Playing soft. Loss of energy?

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
No way.

That's a fallacy. Lately, in addition to my trio and my 6 piece band, I've been playing with this straight ahead Chicago style blues band featuring the lead guy, a harmonica player. He's got this steady gig once a week at a hotel. We set up in this outdoor patio area, it's got a bar and tables and is surrounded by big old trees. It's real nice. Anyway, after playing there all summer, we were told we have to cut it way down on volume. Like a lot. So the front guy, I'll call him Russ, he was all bummed out and saying stuff like, how can I do my thing if I have to tone it down. It won't have enough energy. That's a fallacy.

So I was trying to get him in the right mindset, saying that this is not a concert, we are background music here. People are here to eat and talk and enjoy the outside air. Now either we deliver what they need, or they will get a band who can. Everything will be fine. Suffice it to say Russ was not happy. Russ is used to testosterone fueled harp solos that are pretty overpowering. That's his style, he's a ball of fire.

There's a certain freeing element when you're just the background music. After you get past the initial few songs, you relax. You feel you don't have to "try as hard". No one cares anyway, they aren't looking at you. You have to keep it low anyway, so you just kind of coast. Then you find out that...you know, this is still cooking on this low heat setting. Not only that, it's cooking in a way that it never did before. It's simmering instead of burning. It's whole new world here. When you try less, you have headroom, and extra brainpower to listen closer, and you have the resources to think of some real tasty stuff, because you have energy to spare. I tuned my snare low and sloshy. With my 7A's it was just the right tone for that great low tech Chicago sound. So long story short, Russ found a new thing. Simmering nicely at low volumes is equally effective as burning at high volumes.

The management loved the new sound. People danced. We had the worlds cutest 11 year old girl imitating Russ when he soloed. Then she would flit off to the other side of the stage and imitate the guitarist when he soloed. She was a scream! I love kids.

After all was said and done, Russ was very pleased.

I'm no stranger to playing quiet, actually I have more adjustment when I have to play really loud. I don't have the real loud gigs too often anymore. Playing quietly and simmering is a skill I need to work. But it was really cool seeing Russ go from all worried to pleasantly surprised. Restraint is just as satisfying as letting it all hang loose. Pretty cool.

So that's it, just a little fable for y'all.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
It depends on the situation and music being played. When I'm restraining myself too much and more worried about volume than energy, I find it very difficult to sound right to myself with certain kinds of music.

Jazz, almost better at low volumes sometimes. It's touchy music, lot's of subtle stuff.
Blues, no problem. Simmer that %#($.
Rock, sure, but it might sound a bit wimpy-er at lower volumes.
Punk, not going to happen.

But yes, in your circumstance there, you guys came out of that one great. People eating dinner want to be able to talk, and rock. I typically use bundles or brushes so that I can keep intensity of playing while not being so abrasive to the ear-holes.

I will say, though... Sometimes that stuff gets on my nerves. I pay attention to volume levels and I've always been very sensitive about not hurting people's ears, even so... We still get the odd idiot who thinks we need to turn down.
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
I believe punk can be played at a low volume. Wait a minute I'm mad at you. You called me some names as I recall there buster. I would be well within my rights if I asked you to vacate my thread.

OK I'm alright now, you're forgiven.

Wait a second, I take that back.

Oh nevermind.

I can't stay mad at you because I'm so happy Henri is here and Polly made 10 grand and Al got free drums. And there's a new Gloryhammer video or 2. Andy is close to finishing my Guru's. I'm going to London. I'm gonna go catch some bass in a little while. My black beauty is FINALLY sounding amazing with old emperors on it. So how can I stay mad at you?

But like I said, I think it's possible to retain the punk energy. It's not like it can't be done. In fact it would sound AMAZING.
 

Anon La Ply

Renegade
... I think it's possible to retain the punk energy. It's not like it can't be done. In fact it would sound AMAZING.
[/quote]

Agree Larry. In theory, punk can be quiet in the same way as a person can express anger and aggression quietly. Not sure I've seen it done, but I can imagine it. Still, it's not ideal dinner music.

As a young player I found it difficult to retain energy (and control) in low volume situations. These days I love playing low volume. I had fun being loud and fast when I had the energy and drive of youth. Now I prefer being relaxed and mellow with only occasional craziness.

One of the most enjoyable playing moment I've had at a gig was playing low volume background music for an outdoors fundraiser with kiosks and activities etc. We were just there to help set the vibe.

So we start playing on this late Sunday morning in a gorgeous rural setting in front of about 20 people sitting in front of us (hundreds in earshot) in the pleasant sunshine. As we played one especially laid back tune I noticed a man sitting at the front, eyes closed, foot tapping, blissing out to the music.

In my little musical world, that's a bullseye :)
 

Smoke

Silver Member
I don't have a problem playing in an acoustic gig/jam. I can modulate the tubs just fine, but my cymbals don't open up completely. My ride pings fine at any volume, so she's not a problem; the 13" K-Hybrid hats cut just fine at any dynamic and my 10" K splash fits wherever needed at any volume.

Are my crashes too big? too thick? I use a 15" K fast crash, a 17" A thin crash and an 18" A medium crash. The 15" fast crash isn't too bad, but the two A's sound like trash can lids unless I whack them.

Any ideas on quiet cymbal work?
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
In my little musical world, that's a bullseye :)
Indeed, but it's a totally different bulls-eye than can be aimed at when you have freedom to really lay into your drums, crank up the guitars to 11, and get the whole crowd literally jumping to your beat.

