Change the impression of how loud your music is with these 5 ideas.
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In music, we use the term “dynamics” to refer to volume (loudness). Just like most other elements that go together to produce a song, altering dynamics can be an important part of making music more interesting and keeping listeners engaged. In that sense, creating dynamic shapes can be part of the fulfilling of the contrast principle.
Like many aspects of successful songs, it’s easy to adjust dynamics during the production phase in obvious ways– mainly by adding or subtracting instruments, and/or having instruments play louder or softer.
There are ways, however, to make music seem louder or softer apart from the simple “play louder” or “play softer” instruction to your players. This has more to do with music arranging than music composition, but it can go a long way to adding a layer of interest to the musical experience for your listeners.
Try experimenting with some of these ideas as ways of making music seem louder:
- Add octaves. You can give the appearance of music being louder by having an instrument double the vocal melody, usually an octave higher than the sung line. You can also use this technique with inner instrumental lines that are non-melodic, but weave in and around the vocal line.
- Add vocal harmonies. The thicker texture that comes from adding 2- or 3-part harmonies to a vocal line gives the impression of music being louder.
- Double the bass an octave lower, or have the bassist play in the lowest octave. That lower octave tends to make music sound fuller.
- Shorten note-lengths. This works well with backing instruments. Back centuries ago, harpsichordists had the problem that they couldn’t play dynamics — all notes happened at the same dynamic level. So they would attempt to make music “feel” louder by playing chords and accompanying figures shorter in length. The extra energy that that technique generated gave the impression of being louder.
- Make backing rhythms busier. As backing instruments, including drums, get busier, they give the feeling of loudness.
Hand-in-hand with these ideas is a warning: don’t write counterintuitively. Writing counterintuitively in this context means that you can cause problems, for example, if you thicken the instrumental texture while wanting a softer sound. You might like the idea of having your backing instruments playing with more rhythmic complexity, but it’s going to cause problems if you want the dynamics to be quieter. Your own musical instincts should be able to guide you with this.
Written by Gary Ewer