guitarist working on balancing volume of strumming vs. picking

Mastering Dynamics: Techniques for Controlling Guitar Volume Between Picking and Strumming

Navigating the dynamic landscape of guitar playing can be a daunting task for many musicians. Particularly challenging is the ability to seamlessly transition between the distinct volumes of picking and strumming. This post explores both mechanical solutions and technical skills that can help guitarists achieve a more balanced sound.

Mechanical Solutions for Volume Control

Guitarists often look to equipment to help manage their sound output. Here are a few mechanical tools at your disposal:

  1. Boost Pedal:
    • Pros: A boost pedal is straightforward to use; a simple stomp can elevate your volume during a solo.
    • Cons: Requires setting up and adjusting each time you play in a new environment, which can be cumbersome.
  2. Volume Pedal:
    • Pros: Offers a range of volume adjustments, giving you nuanced control over your output.
    • Cons: It can be tricky to find the exact volume setting you need quickly, especially in a live setting.
  3. Guitar’s Volume Knob:
    • Pros: Always available and easy to reach, the volume knob provides immediate control over your output.
    • Cons: Constant adjustments can be distracting and impractical, especially during passages that require quick switches between comping and lead playing.
  4. Using Compression:
    • Pros: Compressors can smooth out the peaks and valleys in your playing, reducing the discrepancy between loud strumming and softer picking.
    • Cons: Over-using compression can take away from the emotional impact that dynamics can bring.  Sometimes you want louder and softer in your playing, and compression works against that.

Each of these solutions has its merits, but they also come with limitations that can affect performance fluidity and spontaneity.

Technique: The Art of Dynamic Control

Beyond hardware, mastering certain techniques can provide more organic control over your dynamics. Here’s how you can refine your approach:

  1. Controlled Strumming and Picking:
    • Strategy: Develop the ability to strum softly while picking notes louder within the same piece.
    • Benefits: This technique ensures a consistent sound that is not reliant on external devices. It is particularly useful in acoustic settings or during solo performances where the melody needs to stand out.
    • Challenges: This skill requires practice and patience to master, as it involves precise control over your hand movements and strength.
  2. Dynamic Practice:
    • Exercise: Incorporate dynamic exercises into your practice sessions. Play the same piece at different dynamic levels (soft, medium, loud) to build control.
    • Impact: This practice enhances your ability to modulate your playing intensity on the fly, making your performances more expressive and engaging.
  3. Listening and Adjusting:
    • Approach: Actively listen to the volume of your playing and adjust in real-time. Recording your practice sessions can provide insights into how well you manage dynamics.
    • Result: Improved awareness of your playing volume helps in developing a more balanced and polished sound.

Bringing It All Together

Combining mechanical aids with refined techniques offers the best approach to managing guitar dynamics. While pedals and volume knobs provide quick fixes, developing intrinsic control over your strumming and picking strength will lead to more sustainable and natural-sounding results.

Mastering the control of dynamics between picking and strumming is not just about technical prowess; it’s about expressing music as you feel it. Whether through mechanical aids or meticulous practice of technique, the goal is to deliver music that resonates with both the player and the audience. Remember, the journey to dynamic control is a marathon, not a sprint, and every guitarist progresses at their own pace.

You might also want to read my article called “How to Balance the Volume Between Lead and Rhythm Playing.”


At Guitar Lessons Ithaca, we understand the challenges and rewards of mastering guitar dynamics. We are committed to guiding our students through this journey, ensuring they not only play notes but also master the art of musical expression. Join us, and let’s embark on this musical adventure together. 

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