Dynamics

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
An advanced subject IMO. When first learning drums, there's just so much preliminary work to do before tackling dynamics. Getting a good stroke happening, getting at least 3 way coordination down, then there's the whole thing about keeping steady meter...that stuff takes the lions share of your attention in the beginning.

I write a lot of stuff here, that for the more seasoned players, may seem like common knowledge, redundant even, but I like to keep in mind that for every experienced member here that participates, there are likely 10 newer drummers just lurking about, reading what is being bandied about here. So this thread is mainly for the benefit of the newer players.

What are dynamics? In a word, volume. The drummer doesn't have pitched notes to work with. What we do have is rhythms and dynamics. A dynamic drummer uses volume to create moods. It's a very powerful tool. The right fill or beat, played at the wrong dynamic level, doesn't work nearly as well as the right fill or beat played at a complimentary dynamic level.

When I first started recording myself, as an attendee at open mics, I remember one particular fill. The fill was the right fill. When it came time to play the fill this is what went through my mind: [OK here comes my cool fill. I get about 1 second of spotlight. I am going to make sure this fill is heard]

Wrong.

On listening back, the fill was all stuck out and I cringed. The next time at the open mic jam when that fill came around, I just held the dynamic where it was at and did the fill without trying to be noticed. That worked so much better OMG. This was a revelation for me, how volume could make or break things. I knew the fill itself was right. But when I played it too loud, it changed the feel of things. From that point on, I deliberately kept my fills at, or even a tad lower, than the general dynamic of the song before the fill. This has served me so well I can't say enough about it. Don't stick out your fills. (I'm sure there are exceptions, this is generally speaking)

That's what dynamics are good for, changing the feel of things. The same beat, played at 2 different volumes, will have 2 different emotional effects on the listener. A drummer uses that power to manipulate the mood of the song from the inside out. Do not discount the power of lower dynamics. Many times, this will have a more powerful emotional effect than a stuck out fill. When you go softer where most wouldn't, it really creates an effect. And you haven't changed your notes, you just changed the volume of your notes. Very powerful stuff, dynamics. A whisper oftentimes works better than a shout. OK a little extreme but I'm trying to highlight the differences.

I would like to hear about any dynamic tricks that anyone uses here.
One rule of thumb I go by: Generally speaking, drums in a band situation sound better under the vocals and leads than over them. The drummer should never be the loudest guy onstage. (exceptions always apply) Also as mentioned above, play fills at the same dynamic level, or under, the dynamic you were at right before the fill. Don't change the dynamic level of the fill. It will clash with the dynamic right before the fill.

Lately I have been experimenting with lowered dynamic levels for certain sections with great success. I feel I sound like a more seasoned player when I pull it back volume-wise in certain sections. It really adds impact. You would think it would have an opposite effect, meaning you would think pulling back would lessen the emotional impact, but as in a lot of things drumming, that's backwards. It actually heightens emotional impact. The effect is very powerful, and it's so easy to do.

It's fun thing to experiment with too, as you're not changing the notes, so the band members won't get thrown off, but they will notice a change in feel, usually for the better.

Anybody have any dynamic tricks, stories, or general musings they want to share?
 
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8Mile

Platinum Member
Larry,

Great points.

One interesting item regarding the dynamics of fills in relation to the groove. This was something Jim Riley critiqued in my own playing. His position was that in pop/rock/country music today, the fill should be at a higher dynamic level than the rest. Frankly, I found it uncomfortable at first, because I didn't approach fills that way. Some, but not all.

I guess musical style is part of it. Riley said if you're working in the studio in Nashville, you're not going to find players who don't hit hard. Considering the starting point is a loud rimshot on every backbeat to start with, we're talking about really laying into the fills, including rimshots on those as well but even louder.

This wouldn't make sense in jazz or possibly blues, necessarily.

Again, one drummer's perspective, but a pro drummer and a really good one at that.
 

Otto

Platinum Member
Great Thread Larry!

My $0.02...

I think the Dynamics of a "Fill" should be at about the level of your HiHat Work...not at the level of your snare "Back Beat"...maybe between the two...loads of generalities here but a good thing to consider.


I love a comment Dave Weckl makes in one of his educational videos.

He basicly pointed out that his "Ghost Notes" were to loud at one point in his development...and he discovered this via recording and listening to his playing.

I think reviewing the dynamics of your ghosting via recording is a great thing...as well as the dynamics of your "Fills"....as well as the totality of your drumming!

