Good evening folks!

I have a question this time about dynamics. Now I know that volume is considered part of 'dynamics'. But I'm wondering what else the term "dynamics" encompasses.

Does guitar dynamics encompass the way the note is attacked? For example: finger-picked or picked, hammer-on/pull-off/tap, etc...

Also does guitar dynamics include that "vowel sound" that is manipulated by direction/angle and force of pick? And also does it include the bright/mellow e.g. picking a string further towards neck as opposed to bridge to give a warmer sound, or vice-versa to give a more "tinny" sound?

Does this term also encompass harmonics? Palm muting? muting? tone? Wah-wah effect (same thing as tone? I dno... )?

Cheers, Lost C.

  • "Dynamics", as I understand it, relates to the whole ensemble. You would think it's about individual players playing louder or softer, but engineers dislike having to ride the faders like that, so practically, players are moving from not playing, playing at normal volume and playing louder because you're lead instrument. Dynamics is largely most players laying out on the verse to make the chorus seem more powerful. – Dave Jacoby Jan 23 at 0:22

Dynamics include everything that changes the sound -- such as speed, volume, tone, and more.

Speed varies from fast to slow, while rests often provide dramatic effect.

Volume varies from loud to soft, and the decay of volume varies from sustained (compressor) to pizzicato (such as palm-muted).

Tone varies from the mechanical changes such as picking style (such as "pinch" harmonics), picking distance from the bridge, and varies with electrical processing from a wah (band-pass tone filter) to roll-offs with the knobs on an electric guitar, and many more electrical options.

So, yes, everything you suggest would vary dynamics.

  • 3
    While I agree with Kirk that different ways of playing the guitar affect the instruments amplitude, articulation is a better term to cover how an instrument is played. From Wikipedia: > Articulation is a fundamental musical parameter that determines how a single note or other discrete event is sounded. Articulations primarily structure an event's start and end, determining the length of its sound and the shape of its attack and decay. They can also modify an event's timbre, dynamics, and pitch. – user3235 Jan 22 at 23:34
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    wadr, dynamics refers only to volume changes. The other items relate to phrasing and other aspects of music. – ggcg Jan 23 at 16:21
  • I have never heard dynamics w/rt any volume change; the rest is called articulation or expression, and so on. – awe lotta Apr 6 at 12:31
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    I strongly disagree. Changes in tone are changes in "timbre", even though guitarists will commonly refer to timbre as "tone". Changes in speed are changes in the duration of the notes. And changes to sound production from technique such as slurs, slides, etc. are called "phrasing" or "articulation". Only a few articulations, such as accents, are changes in dynamics. Dynamics refers ONLY to volume. – Tom Serb Apr 7 at 2:05

Dynamics describes loudness of the notes.

Articulation covers all details and modification of the sounds of the note e.g. its timbre, length (e.g. legato vs. staccato), modification of note parameters like pitch and volume (vibrato, bending...), shape of attack, and others.

In some areas articulation and dynamics may overlap, e.g. accenting an note by playing it louder is form of articulation; starting a note quietly and then increasing its loudness (e.g. on a bowed instrument) could be perceived both as a certain articulation, and as a crescendo (dynamics).

In this view, various techniques of playing guitar, or effects applied to its sound probably mostly can be treated as various articulations, and in some cases they would also affect dynamics.

Now let's go through your examples:

finger-picked or picked, hammer-on/pull-off/tap, etc...

These are definitely various articulations. Typically hammer-ons/pull-offs are a bit quieter than normally plucked notes. In other words, hammer-ons forte may not be as loud as plucked notes forte.

Also does guitar dynamics include that "vowel sound" that is manipulated by direction/angle and force of pick? And also does it include the bright/mellow e.g. picking a string further towards neck as opposed to bridge to give a warmer sound, or vice-versa to give a more "tinny" sound?

This is articulation. In scores for guitar but also for bowed instruments the following articulation marks are used:

  • sul tasto (or sul tastiera) for notes to be plucked/bowed near/over the neck
  • sul ponticello for notes to be played close to the bridge.

