Dynamics

Dynamics

I’ve seen a few post on this site encouraging people who have expressed an interest in Mandolin/OM/Tenor guitar, to take up tenor banjo "to be heard in a session". This led me to think of a number of people I know who who rate the volume of their instrument over tone or other factors and proceed to play in every situation at full blast. I’m not having a go at banjos in particular, a session member here that I play with is a good example of varying his attack, palm muting the strings and playing up the neck to avoid destroying the mix. On the other hand, I’ve played with a guy whose concertina can make your ears bleed.
I play a quiet instrument (OM) because I enjoy it and so long as I can hear myself, I don’t worry if others can hear me.
A hammered dulcimer player turned up the other day and it was great to listen to a different voice in the mix, people actually backed off the volume to hear her play. It’s a pity this doesn’t happen more often.

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I think what people mean by "to be heard" is to do with the balance of volume between leads. I love the OM actually, but prefer it for backing - I play in a trio with a fiddler and OM player. For sessions I think a banjo is better because it balances well with the other leads whereas the OM if very quite for tunes.
I think the thing of people playing to the extremes of the volume of their instruments "to be heard in a session" is totally ego based and unfortunately those who do it are usually the poorer players who don’t really understand the music. So the crappy player with a big ego is often the loudest. Boo.

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I use a little battery amp for my harmonicas. With the best tone and projection in the world a blues harp can’t compete with six or seven other musicians in a noisy pub. The other blokes want me to use it. We’re short of melody players. I wouldn’t bring my amp to your session. Shock horror, eh?

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I try not to be heard most of the time. Clearly playing the wrong instrument.

πŸ™‚

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I like playing tunes with bogman, though, because his pipes are a lot louder than mine!

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What, not for the free booze from our friendly bar staff πŸ˜‰

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That too, of course!

I’m just sayin’ I like you guys for more than the free booze. ;)

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once again, bogman is absolutely right

I’ve played with people who were still learning and they thought that louder= better. The hell of it was, if I tried to play an instrument that had a volume handicap, there was no attempt at all to play at a volume level to help me out.

And I know damn well a fiddle can be played at different volume levels, too. That’s what those Italian phrases on the orchestral scores mean!

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I did find that when I went to some sessions in Dublin pubs where the customers were quiet around the musicians the other players seemed to instinctively restrain their volumes so that everyone could be heard without strain. A virtuous circle sort of thing.

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at most of the sessions I go to it’s being able to hear myself at all that’s the issue

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Similar point, cross post, Nate.

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I have played melody on bououki, octave mandolin, mandolin, and tenor guitar in sessions. But my main instrument for melody is the tenor banjo specifically because of volume. If I cant hear myself, I can’t play as well. And if others cant hear me, the actual sharing of tunes isn’t there either, and I’m just sitting around playing for no apparent reason. (http://www.cafepress.com/ITMGoodies/5683306)

Having said that, I have worked very hard over the years to be able to put dynamics into my banjo playing, and not be annoying. (you’ll have to ask my session mates how successful I have been at that…). πŸ˜‰

So I have two questions for you. Don’t yiu think that maybe you’re missing out on half the equation if you’re playing and nobody can hear you? And what kind of session needs to get quieter to be able to hear a hammered dulcimer? πŸ˜›

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I think the key is first to be able to hear yourself-if you can’t do that, you are going to have difficulty playing, and that is no fun, and the purpose of sessions is to have fun. Second is to be heard among (not above) all the other instruments. Sessions are about the group, not the individual, so you want to be a balanced part of that collective sound.
I think dynamics are underappreciated. Whether it is from people playing louder or softer, or different instruments dropping out and rejoining, a good use of dynamics can really energize the sound and the playing. That is why people should avoid the temptation to play on every tune, dynamics help the music breath.
Funny story, even though I am not very advanced in my accordion playing, I was flattered that the whole pub would applaud after sets when I played it (not because I was trying to make it a performance, or to use a term prefered by some, make it a concert, but simply because of human nature). I was on the other side of the pub one loud night, however, and having trouble hearing the music, and I realized that the accordion was probably the only instrument that could consistently be heard throughout the pub. And I realized that the applause was linked to volume, not to ability. That brought me back down a peg or two! πŸ˜‰

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Good points, Al. I think one of the key issues apropos of our playing volume is the background noise in many pubs - the, er, elephant in the room if you like. A fairly quiet environment (empty pub or, more rarely, respectful quietness in the vicinity of the sessioners’ table) can go a long way towards encouraging players to take each other into account, volume-wise, which is something hardly achievable in noisy pubs. In the latter case the louder you play the louder they converse/shout. The harmonica simply can’t cut through all that noise on its own. You do start asking yourself why you want to be louder and why you’re not just satisfied with the way things are. If you do something to get yourself heard, as I do (but that’s all - I just want to blend in, not dominate) you start to ask yourself whether it really is just a session or whether, in fact, you’re vying to perform…πŸ˜€

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This is more about balance than "dynamics."

If you’re talking about balance, I remember learning technique years ago from a chorale director to imagine a ‘ghost’ figure, made of music, dancing in the middle of the circle. The imaginary figure is made of the voices of all the instruments in the ensemble, and is greater than the sum of its parts.

Each musician’s job is to ‘sculpt’ the shape of this imaginary figure, as if everyone were collaborating together on creating a vase on a pottery wheel.