Recording yourself; its not just for micro-timing anymore!!
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Hmm Rileys advice goes counter to what I found to be true in my world. Also, if this is studio advice, it may not necessarily apply to live playing. I guess I'm limiting this discussion to live playing. I wonder if the engineers altered his fill volume when mastering the track.

A lot of guys wear the "I hit hard" badge and are very proud of that fact. My impression of these people is that its a pretty one sided approach to such a varied thing such as music.

It's like saying I do everything this one way, with no account for variation. It immediately lowers my musical opinion of that person. I can hit very hard if necessary, but it's not even close to necessary in the places I play. Usually the opposite is the case, I have to really limit my top volume.

Some of the rooms I play...geez you have to be so controlled because drums just sound so loud in that room. I pride myself on the fact that I can burn at low low volumes, which to me takes more skill and control than walloping the tar out of your drums.

I get many compliments from this one guy in particular, he's a regular at this one room I play, and he see's all the other bands that play there, and he constantly tells me that I am the only drummer who can play at the right volume for that particular room. That makes me feel all warm and fuzzy when he says that.
 
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Otto

Platinum Member
I think the key is to say "I have seriously and objectivly considered my internal dynamics".

Once you listen to a recording of yourself, you are likely to be surprised...and able to find an adjustment that makes you even more proud of your playing.
 
A

Anthony Amodeo

Guest
with my students one of the first things we learn just after holding sticks is dynamics

they dont know they are learning dynamics because it is disguised in ..Full, Down , Tap, Up....the four basic strokes of drumming

Full and Down are your loud accent strokes
Tap, and Up are your soft grace strokes

at the same time they are learning these strokes they are learning to control their dynamic range

very important because a lot of these kids play in school bands or orchestras and need to understand dynamics for crescendos, p, f, mp, mf, pp, ff, fff and what not

waiting to learn dynamics is a huge mistake in my opinion

Dynamics should be in the very foundation of a students fundamentals simply because it is one of the most important aspects of any type of percussion

there is no reason for some of these kids to learn 3 way coordination when they dont even have a drum kit and they only play snare in the school band...that makes zero sense

absolutely dynamics before 3 way coordination

drumming does not always mean drum kit......and not all percussionist play "fills"

you need dynamics in your foundation.....period
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Oh recording yourself is as necessary as picking up a pair of sticks, if you want to improve yourself quick.

Every drumset should come with a handheld recorder. If I never recorded myself, I wouldn't be playing with the players I do today, because I would have been unaware of how I was coming off.

You really need to be able to listen to your playing when you are not actually playing, to evaluate yourself. Vital vital stuff if you are serious about your drumming.

Anthony what you say is spot on. I got to dynamics late in life. Your way is better. It still takes a certain maturity to hold back when most want to rock out though, so you have to actually think dynamically. Being able to play at differing dynamic levels and actually employing dynamics are 2 different things.
 

Mad About Drums

Pollyanna's Agent
That's a very understated topic Larry, good job you bring it up, dynamics is what gives life to a piece of music, without dynamics, the music feels bland, boring, like if the volume knob is set to a given power and never move from there, so there's a lot to talk about in terms of dynamics, brilliant thread as always Mr Ace :)
 

Otto

Platinum Member
LOL!

Nice Mad!

..brings up an interesting idea...the rhythmic pattern of dynamics within your playing...another tool to convey the pulse of a song.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
Awesome visual approach that really brings home the variations that dynamics can have in your playing Henri.

I would think a newer drummer, who may not fully grasp what dynamics can do, would get quite a bit from what you just did.

What a great way to illustrate this topic.

Genius stuff there my man

Like my latest dynamic thing is the shuffle beat. I am really focusing on getting a more noticeable volume difference between the quarter notes and the dotted notes, (say on the hi hat) with the quarter notes being accented, and the dotted notes being more or less tapped. It really makes a difference in the feel of a shuffle song, in fact it's the secret to the shuffle feel. When the quarter notes and the dotted notes are played at the same dynamic, it just doesn't create the same effect. It's much more pedestrian, bland, and amateur sounding.
 
T

The Old Hyde

Guest
The one point I kind of disagree with Larry is that you seem to think dynamics are volume?? Volume is volume, dynamics are accents. you talk about playing a smalll room at the correct volume, that has nothing to do with dynamics.
 

PacifRick

Senior Member
The one point I kind of disagree with Larry is that you seem to think dynamics are volume?? Volume is volume, dynamics are accents. you talk about playing a smalll room at the correct volume, that has nothing to do with dynamics.
Dynamics are how different volumes interact with each other, via accents. What would be your definition of an accent if volume isn't at play here?
 

