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Make Volume Swells A Part of Your Guitar Vibe

Aug 17, 2008
A volume swell is a musical crescendo commonly associated with the electric guitar. Crescendo, in standard musical notation, refers to a passage of music during which the volume gradually increases.

The technique is often executed by the little finger of the guitarist which is wrapped around the volume pot/knob of the guitar. When the note is struck the volume is increased from zero by a rolling motion of the little finger. Alternatively, the effect is achieved with a volume pedal, by moving the pedal forward to increase volume and backwards to reduce vilume. It is sometimes called violinning, because the sound is similar to a bowed violin. Allan Holdsworth pioneered the technique of the pedal swelling along with a delay unit to create a thicker sound that's more associated with chellos.

Guitar players who can do volume swells with the volume knob, often change them to round roller knobs to give your pinkie more traction and accuracy. Personally I use the stock Stratocaster knobs and find them very adequate. That is how I was trained, although it is more popular with younger guitarists to use a volume pedal.

To visualize and actually see an example of how to perform a volume swell, most of the video sites have some great tutorials. Make sure to check them out.

Adding volume swells to your repertoire will take some time in terms of practice and patience. It is considered one of the most beautiful flowing sounds an electric guitar can be manipulated into performing. Take a few minutes out of every practice session to develop your technique. In time, you will become a master and more viable player.

Roy Buchanan was famous for his emotive volume swells, often in combination with note bending and vibrato. Roy really hits my soul, a guitar player worthy of listening to. Jan Akkerman used the technique with Focus and precision.

Another early use of swells is found in the Beatles recording of Eight Days a Week.

To watch a guitarist perform a volume swell is better than a thousand words, again, find a video lesson online for free at most video sites or communities.

Volume swells fall into the same category as pinch harmonics, false harmonics or squealies. As far as the people at Guitar Players Center are concrned, small effective guitar tricks such as the ones described in this article and the article on pinch harmonics are wonderful additions that add distinction and flavor to your guitar vibe. Anybody out there good at volume swells? What technique do you use? Do you have any tricks to share? Comment on them please. Enjoy.
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