In all our efforts to play the right chords and cool melodies and good rhythm, etc., we sometimes miss what it takes to create music. Dynamics is one of those things that help you convey emotion in what you play, to play with sensitivity, and to make your music worth listening to.
When something is dynamic, it is always changing. The opposite of dynamic is static – just staying the same, constant. Static music is boring and lifeless. Dynamic music is exciting.
Often when we think of something being dynamic, we associate it with being loud or vibrant. “That person has a really dynamic personality,” or “That’s a very dynamic color scheme.” But really, we don’t know what loud or vibrant is unless we have also experienced soft and mellow.
Here are four ways you can create a wide dynamic range in your keyboard playing.
1. Expand your volume range
This may be obvious, but how quickly you press the keys affects not only the volume, but also the timbre or tone of the notes. In a piano (or even a well-sampled electronic piano), when you press a key quickly, the hammer strikes the string with more force, which produces a louder sound, but it also produces a brighter tone than when you press the keys with less force.
Most church pianists tend to play too hard all the time. Back off and take time to appreciate the beauty and depth of softer piano sounds.
If you’re playing a synth patch, get used to raising and lowering the volumes for different parts of songs. I sometimes use dials to adjust volume, but I usually prefer to set up preset dynamic layers for different song sections.
2. Play more or fewer notes.
If you listen to Hillsong United’s “Oceans,” the piano part is very simple in the beginning – nothing more than the chord changes. Then in the instrumental, you hear many more notes played. The sheer number of notes in the instrumental makes it a higher dynamic, which is very exciting after the really subdued opening.
Most musicians tend toward playing with a lot of notes. And that just sounds busy unless you contrast it with sections of fewer notes. Then, the extra notes sound exciting.
3. Play higher or lower pitches
Do you get stuck in the middle of the keyboard? Then work to expand in both directions to create a higher dynamic. The high and low notes together can make a song sound bigger.
To create a higher dynamic with pitch range, use both highs and lows together. Then the larger range you’re using will create a higher dynamic. It’s the lows and highs together.
4. Play brighter or more mellow sounds
If you’re playing a piano or even a really good electronic sampled piano, we’ve already discussed how pressing keys at different velocities can give you bright or mellow sounds. You can take this concept further by layering synth sounds. Using a dark sounding pad with lower frequencies provides for a nice quiet dynamic. When you add in a sound with higher frequencies, a brighter sound, it raises the dynamic.
When a song needs to build, you can either 1) layer in a brighter sound, like strings, or 2) adjust the filter cutoff in the synthesizer settings for that pad. Watch the video below for this technique.
I used some different products in the video. You can find them all in one place by clicking here.