Bo Eder

Platinum Member
Sorry Larry, I must interject here. Here is the best example of non-musicality EVER! No dynamics, no time, just all-in-all, a bad performance. I've never heard this beautiful song so mangled before in my life. I keep watching because it's like a car accident - I can't look away! I'm not trying to make this guy famous or anything, but I think Wailin' Smash has this guy beat in the performance and musicality category (that's just about everything).

Please accept this link as how you shouldn't be playing any kind of music....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gODzlEhZt-0
 

Nickropolis

Senior Member
dy·nam·ics   [dahy-nam-iks]
4.
( used with a plural verb ) variation and gradation in the volume of musical sound.
 

Mad About Drums

Pollyanna's Agent
The one point I kind of disagree with Larry is that you seem to think dynamics are volume?? Volume is volume, dynamics are accents. you talk about playing a smalll room at the correct volume, that has nothing to do with dynamics.
No, I disagree with you here, accents can be part of a dynamic context, accents do not create dynamics, they highlight and punctuate certain passage in a piece of music, like some accents in a snare fill for exemple or a punctuation with the BD and a cymbal.

Larry's right it is about volume, but not like a knob you turn up or down on a stereo sytem, it has feel, texture, colour, sound... imagine you're playing a strong groove with a powerful backbeat with your hi-hat half open in a song, then suddenly, everyone goes down to a whisper, the hi-hat's got closed and gently tapped, the backbeat is transformed into a subtle cross stick, the bass drum goes almost unoticed, then the crescendo starts, building the tension again, it goes up and up and up to finally explose into the most intensive groove, we're reaching the apocalypse now and the guitar is screaming out loud, when the solo's over, it goes back to the strong groove with the powerful backbeat with the hi-hat half open...and the singer resume his vocal part... that's dynamics for me... and there was no accents in it, lol. (just kidding)

Dynamics is volume, no doubt about it, but it's not just about volume, there's many other aspects which comes into play.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
The one point I kind of disagree with Larry is that you seem to think dynamics are volume?? Volume is volume, dynamics are accents. you talk about playing a smalll room at the correct volume, that has nothing to do with dynamics.
The way I look at it, they're different things. An accent is very specific. Sometimes we want to play a whole part of a song at a different dynamic. You wouldn't just call that whole part "accented", because technically you could still accent a dynamically higher/lower part.

I see what you're getting at, though. One thing about controlling dynamic levels is paying attention to stick height and momentum, similar to how we pull the stick up higher for a louder accent in the notes.
 

Talismanis

Senior Member
The one point I kind of disagree with Larry is that you seem to think dynamics are volume?? Volume is volume, dynamics are accents. you talk about playing a smalll room at the correct volume, that has nothing to do with dynamics.
I also disagree with you I'm afraid. Dynamics are volume and as far as I've ever known that is a fact. What are standard accents? A variation in dynamics, or volume.

You see 'p' on a score, that's a dynamic, as is ff. You're in a small room, so you play piano. That's also a dynamic, which is the same as quiet volume.

I also disagree with Watso about stick height. My accents come from the velocity of my stick. I can play quietly with a huge stick height, or accent with a relatively low stick height if I try hard enough. Of course if I'm playing really loud my sticks will be higher as a natural result, but that's because I'm using more velocity, I don't think "I will raise my stick height to play louder."
 
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MJD

Silver Member
The one point I kind of disagree with Larry is that you seem to think dynamics are volume?? Volume is volume, dynamics are accents. you talk about playing a smalll room at the correct volume, that has nothing to do with dynamics.
Dynamic-overall volume level (piano, forte etc)
Accent- note played at a dynamic higher than the overall indicated dynamic for emphasis( an metzoforte hit in a piano section of a piece)
Playing in a small room at the correct volume is an adjustment in dynamics to suit the performance space. volume and dynamic are basically synonyms when used as musical terms.
 

opentune

Platinum Member
Sorry Larry, I must interject here. Here is the best example of non-musicality EVER! No dynamics, no time, just all-in-all, a bad performance. I've never heard this beautiful song so mangled before in my life. I keep watching because it's like a car accident - I can't look away! I'm not trying to make this guy famous or anything, but I think Wailin' Smash has this guy beat in the performance and musicality category (that's just about everything).

Please accept this link as how you shouldn't be playing any kind of music....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gODzlEhZt-0
not much for music, but a great beach though.......
 
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