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Thread: Dynamics for a beginner

  1. #1

    Default Dynamics for a beginner

    How do you produce dynamics in your playing, ie. changes in volume? I have been playing certain notes louder by gripping the pick somewhat harder but I recently heard that this might be a bad way of changing volume as it also makes the tone harsher and produces stiffness in your right hand. I have been trying to find information on how to increase and decrease volume in some other way but haven't come across anything. So today I tried to accentuate notes by simply making the pick move faster through the string but I didn't manage to get any noticeable effect. Is this the correct way to alter dynamics and I just need to practice it more or how do you do it?

  2. #2

    Default Re: Dynamics for a beginner

    This video from a series recently produced by Australian mandolinist Ruth Roshan covers dynamics in tremolo very well. The same techniques can apply to picking as well as tremolo. The whole series is really good.

  3. #3
    Registered User mandrian's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dynamics for a beginner

    Quote Originally Posted by Knoppa View Post
    How do you produce dynamics in your playing, ie. changes in volume? I have been playing certain notes louder by gripping the pick somewhat harder but I recently heard that this might be a bad way of changing volume as it also makes the tone harsher and produces stiffness in your right hand. I have been trying to find information on how to increase and decrease volume in some other way but haven't come across anything. So today I tried to accentuate notes by simply making the pick move faster through the string but I didn't manage to get any noticeable effect. Is this the correct way to alter dynamics and I just need to practice it more or how do you do it?
    Hi,

    I was hoping for some more answers on this question from some better players than I am.

    I remember many years ago when I lived in Edinburgh I would go round the “folk” pubs to listen to the sessions. You could always tell if the students from the local music learning group had descended en masse on the session even before you entered the pub. The way you could tell was that they played the music “flat” with no dynamics. They probably played the right notes and in time, but you knew they were not the better players.

    I have thus understood the importance of this, but think that it is seldom addressed in lessons. That’s why I was hoping for some more answers on this subject.

    I suspect that it might centre around hearing the tune in your head as you play it and perhaps hearing it in human voice terms rather than as hitting strings, but would be interested in what good players have to say. When we speak we can convey joy, passion, melancholy, gravitas, etc pretty easily, but with a mandolin it seems much harder.

    Regards,

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    Benjamin Gieseke flymolo0's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dynamics for a beginner

    I've been wrestling with the dynamics question a lot over the last couple of years as I've started playing in a mandolin orchestra in addition to solo at home. Here's just a few of my thoughts/discoveries-

    1) Play with pick angle. you can get a lot of dynamic change by changing the angle of your pick attack from about 45 degrees relative to the strings, to striking them straight on/parallel. I believe Caterina Lichtenberg has lessons on this topic in her ArtistWorks course if you're curious. Basically the closer to parallel you get, you get a brighter and harder attack, increasing your perceived volume, and the more of an angle, a softer, warmer attack, decreasing your perceived volume.

    2) Projection. If you are playing an instrument with f-holes, you are probably much louder than you think. Most of your sound is traveling away from you and your perceived volume to someone standing 10 feet in front of you is probably much higher than it is to your ears. I used to practice in our apartment while my wife gardened on our patio, and she would come in through the door and see me playing near the back wall of our apartment and tell me that she thought I had been sitting right by the door it sounded so loud and present.
    Oval hole instruments are a different story, to me the sound tends to radiate evenly from the instrument rather than being "thrown" from the f-holes. With my oval if I need a dramatic increase in volume the easiest thing to do is to pull the back of the instrument away from my person and angle it towards the audience (this is similar to what a ToneGard does, but more "on demand").

    3) Explore the softer side. As the OP mentioned, gripping the pick harder does generate more volume, but at the cost of tension in your hand. Dr. Jim Bates at the CMSA convention was encouraging attendees to explore the softer sounds of your instrument. Mandolin can be very loud, but it might be better to think of this available volume more like headroom in an amplifier. Make your quiets really quiet, and your standard playing volume will seem much louder, and it saves that absolute volume threshold of your instrument for those super dramatic moments.
    Note: This might vary a lot based on genre, I'm mostly coming from a classical/orchestral standpoint here, but it probably applies at least somewhat in bluegrass, Irish, etc.

    4) Change up your pick type-not sure what pick you are using, but I've personally found that the wider triangle picks (i.e. BlueChip CT55) reduce the tension in my hand versus something like a teardrop pick. Because there is more material to hold, I don't have to squeeze so hard to keep the pick under control.

    Hope this helps! I'm sure there are lots of other ways to think about this, and I'm certainly no expert and open to feedback for my own growth, but these are the techniques I've personally found useful.
    Last edited by flymolo0; Apr-27-2020 at 10:34am.
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    two t's and one hyphen fatt-dad's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dynamics for a beginner

    the overlooked right hand! I think the short answer is 10,000 hrs. No joke, I'm still a long way from happy on my dynamics! How you hold the pick, how you attack the strings, when you strike the note, how hard to pick. . . There's quite a bit to think over, before you get to just play!

    Then again, I'm comforted by my mantra; "On the road to excellence, enjoy mediocrity."

    feel free to borrow!

    f-d
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    '20 A3, '30 L-1, '97 914, 2012 Cohen A5, 2012 Muth A5, '14 OM28A

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dynamics for a beginner

    Quote Originally Posted by Knoppa View Post
    How do you produce dynamics in your playing, ie. changes in volume? I have been playing certain notes louder by gripping the pick somewhat harder but I recently heard that this might be a bad way of changing volume as it also makes the tone harsher and produces stiffness in your right hand. I have been trying to find information on how to increase and decrease volume in some other way but haven't come across anything. So today I tried to accentuate notes by simply making the pick move faster through the string but I didn't manage to get any noticeable effect. Is this the correct way to alter dynamics and I just need to practice it more or how do you do it?
    Practice playing softly. Seriously, this is your best place to start learning to control dynamics. Play gently, softly and as beautifully as you can.

    1. If your habit is just wailing on the instrument, you have no room to increase volume.
    2. Learn to relax your pick grip and your stroke as much as possible (right hand).
    3. Learn to use the least amount of pressure possible to get clean notes (left hand).
    4. Learn to keep a note down for as long as possible [ex. if last note fretted on D string is G note, hold it while you play following notes on A string as long as you can] (left hand).

    Practice like that will help you to be more relaxed in both hands/wrists. It will also give you better control on whether to let notes ring as long as possible, or cut them off for effect (pizzicato). It will help with left & right hand coordination. Then, you can begin practicing dynamics by gradually playing harder, tightening pick grip (but not clenching tight), and varying your tempo a bit sometimes as well. Pick angle, etc. can be used to experiment as well.

    Get in the habit of playing comfortably and softly, then practice ways to add dynamic range while trying to stay as relaxed as possible.
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  9. #7

    Default Re: Dynamics for a beginner

    Great information again, I'm loving this forum! I've been now practising dynamics by striking the strings with increased and decreased velocity and I'm making moderate progress. It's still quite difficult to take Mark Gunter's advice about playing softly because it's probably natural to try to get loud sounds out of your instrument and I find that I sound a little choppy if I try to be very gentle with the pick. But I guess you have to go through a phase in which you don't sound very impressive so that later on you can have more control of your hands and your instrument.

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    Innocent Bystander JeffD's Avatar
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    Default Re: Dynamics for a beginner

    So here is a thought.

    Play softly. Instead of trying to add dynamic range by making the loud louder. I know I can get in the habit of playing loud all the time and it begins to feel like that is normal volume.
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