Can't control dynamics; much too quiet

Hello all - Recently I’ve managed to develop a picking movement that actually feels smooth, but the problem is, I can only pick very quietly. In the video, I’m genuinely picking as “hard” as I can. For some reason, I’m having no issues with chord volume, or even with producing volume if I hold my wrist in the Django position, as I demonstrate in the vid - but when I play single note lines when anchored on the bridge, I cannot get any real variation of volume.

So the question is - how do you control picking dynamics? What does it mean to pick “hard”? I thought it was how hard one gripped the pick, but it doesn’t seem to be making much difference at all. Digging deeper doesn’t seem to help either; it just slows me down. I figured out that I used to create accents by manipulating my thumb to get the pick a bit caught in the strings, but this doesn’t work for faster phrases, and leaves far too much room for error. Using my wrist entirely is the only way I can really play quickly and smoothly.

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I think this will work very well with a compressor or boost in front of the amp!

So you want more dynamic range, that seems good. One way to approach this is by becoming LOUDER, but alternatively the other way is to become SOFTER. Can you play quietly?

As @tommo points out you can be as loud as you want via electronics, so you can view yourself as 100% now and possibly cut back?

Mmm yes but I’d like to be able to do this on acoustics as well. I can play quietly but it’s more, I can play quietly and basically too hard to hear, and that’s it.

I’m on my first fast motion and it was very quite for the first…maybe two months (it sounded like yours in volume). It has become louder to my satisfaction now…not by focusing on it, just naturally and it became more ingrained . It is still quieter than my single (slower) melodic phrases and strumming, but nothing I don’t like the sound of.

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I think it’s normal to have different techniques for acoustic and electric. So even if this new motion doesn’t work on all guitars, I would not dismiss it!


Loud is simply more energy in the string. This means more displacement of the string, e.g., it gets moved further before it slides off the pick, and as a consequence, it is louder. Being fastest likely barely bumps the string, but the CtC team will know details.

My guess is that quiet is usually fastest but there is probably some reasonable volume possible before speeds have to go down.

Louder is probably possible with a stiffer pick and less edge picking, combined with being deeper, I recall that the CtC analysis of picking went into a lot of this…

To be loudest also consider picking in the middle of where you finger and the bridge, in particular stay away from the bridge.

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So what are you doing differently with your hand when you do this? I’ve tried having more of the pick hit the string but it made no difference - indeed, most of the players Troy has covers play with a very small amount of pick and have still been able to play with power. I just came back from a lesson and my teacher said that what I was doing (moving the wrist and letting the fingers go for a ride) is also what he’s doing, yet he was producing more volume. He thought my problem was too much edge picking, but I’ve also seen others play with a lot of edge picking on my guitars and get much more volume, so it’s got to be something else.

Do you know what you started doing differently with your hand when you started producing more volume?

Hard to know for sure - I do know the movement became more automatic and confident. It feels like I started to be able to dig the pick into the strings a little more…or at least tighten up my grip on the pick (so it was less floppy) just a little without creating tension elsewhere which seemed to produce more volume and resonance with each note. As I experiment with other techniques here on CtC, I definitely aim for the feel of the one movement I have down…however I’m not there with those movements…yet.

Hey @Suhrite, I found this short lesson by Rick Graham very helpful for dynamic control, hope you’ll get something out of it :slight_smile:

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Why not try what your teacher says and slowly adjust the amount of edge from zero (face) to lots of edge, and see what happens?

You also did not mention how stiff your pick is.

My pick is an ultrex jazz III. Maybe the very slightest bit more thick than a regular jazz III. Adjusting the face didn’t seem to help that much, it just caused more friction. I’m very slowly gaining some volume by starting off very slowly and playing at various volumes, and speeding up, gradually. It just hits a point where it’s very tricky to play fast and loud, because it seems that, in my case at least, playing louder causes more friction. Is this the case for most people, or have many of you found a way to mitigate that?

Well, your pick is stiff enough… ultimately you are not displacing the string far enough, and I assume it would be one or more of (1) limited contact, (2) lots of edge, or (3) picking too close to the bridge… I can’t think of anything else.

It looks like your movements are too small, probably a little preoccupied with “efficiency” in picking motions.

I think you need a stronger downstroke rest stroke. Try practicing the rest stroke on the B string:

  1. Let the hand and wrist float without anchoring on the bridge, the upper forearm rests on the guitar body. The entire weight of the arm is focused on the pick, resting on the B string. You should feel totally relaxed with no tension here.

  2. Pushing the weight of the arm through the B and rest on the muted E below. Same deal here, the feeling is relaxed, weight resting on the E string, while the open B sustains.

  3. The upstroke is a rebound off the E, catching the B on the way back. This is an escape stroke, no rest. It prepares the pick to come back to rest on the B.

Rinse and Repeat.

Using this arm weight will leverage larger muscle groups and the natural downward pull of gravity to maximize your dynamic attack without tension.

…it also seems very uneven, both in tempo, and in amplitude - there’s a few notes in there where you REALLY catch the string and it jumps out. Maybe figure out what you’re doing there? I agree with LucklyMojo, though, what you’re doing seems a bit stiff and like you’re being TOO conscious of what you’re doing.

What you’re doing doesn’t seem too different from how I pick, and I actually have no idea how I control dynamics on fast repeated lines - I know I do it, but from a mechanical standpoint I’m not actually entirely sure what I’m doing. I’ll try to remember to pick up a guitar and figure out tonight. I suspect the whole motion just gets bigger, but I’m not 100% sure.

EDIT - it seems I do two things - bigger motions, but also sink the pick deeper into the string.

I would say yes, when you play louder you get more friction. You actually need more energy behind the strokes to get the string to move further before you get “through” it. And for some movements this would sometimes mean more tension. And since you’re looking for a smooth motion, your body goes for the most smooth thing which is actually more brushing the string than attacking it.

But using bigger muscles behind the stroke, like Luckymojo talkes about, means you actually don’t have to use much muscle work to get through the string even if you’ve got more pick contact. In your technique, it’s not clear to me if you can change things to get more power from you body. What happens if you get further from the strings at each stoke but try to keep the speed high?

In my case, for example, I need a certain angle in my wrist to be able to do forearm rotational movements with enough momentum to cut through. If I try to play the low E-string on a guitar without a forearm cut, I almost can’t get that motion to work at all since the wrist is almost strait. There is simply no power behind the pick. In that case I often end up just brushing the string at best.

It’s also very clear in your first video that you can get more volume when using the bigger motion with more power behind it, since your last gypsy rotational picking on the high E-string has great volume,

I’ve figured the problem out! I wish the solution made more sense to people who might be struggling with the same problem, but basically, even though I seem to be picking from the wrist, it FEELS like I’m picking with the fingers, letting me dig in more. Rick Graham I think hit the nail on the head - I can still pick with reasonably small movements using his string displacement technique. Anyway, thanks to all of you for helping me out, it was much appreciated! I’m sure I’d still be rubbish if it wasn’t for this site