Dynamics (music) Explained: Band Context

Continuing from my previous tutorial on dynamics, in the context of your instrument, this my attempt at explaining dynamics in a band’s context.  This will help you sound good in a band setting as, you will not only understand where to fit in (and where not to), but also by how much.  

Let’s take “My Way” by Frank Sinatra as an example. I managed to find a video of Sinatra on YouTube, to may make my task a little easier.  So, before continuing, give it a good listen, from the beginning, to at least until the end of the first chorus.

Start by identifying the dynamics of the lead instrument, in this case, vocals.  The vocals seem to start of somewhere around mezzo-piano in the [A] part.  However, in the [B] part – the chorus, the vocals would gradually get louder and louder (upto fortissimo), almost by the line.

Now, apply the following guidelines and see at which dynamic level your instrument would be playing during each part of the song.

Dynamics Guidelines for a Live Band

  1. Let the lead instrument (such as vocals or a solo) lead the dynamics of the band.
  2. If the lead instrument starts to play louder, the band should get louder accordingly.
  3. If the lead instruments starts to go softer, the band should get softer.

Care should be taken to maintain a good relative balance when following the guidelines in the points 2 and 3 above.

Please note that these  guidelines apply to passages (a couple of measures or bars) and is not to be confused with accents or stabs.

As an example, a guitarist may play a dynamic solo, accenting and attenuating certain notes but, that does not mean the band should follow the dynamic of every note.  The band should rather follow the dynamics of the passage.

The Balancing Act: Musicians’ Job First

Contrary to the popular misbelief, a well balanced performance starts with the musician; and not the sound engineer.  It is a process of a sort of auditory calibration, between what’s heard at the musician position in relation to other instruments, with what’s played by the musician.

The mastery of this correlation comes with practice, practice and practice; so much so that competent musicians learn do this intuitively.  The result? They would perform well, in good balance, with or without monitors!

Next comes a good band balance.  This requires:

  • A well arranged piece (both harmonically and dynamically)
  • Competent individual dynamics: Taking good reference levels and adhering to the correct dynamic level, during a passage
  • Being able to listen to the band as a whole, rather than only to what ones playing, and adapting to the changes in dynamics, musically.
  • And finally, putting in an effort to play in balance:  Being open for dialogue among band members and constructive critiques.

Dynamics and Balance

So how is dynamics related to the sound level, in achieving a good balance?

In an (acoustic) unamplified setting such as a brass band or an orchestra, instruments would have to be added in numbers to achieve the desired sound level, to counteract the limitations of the instruments’ dynamic range, in relation to the piece.  In this case, changing the number of the instruments will also affect the tonality of the sound as a whole.

In an (electric) amplified setting however, amplification may be used to counteract limitations in the dynamic range of the instrument.  For example, if a band has an acoustic guitar that is played along loud rock drums, the acoustic guitar would have to be amplified to match the levels of the drums.


If you’ve been with me all along, Wow!… and thank you.  We must be in the same business.  Hope you this was helpful.  Please don’t forget to leave a comment.

Published by Fayid

Live Sound