Running a drummer & percussionist’s information web site I get asked many questions, particularly about equipment, maintenance and how to choose the right gear. One question I was asked recently was “How can I make my drumming more interesting?” Well, there are many ways we can be inventive on the kit, cymbals and percussion (see my website for more details relating to drums & percussion).
However, I’d like to take just a few lines to talk about creating interest through dynamics, or differences in volume of different strokes. Many of us are familiar with the term accent, where a note is played louder than surrounding notes to make it stand out .. we play different notes loud and soft in a group of notes to create a pattern, and we may link a number of these patterns together to form a variation on a beat.
Playing with dynamics is an art that in many areas is disappearing or is pretty much extinct! The music starts, we plough into the song at a volume of 10 and keep playing until the music finishes. We’re totally knackered at the end and the audience are going wild as the adrenaline flows. BUT if we keep playing at one volume for more than one song, or for a whole gig the audience’s ears (and ours) can become tired … or deaf!
Introducing dynamics to our playing adds interest and life to the music and opens up increased opportunities for expression e.g., building up the volume towards a solo or chorus, reducing in volume for a section to create a more intimate feel to the song. It allows the music and our playing to breathe. Even introducing accents into our breaks can change the feel of our playing and add interest. Great examples of playing with dynamics can be heard by Jeff Porcaro on Toto albums (check out Hold The Line & Rosanna) and on just about every track that Steve Gadd and Vinnie Colaiuta play. In fact most of the top session players are booked because of the feel and life they bring to the music, much of which includes their use of dynamics. And it isn’t just restricted to acoustic music: dynamics can be applied to just about any genre of music and produce a benficial outcome.
It’s a huge subject and no doubt many of you will have very useful hints to add … but the next time you’re thinking “How can I improve my playing?” think about, and try to apply that little word dynamics. It will make all the difference to you, the band and your audience. Good luck!