Song dynamics, you ask? Yes. In my opinion, this is what separates the men FROM the boys and the women FROM the girls. I know we are all guilty of it: playing at one volume that is loud or playing above the rest of the mix. We are trying to be heard, but because of our fears of being lost in the crowd, either consciously or sub-consciously, we compensate by playing our instruments harder, thus making everyone play louder, which essentially makes the music we are playing noise.
We have all listened to songs that have levels to their parts, like “Song 2” by Blur, and “Remedy” by the Black Crows. What I mean – and I am really simplifying this – is that the verse of a song may be lower than the chorus. Imagine this scenario: you’re in a bar where the club band is playing. They’re playing at one volume level; the verse is not soft and the chorus is not loud; the singer is in the background, and in this particular song s/he should be in the foreground. It’s all noise.
“Song 2” is a great little song in the sense that the verse is at a fairly decent volume. As soon as the bass kicks in, which is in the chorus, the song takes off. Once the verse returns, the bass drops out and the song resumes its previous volume. The dynamics take the song back and forth with the different volumes.
“Remedy” uses the same idea, but with a switch: they play the song verse fairly loud; when it comes to the chorus the volume drops considerably. The dynamics really set a mood for the song and the crowd.
Another band that does very well with dynamics is the Dave Matthew’s Band. I am not going to ANALYZE their songs, but I encourage you to listen to a few.
Playing dynamically will also help your singer tremendously. S/he will not have to scream a whole song or set, so you may sound like the wedding band you are and not the local hardcore group. Being mindful of the levels you play during certain parts of a song will allow your singer to achieve a wider range. This has done wonders with my band, thanks to song dynamics.
It is a natural tendency for people to get excited when they play out. They play loud, and also fast. It is great to have energy as a band but you should sit down and discuss dynamics with your band mates. For example, the bass and drums should complement, not over power, each other. The guitars should be at a level that is not deafening, and the vocals should be coherent and not drowning in the music. Seriously listen to songs and how a particular band approaches a song.
I know this sounds simple but pay attention to the songs you are covering or the originals you are writing, because the dynamics will set the mood and the direction in which you want to go.
Here’s a side note on playing at lower levels and dynamically. I find that if my attack is lighter and less aggressive, I strike the strings with more precision and control. The harder I play, while fighting to be heard in a band, the sloppier I become. I have found that by playing at lower levels and more dynamically I have gained more control and precision of my attack.
In conclusion, keep your ears perked and poised for action; be professional in the sense that you can play a song tastefully. By following a dynamic you will become a better player. Remember, the band that is the loudest doesn’t always have the talent. It is the band that plays the song with dynamics that keeps the gig.