How about we just agree that the energy is different in each situation, but we can still convey energy either way? Nobody is arguing that there isn't such a thing as "too loud" for a given place or circumstance.

This really makes me want to listen to a thrash metal band doing their best to play quietly, though. I bet it would look pretty comical!
 

MrInsanePolack

Platinum Member
This really makes me want to listen to a thrash metal band doing their best to play quietly, though. I bet it would look pretty comical!
While not a metal band, watch Nirvana unplugged. Dave Grohl just looks so awkward and uncomfortable trying to play quiet with rods. It is almost hard to watch.
 

Dr_Watso

Platinum Member
While not a metal band, watch Nirvana unplugged. Dave Grohl just looks so awkward and uncomfortable trying to play quiet with rods. It is almost hard to watch.
Even though I never really liked that show, I think Grohl did a good job. Acoustic shows are another animal all together. I played a run of 3 hour acoustic only sets for a while with my old rock band. It's not just a matter of playing quietly, you have to simplify or alter as well. Fills that sound great over the top of distorted guitars can often be way too much over the subtle bass register of an acoustic guitar.
 

opentune

Platinum Member
While not a metal band, watch Nirvana unplugged. Dave Grohl just looks so awkward and uncomfortable trying to play quiet with rods. It is almost hard to watch.
Hmmm I thought he had great touch in that performance. They all did.
To me they did the best job of all 'unplugging'.
EC and Stewat did too.
 

FoolInTheRain

Senior Member
That would certainly be a challenge for me. I played in an acoustic-rock band years ago and had to really pay attention to my dynamics. It was a real eye-opener and challenging, but an experience I'm grateful for. But I don't know that it's something I'd want to do again. I'm just a hard-hitter by nature I suppose. I also like what Elvin Jones said...."Drums are made to be played HARD!".

I guess it's all debatable, but I subscribe to what Mr. Jones is preaching.

Anyway, good on you for finding the right happy medium and making it work. And I agree with you about kids being hilarious at gigs. My son is 2 and eats it up when he sees a band play. It makes me laugh, and also puts a warming blanket over my heart to see such innocence enjoying such a wonderful thing. Can't wait to get some sticks in his little hands.
 

Andy

Administrator
Staff member
Simmering nicely at low volumes is equally effective as burning at high volumes.
So long as the sound is still rich, full, & clear - in my musical bubble, I'll go along with that.

How about we just agree that the energy is different in each situation, but we can still convey energy either way?
Absolutely, & a trick to master indeed.
 

aydee

Platinum Member
That would certainly be a challenge for me. I played in an acoustic-rock band years ago and had to really pay attention to my dynamics. It was a real eye-opener and challenging, but an experience I'm grateful for. But I don't know that it's something I'd want to do again. I'm just a hard-hitter by nature I suppose. I also like what Elvin Jones said...."Drums are made to be played HARD!".

I guess it's all debatable, but I subscribe to what Mr. Jones is preaching.

Anyway, good on you for finding the right happy medium and making it work. And I agree with you about kids being hilarious at gigs. My son is 2 and eats it up when he sees a band play. It makes me laugh, and also puts a warming blanket over my heart to see such innocence enjoying such a wonderful thing. Can't wait to get some sticks in his little hands.

I have a feeling that quote belongs to Tony Williams.

Volume control is something that I'm begining to control after many many years of playing. Its a two part battle. The first being the ability to play with the same intensity at varying volumes. The second is being able to control volumes of the individual pieces of equipment so that it sounds like a ' well balanced kit'.

...
 

Anon La Ply

Renegade
Volume control is something that I'm begining to control after many many years of playing. Its a two part battle. The first being the ability to play with the same intensity at varying volumes. The second is being able to control volumes of the individual pieces of equipment so that it sounds like a ' well balanced kit'.
Ain't that the truth. One thing I notice with many top players is they add drama and excitement with the difference between their general vamping volume and major accents. Not easy to do smoothly.
 

Three

Senior Member
This is something I have to deal with a lot when playing rock/pop gigs at weddings and what not.

I struggle to play quietly and retain good tone. The kick drum is fine (just play heel down) but the snare looses clarity and, as someone else mentioned, the cymbals don't open up properly and sound kind of "clangy".

Moving around the kit at a really low volume is a real challenge for me as well. When any backbeat higher than 4 inches from the head is considered way too loud, how are you supposed to move around the toms quickly yet quietly? I find myself tensing up in order to not let the stick drop down at its normal velocity.

Finally, how are you supposed to perform visually when playing super quiet? Sure you can nod your head alot but that looks plain weird when the visual aspect of physically hitting the drums is all but gone.

The amount of times I've had to play with sticks but keep stoke heights around the 3 inch mark only to have someone from the audience later come and tell me: "You need to rock out and go for it more! Actually hit the drums, man!!!!" or that my playing was getting lost in the mix is so frustrating.


How do you do it? How do you "go for it, man" and play quietly at the same time?
Volume-wise, I like playing quietly but I've never been able to play quietly without affecting the clarity of tone or the visual aspect of my performance.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated :)
 

FoolInTheRain

Senior Member
I have a feeling that quote belongs to Tony Williams.

Volume control is something that I'm begining to control after many many years of playing. Its a two part battle. The first being the ability to play with the same intensity at varying volumes. The second is being able to control volumes of the individual pieces of equipment so that it sounds like a ' well balanced kit'.

...
Tony very well may have said it, too. But I specifically remember Elvin making this statement as well. Every big timer has probably said it at one point or another.
 
Top