Wish you could write music that fully expresses your thoughts and ideas? Many songwriters struggle with this for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons is they simply have not spent enough time writing music Guitar Lessons Colorado Springs. Truth is, you will need to write a lot of songs before you can become a highly expressive songwriter.
That said, another major reason why many musicians take a long time to become better songwriters is they ignore one or more important elements in music. In this article, I will discuss one of the most overlooked musical elements, why most musicians ignore it and how you can use it to better express yourself in music. The musical element I will cover is the element of dynamics.
NOTICE: If you are currently thinking: “Dynamics? I already know about that… it only means making music louder and softer, that’s all.” … Then you have already begun to overlook the unique creative qualities of this musical element (this is the same mistake that most musicians make). You see, many songwriters overlook the element of dynamics while thinking of things like which chords to use, how to write a melody or what song lyrics to write. As a result, they miss out on one of the most effective musical tools for powerful self-expression.
The following list contains some of the great uses for dynamics that will help make your music more musically expressive. When you fully utilize dynamics in your music, you will:
Create a totally new dimension in your music to emphasize each individual song section or musical part.
Make your music much more creative and expressive without even altering a single pitch.
Gain the power to drastically change the feeling of intensity in a song.
The Fundamentals Of Musical Dynamics
In general, dynamics refer to the overall volume of a section in a song, individual musical part or note. To express the idea of specific dynamics in written music, the following symbols are used commonly:
p (piano) means “soft.”
ƒ (forte) means “loud” or “strong.”
mp (mezzo-piano) “moderately soft.”
mƒ (mezzo-forte) “moderately loud.”
ƒƒ (fortissimo) means “very loud.”
pp (pianissimo) means “very soft.”
ƒƒƒ (fortississimo) means “very very loud”
ppp (pianississimo) means “very very soft”
How To Use Dynamics In Music Tip#1: Giving More Life To A Melody
To make any melody stick out, emphasize it by using varying dynamics. For instance, begin the melody “loud” and gradually reduce the volume until the notes are “soft”. This technique is known as a “decrescendo”. Additionally, alter the volume level of different notes within a melody to make them contrast with each other and stick out. This is especially useful for adding interest to repeating musical parts in your songs. This will give you the power to express yourself in different ways without altering any of the actual pitches in your melody. Enhance your song melodies by using the effective techniques in this free songwriting elements eBook.
How To Use Dynamics In Music Tip#2: Enhancing Musical Expression Through Contrast
By using contrasting dynamics you can quickly grab the attention of anyone listening to your music. For example, think about the common songwriting formula used in rock ballads. For the most part, the song will consist of softly played acoustic guitar and vocal parts. Many times, the introduction (and beginning verse and chorus) will contain no percussion whatsoever. Then, to provide contrast, the drums will begin playing during the second verse. As an even bigger contrast, the songwriter may even include a solo/break section with electric guitar (only to return to the soft, acoustic guitar parts once the section has ended). This simple formula is highly effective at gaining the attention of the listener due to its contrasting dynamics. You can also use this concept in your music to contrast not only entire song sections, but different notes within a single melody or musical idea.
How To Use Dynamics In Music Tip#3: Surprise Your Listener With Silence
One musical tool that is frequently overlooked is ‘silence’. Silence (or “rests”) is an excellent way to increase the expressive impact of dynamics. For instance, imagine if you were listening to loud music with headphones and suddenly the battery ran out on your mp3 player. This would instantly grab your attention and cause you to say “What’s going on? Where’s my music?” This exact reaction can be recreated by using silence to build up anticipation in the listener for what is to come next. Use this idea in your own music by experimenting with different lengths of silence in between your musical phrases to get different expressive results.
Common Situations Where Dynamics Are Effectively Used For Musical Expression
A very underestimated approach that can help you learn how to better express yourself in music is to study the scores of your favorite movies. I don’t mean you need to purchase the actual score itself and read the music… but instead simply observe the way the music is arranged with different scenes throughout the film. This will help you equate the emotions expressed by the actors along with the music and build your ability to express yourself better in your songwriting. Here are some common examples:
Example One: Using dynamics to express an increase or decrease in emotional tension
Think of a romantic scene where a couple is brought together at the airport. First, there is a lot of doubt on both sides about whether the relationship will work out or not (with very soft music playing in the background). After the couple talks for a little bit, they finally come to the decision that they must go their separate ways. Both the man and woman walk off and the scene cuts to the man walking out of the airport thinking of past memories of his lover. Inside the airport, the woman sits with her face in her hands, wondering what will become of her life without the presence of the man she cared for so much. Suddenly, they both have the realization that they were wrong… they will find a way to make things work. They both get up and start running to find one another (the music begins building in volume). They run frantically through the airport, trying to regain the last spec of hope that the other person hasn’t left yet, and is looking for them too (music continues becoming louder and louder). Then across a crowd, they lock eyes, run toward each other and embrace! In response, the music climaxes here and is playing at its loudest…
Example Two: Using dynamics to create a feeling of surprise
Visualize a scene in a movie like this: It’s 11:30AM and there is a businessman standing at a packed street corner waiting for the “walk” sign to turn on so he can cross. All around him you can hear the sounds of the big city such as cars honking, the roar of continuous chatter and street vendors yelling out to attract new customers (you can also hear upbeat music playing in the background to set the scene). Suddenly, the sign turns on and the businessman looks up from his watch as everyone starts crossing the street in a big moving mass – bumping into him along the way. He adjusts his coat and quickly makes his way across the street. As he quickly jogs across he suddenly trips and drops his briefcase… papers go flying everywhere. He falls to the ground, scrambles to pick them up and stuff them into his briefcase as quickly as possible while losing focus of his surroundings. Finally he grabs the last one… “Gotcha!” he says as he crams it inside. Then, as he stands up to dust himself off you hear the loud screech of a car slamming on the breaks as it comes to an instant stop in front of him.
At this moment in the scene, how do you think the tension would be resolved musically? A common technique used in this case would be for the music to quickly build up to a loud accent before becoming silent (to emphasize the same feeling of surprise in the scene).
Example Three: Using rests/silence to enhance dynamics and add a sense of mystery.
For this scene, visualize a horror setting with a character walking around in the basement of a dark, abandoned mansion by himself with quiet/eerie music playing in the background. The power is out and the character needs to find the circuit breaker to turn it back on. He finds his way to the basement, opens the door and slowly makes his way down the basement steps. As he walks down the decrepit wooden steps, they creek and bend under his feet. In this moment, man senses that he is not alone. “Is anyone there?” he whispers (the music of the scene quickly escalates from quiet to very loud). The man quickly turns his head and looks behind him (music goes silent) … Nothing there. He continues down the stairs and moves his hands along the wall until he finally comes across the finds the circuit breaker. He reaches into his pocket for his lighter. Hands shaking, he fumbles to get it to light and nervously drops it to the floor. Bending down to pick it up, he hears a creek on the stairs. “Who’s there?” he says, now in a frightened, demanding tone. After several seconds, the silence in the room is broken as he hears a low incomprehensible growl. The man’s eyes glaze over as his adrenaline sky rockets and fear pumps through his veins. The growl gets slowly closer and closer (as the music gets louder, building tension) until suddenly… a horrific scream! Then… silence.
After reading the many examples in this article, you should now have a good understanding of the role that dynamics play for musical expression. By making dynamics a main focus in your songwriting, you will be able to write music that better expresses specific ideas and emotions while adding more depth to the individual parts of your songs.