Timbre changes can be also obtained by changing angle of the pick or finger/nail. On the other hand changing force of the pick would affect the loudness the most directly, so that would fall into the category of dynamics.

Does this term also encompass harmonics? Palm muting? muting?

Yes, these are techniques which produce different articulations. While for electric guitar the term palm mute or P.M. is typically used, in classical guitar scores we typically encounter term pizzicato (abr. pizz.), and also, more rarely étouffée for muting by pressing the strings on the frets, rather than next to them.

Various ways of muting strings to end the note are also articulations e.g. muting note sharply by touching strings with the whole palm in some distance from the bridge vs. softly, by touching gently with edge of palm (like in palm muting) at the bridge.

tone? Wah-wah effect (same thing as tone? I dno... )?

The topic of effects open Pandora's box, as there are many different effects, and even a single effect can produce very different sounds depending on how it is used.

I would say, that if an effect actively varies the timbre of notes throughout the piece, allows to accent notes (or oppositely, de-emphasize them) it's part of articulation. A typical use of wah-wah pedal would fall in this category.

On the other hand settings like guitar tone, or chorus effect statically present all the time are not articulations or dynamics, as they serve only to place the guitar sound in the context of the other instruments. However a chorus effect turned on just for the length of one note, or a phrase would definitely be an articulation, as it serves for emphasis.

Finally an effect like compressor/expander, even if permanently on, constantly decreases/enhances dynamics. Similarly auto-wah... I guess I need to stop here, but there is certainly way more to consider concerning effects.


Everything else you mentioned that is not volume, such as "finger-picked or picked, hammer-on/pull-off/tap", "that 'vowel sound' that is manipulated by direction/angle and force of pick", "the bright/mellow e.g. picking a string further towards neck as opposed to bridge to give a warmer sound, or vice-versa to give a more 'tinny' sound", and "harmonics? Palm muting? muting? tone? Wah-wah effect", are part of timbre and tone instead of dynamics. Harmonics might even count as neither - just playing technique and expanded note range. Timbre and tone - what makes instruments playing the same note sound different from each other, along with the same instrument played different ways - may influence how we perceive volume/dynamics, but they are not themselves dynamics.

Think of dynamics as volume instructions only - the p, mezzo forte, ff, crescendo, dim., etc. Even accents, sforzando, rinforzando, sffz, and directions like smorzando start getting into articulation and expression territory instead.


Hammer ons and pull offs would be technique, attack, and or phrasing, not "dynamics". Dynamics refers primarily to amplitude variations, volume, and to some degree attack when considering sforzando.

Dynamics are notated in standard music notation (SMN), and in TAB by abbreviations for common Italian terms.

m = mezzo (medium, talking volume)

f = forte (strong or loud)

p = piano (soft or quiet)

then you have combinations like mp and mf which have obvious meaning.

pp = pianissimo (very quiet)

ff = fortissimo (very loud)

ppp, fff, pppp, ffff, etc.

Articulations like sforzando mean heavily accented, played with a "punch".

To indicate gradually changing volume we use terms like Crescendo, Decrescendo, diminuendo, Morendo, etc.


Dynamics refers to loudness, with an asterisk. When you sound-check, you play as loud as your expect to play, so that you don't spike the mix. I've had surprisingly loud sounds introduced into my in-ears, and that's painful. So, honestly, dynamics can mean picking hard or soft, but it's often better to think playing or laying out.

When you've set them at edge-of-breakup, where turning up at the guitar and/or playing hard will drive it to distortion. Therefore, you can get a large change in tone by how you pick, without necessarily changing volume. That is worth working on.

Legato techniques, such as hamner-ons and pull-offs are not commonly considered dynamics. They are generally quieter than picking, so it is commonly played with distortion or compression to compensate. Muting in general is about avoiding unnecessary sound, with palm muting being his you get the thunk of thrash metal. None of these would be considered dynamics.

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