice that you close your eyes too often or your right arm is particularly stiff, you can alter these before your important performances.
Often singers find that they are looking down whilst performing with a guitar; this is a habit that cuts off engagement with the audience. Filming yourself is one of our most effective guitar playing tips, as it’s a real–life performance that you’d not normally see.
#11 Play low-stress performances
Assemble a small showcase
Performing with a guitar can be a daunting situation so it’s a good idea to try out some methods of performance with friends and family beforehand.
Set up a microphone stand as you would have in a stage setting and try out different methods of performing with a guitar. This gives you access to honest criticism from your select audience and can help refine your act, read on to find more guitar playing tips.
Rehearse your set like you would play it live. That means ad-libbing in between tracks and thinking of some small talk which is better than the average ‘give me a second…’ whilst you tune up leaving the audience in silence. this is one of the most important guitar playing tips.
It’s worth trying out some of our guitar playing tips at some low key, less stressful performances perhaps some local Open Mic nights. That way it’s not going to be so crucial if you mess up, and again, if you film it you can constantly review and refine.
Have you ever learned some different ways to use dynamics to improve your guitar playing? We would love to hear about your methods in the comments below!