Volume Level: Different Perspectives

Drummer Dan Davis loves to play out strong. He told me today that sometimes when he is obliged to play quietly, it ‘puts a blanket over the flame’ of his creativity. Last monday night at the Blue Note Jam, trumpeter Al Strong told me that he played a quiet duo gig with a piano player, and after three hours of holding back on his volume level, his lips were pretty tired. It can be hard to play quietly on an instrument designed to sound best loud – it actually requires significant extra effort.

Guitarist Brad Maiani appreciates softer accompaniment when he plays. A large part of his technique is plucking the guitar strings in different ways in order to bring out subtle changes in timbre. His musical colorations are all but lost when the volume level of the band creeps up past a certain point.

As for me, I prefer to keep things quiet. My hearing is very sensitive and anything loud, especially sudden loud things, trigger my fight-or-flight reflex and make me freeze up (I am terrified of fireworks displays). Also, I tend to think of music visually- to me listening to music is like peering into a deep pool of water and seeing beautiful scenery and different waves and current. When music gets too loud, the view is obscured and everything becomes squashed and two dimensional.

Over the years I have observed that musicians and groups that are typically quiet are much more successful. The highest-paid musician I know of is a drummer who plays so quietly that he easily mixes with an unamplified acoustic bass.

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