It brought to mind something that I think most players, professional or not seem to neglect: the importance of dynamics.
Remember the commercial a few years ago for some perfume that ended with the tag line, “If you want someone’s attention – whisper.”? Those are words to live by in musical performance. Not whispering all the time, mind you, but being willing to vary the volume and intensity of what you’re playing. Sure, some tunes need to be played aggressively and with a fair amount of volume but others demand a light touch and the most interesting performances include a healthy mix of those things, referred to in music as “dynamics.”
In classical music, dynamics are indicated on the sheet music with letters above the score like “p” for pianissimo (soft) or “f” for forte, or loud. Composers realized hundreds of years ago that the emotional impact of dynamics was an integral part of music. These days in popular music, dynamics are almost always overlooked. I think the reason for this is that many performers think if they play too softly they will lose the interest of the listener. Which is not the case at all.
For the last few years I’ve been concentrating on working out my own arrangements of instrumental guitar music. Jazz, bossa nova, blues, folk, pop music all have been my challenges and although I have a long way to go, I’m reasonably satisfied with the repertoire I’m performing right now. In some cases though, even if I was satisfied with what I was playing I realized that something was missing and that was dynamics. In the venue I usually play – a small coffee shop/café – there can be a room filled with people conversing loudly or only a couple folks quietly sipping their coffee and playing with their lap tops. I have to be careful not to intrude on their comfort zone and my function can be background music, something to fill in the gaps in conversation or sometimes I’m fortunate to have a few people intently listening to what I’m playing. The only way to succeed in all these functions is to be constantly aware of dynamics.
A piece of music that has an ebb and flow of dynamics is so much more interesting and involving than one that is uniform in volume and intensity. This holds true whether you’re playing for one person or many. Locate culminating points in a composition, things that may be as simple as playing a verse slightly softer than the chorus and practice those variations. The real bonus is that your focus is more exacting, that is, you will invest more emotion in any song you play with good dynamics. This is the absolute best way I know to involve listeners in your playing.
Peace & good music,