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Creating Dynamics with One Guitar

It's so easy to be popularOut on your own with just a guitar and your voice? An easy way to travel and simple to set up for sure — not to mention being free of the hassles of arranging 4 other band member’s schedules!

The downside — or let’s call it the challenge — is keeping your set interesting. With this limitation, it’s easy for every song to start sounding the same.

So how do we change things up?

Look at your playing style. If you’re just strumming chords through every song, you need to change it up. Try finger picking the verses and then back to rhythmic strumming on choruses. When you get to the bridge, maybe it goes to a muted chop, then back to chord strums for the outro.

You could also create dynamics by going to an a cappella section in the middle of your song. Or open with an a cappella chorus. It’s something unexpected and will get the crowd’s attention.

Simple changes like this will add dynamics to the song, since you don’t have other players to drop out or ‘come down’ for different parts of the song. If you’re not good at finger-picking, work on it. You need to have that option to go to, so you can hold the audience’s interest throughout your set.

Start watching a variety of players to get ideas for different rhythms and playing styles. If you’re in a rut writing the same types of songs (too many medium tempo tunes for example), co-write with someone who writes rock or great ballads, to shake you out of those old habits.

We will have a class for singer/songwriters during our 2-day Tom Jackson Bootcamp in September, and we’ll be demonstrating these things and more! We’ve got a 40% off deal on Bootcamp for the month of February only – you really should register now and make plans to come to Nashville in the fall.

If you come to Bootcamp, why not go ahead and book a 2-hour session with me while you’re here? That way we can show you some specific ways to work with a song or two to make it really engaging for your audiences.

We’d love to help you see how you can apply Tom’s Method to your show and ramp up your solo gigs!

(And I haven’t even started to tell you some of the visual things we can teach you how to do when you are the only person onstage… here’s a short excerpt from Tom’s book to show you what I mean:)

You’ve got a song where your intro is a guitar instrumental. So you step aside (away from the mic) and look at the guitar as you are playing it. This will draw the attention of the audience to what you are playing. When it’s time to sing, you step back to the mic, and it tells the audience “listen to the lyrics.” At the end of the chorus, there’s a nice little vocal embellishment you want to draw people’s attention to, so you close your eyes, and deliver it at an angle. Now instead of one “look” you have three!

If you just stood behind the mic stand and merely lifted your head to sing, there is little anticipation for the lyrics. By stepping to the side you build anticipation. In this song you are directing the attention to the instrument, to the lyrics, and to your voice when you (with your eyes and body) tell the audience “I’ll be right back” and visually stretch the singing. The song has more impact if the audience knows what to pay attention to.

Amy Wolter

As a trained Live Music Producer for Tom Jackson Productions, Amy Wolter brings her years onstage as a lead singer & keyboardist - along with her experience as a producer, arranger, and songwriter - to singers and bands who won’t settle for ‘good enough’. She’s worked with artists at all levels, and genres ranging from Rock to Celtic, empowering them to have confidence and authority onstage, and put on memorable live shows, a few of whom have been on two of the largest US tours in recent history. Some of her clients include Grammy award winners The Band Perry & Lacrae, CMA and ACM –winning country acts, Gloriana & Thompson Square, 2016 The Voice contestant Mary Sarah, CCMA (Canada) winners High Valley, Jess Moskaluke & Chad Brownlee, and Winter Jam Tour veterans Sidewalk Prophets & Love and The Outcome.

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Greenroom Comments

  1. Amy,
    🙂 You ROCK!!
    My question is about encouraging the audience to sing along with the choruses. I do all cover tunes, so my audiences know most all of the songs. As you know, some songs have more “singalongable” choruses than others. While I’ve always thought there was no such thing as too many singalongable songs in a set, you’ve got me thinking. For a solo guitar and vocal act, how many singalongable songs is too many? In this example I’m thinking songs like “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers or “American Pie”. How many of those would be too many? Do they need to be saved for Tom Jacksons “Moments” or can I just use them because they are fun songs and the audiences seem to enjoy them selves when singingalong?

    **But then there is the _other_ kind of singalongable, where the audience has their own part to sing, like Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” or “Do Wah Ditty” by Manfred Mann. I would like to find an entire set of this type of song because I think they are fun, but maybe more than one or two would be too many? Again the question becomes whether I can just play these songs because I think they are fun, or should save this type of song for a Tom Jackson “Moment”

    • Well Johnny, if folks are jumping in and singing along on their own, just go with it! If that’s not the case, try to involve them on your ‘fun’ moment by teaching them their part, encouraging them to clap along, etc. You’ll then get an idea if they’re ‘with’ you. If they are you may segue to another one they can sing to. You could actually group your sing-alongs together as a sort of ‘it’s-your-turn-to-sing’ moment too, but if you’ve got a lot of great songs like that throughout the set, and the audience wants to sing, great! It means they’re having a good time and you’re playing what they want to hear. #Winning! (If it’s getting to a point where it’s annoying some people/you, cuz there’s a table of drunks singing EVERY song real loud and off-key, go to a song they don’t know. ;))

  2. Thanks for the insight! I have found things like audience participation, bringing kids up on stage, and singing a cappella all help to enhance my presentations as a guitarist/singer/songwriter.

    I don’t mix it up too much while singing with my guitar, except maybe to change strumming patterns, but I started out as an instrumentalist, so the more intricate guitar playing comes when I play instrumentally.

    But anyway, by following your methods I think my concerts have become more interesting, however, like I always say, I still have a long way to go!

    • Hi Keith!
      I know you are a great player, so in my session with YOU, it was more about creating dynamics by simplifying your playing some, and then building on other aspects of the show like you mentioned. I wrote a blog about knowing when to hold back some, because even if you are a very gifted player, an audience can get numbed to your playing if it’s a constant barrage of ‘look-what-I-can-do’ playing. Check it out Backstage; http://tinyurl.com/yhfqd8d Good to hear from you Keith!

      • Thanks for the nice compliment, Amy. Yes, I think I am getting better at simplifying things. I think one thing that helped me a lot in our session was to be more of who I am on stage. I used to think if I played at a church it had to be all serious, but I have found audiences like some comedy and lighter moments as well!

  3. Great article Amy, I love getting it into my head stepping sideways. Could you elaborate on the closed eye/angle effect you were quoting from Tom’s book? Specifically what is he referencing regarding angle? Thanks!

    • Sure Bret!
      He’s talking about angling your body to the side so the vocal lick becomes more visual – helps the audience get more out of it. If you didn’t have a guitar and were simply holding the mic, it’s nice on those types of musical licks to turn your head (and arm with the mic) to the side to help us ‘see’ (and in turn, HEAR) the lick better. It in essence says to the audience, ‘hang on a sec, got something tricky to do, be right back’.

      Hope that makes sense…I’d rather SHOW you! I know it’s somewhere in Tom’s videos 🙂 Probably in DVD #5 – Don’t Fall off the Stage; http://www.onstagesuccess.com/merch-table/all-roads-dvds/dont-fall-off-the-stage/

  4. great tip, I would also add the adoption of a multieffect for acoustic guitar that allows the singer/player to choose between several reverbs, delays and other effects to personalize your song.
    thanks amy, looking forward to seeing you&tom in Italy!

    • Yes, effects can change things up for sure…not to mention a loop pedal and all you can create with that. We could do a whole blog on loops/moments! Filippo, do you know something I don’t know? Italy?? YES please!

  5. The practical example helps immensely. Thank you!

  6. Great tips, very helpful! Thanks Amy! Hope you’re doing well.

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