Anyone who lets his or her ego get in the way will have too heavy a touch, and destroy the vase, or put out the ‘flame’ or scare away the ghost.

I hope that explains it.

People in good drum circles understand this well, as do great concert bands and choruses.

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Good stuff here.

In re hammered dulcimers: They don’t have to play loud. They can stay out of the way. IF the player is reasonable. I brought mine to one session where there was another HD player who was so loud I couldn’t hear my own instrument. Do excuse for that even if the player did have a huge 5 octave instrument.

In re overall volume. Part of the issue I think is what happens when folks get excited and invloved with the music. Volume can creep up quite unconsciously then..

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No excuse.

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In all fairness, I actually prefer being able to hear myself, as I’m pretty sure I play like utter crap when playing deaf.

Then there are those quiet sessions where the pipes completely dominate and cut through *everything* and those are stressful because there’s no room for bum notes. And there isn’t much you can do about it unless you have a quiet reed on hand. I used to have one but traded it for a loud reed, since I was having trouble hearing myself in most sessions and a quiet reed will be a softer, moodier, and more unstable than a loud one. So I have this louder one now which has a better tone and is far more stable in terms of tuning and it blends nicely in big sessions, but man, I stick out like a sore thumb in quiet sessions. Can’t freakin’ win.

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I’m happy to read a nice thread about hammered dulcimers - if there’s a instrument with a very wide range of dynamics, it’s the HD… and then it’s not the instrument, but the player that’s at stake (as always !). I try to be balance my playing, to be able to hear my self AND the others… but sometimes it’s quite hard, depends on the configuration of the pub : wide or narrow tables, general acoustics of the place.
Some instrument are loud, and where probably devised so, before we had amps. the wetness of a box was designed to make it heard in a noisy place. The first musette orchestras : accordion (very wet), 6-strings banjo and drums where very loud…

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A wet accordion? The mind boggles!

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I was listening to a bit of a flute concerto on Classic FM the other day. The recorded balance, coupled I suppose with the compression that Classic FM adds to the broadcast, made the solo flute sound about twice as loud as the whole symphony orchestra. What’s my point? Dunno really. I wasn’t hearing a natural balance but I still didn’t switch it off. I suppose that it’s quite hard when sitting with a bunch of mates in a pub with background noise to get any kind of an objective idea of your own contribution to the mix. Maybe it shouldn’t really matter.

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Dynamics is about much more than playing loud or soft.
Spend five minutes listening to Martin Hayes or the late Paddy
Canny and hopefully you’ll understand what I’m talking about.
A guess another example - a cruder one - is Nirvana and some
of the other grunge bands. The tune is quiet at some points,
loud in others. With Hayes, Canny and with classical musicians
this aall happens in a heartbeat and it’s subtle and ever-changing.
Recordings and MP3 players tend to flatten it all out though.

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just for Ahmran : dryness or wetness is the amount of vibrato you tune an accordion with : absolute dry = no vibrato, wetness is a vibrato. You do this by tuning the 2 reeds slightly differently, and the bigger the difference, the louder the box, without needing big muscles…. Musette accordions can have 3 reeds, one tuned at 440, one at 442 (or more), and the 3rd one at 438 (or less), makong the box nearly unplayable (to my taste, at least…). But playing in a noisy crowd kind of softens the vibrato, and you can hear the box above the crowd’s racket. Emile Vacher, one of the inventors of the Musette style, used one box with a big vibrato (very wet…) for playing in the ballrooms, and another one, less "wet" for recording…

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All good Irish music, on any instrument, has the micro-dynamics Hup is describing. It’s the big macro-dynamics which bagpipes lack. I think they are totally different things.

The micro-dynamics is emphasising a note, part of a note, part of a phrase with subtle changes of volume. You can even do this on pipes by lifting the chanter off your knee and/or venting (as it’s called) more holes. That’s obviously a key element to phrasing the tunes.

I see macro-dynamics (Im making all this up, by the way) are being able to play at substantially different levels of volume . There are a few sessions I have played at where all the fiddle players decide to have a big dimenuendo and play the tune once or twice through really softly, then the next time round play a big crescendo. This really annoys me since it’s kind of a gimmick and I can’t do it.

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Hee hee! Yeah, that’s just kinda showy. Fun though, I’d wager.

This is a good thread. I use dynamics quite a bit in the greater service of the session itself. Here’s what I mean.

If there are two fiddles, three whistles, a banjo and a box all screaming along on some reels for example, like this past Sunday, I’ll blast away with the fiddle and increase the overall oomph of the current set.

If just the concertina is gently playing some hornpipes that only he and I know, again like this past Sunday, I will play the tune with him, not over him or under him. The guitar and bouzouki follow suit with a gentle accompaniment corresponding to our quieter sound.

There was no point playing like I did with the whole session on the reels with the concertina players’ hornpipes, I would have drowned him out. Conversely, there was no point in playing gently like I did with him on his hornpipes, when the whole crew was blasting reels.

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In reply to an earlier question, I’m not really worried if people can hear me or not in a noisy session. I do need to hear myself to keep in time and in the right key (yes, I do try) and I usually sit beside someone with a louder instrument so that the tune can be taken up by others when I occasionally start a set in a noisy session.

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When I play at a session, I try to keep the volume of my instrument low enough so I can hear everyone else because I am there to make music with them instead of against them—unlike some musicians.