My thoughts...Wisdom from over the years

Singing Quietly

Posted in: Blog, Featured ♦ Thursday, January 17th, 2013, 10:53 pm ♦ 1 Comment on Singing Quietly

Singing Quietly


The use of dynamics is something that is frequently forgotten about in much of contemporary music-especially contemporary worship music. When I visit churches to help them with their vocal teams (or choirs) I am consistently struck by the fact that almost all such teams seem to know one volume: LOUD.  They start at a loud volume. They play loudly through the entire song (even the entire set sometimes!) and they finish loudly!  This is such a shame. There are so many beautiful things we can do with music to layer, create style and nuance, arrange, etc…and yet so often we miss the chance to make something truly beautiful or musical.

In order to take full advantage of the myriad of possibilities available to us as singers, we need to be able to access many different areas of our singing voice.  Often,” loud” becomes the most important dynamic to us. This is partly because we typically have so many audio issues in the various venues that we sing in and we’re trying desperately to hear ourselves or be heard over the band.  The idea of singing quietly, or employing some of those quieter dynamics such as p (piano) or pp (pianissimo) is usually the last thing on our minds.  Additionally, truth be told, most of us wouldn’t know how to sing quietly (very well anyway) if we tried!

Have you ever tried to sing quietly?  You may find that singing quietly is a lot harder than you might think.  It takes a lot of skill to sing quietly with a good (and intense) tone. Moreover, it takes a LOT of breath support! Notice I didn’t say a lot of BREATH. It takes a lot of support, not necessarily more AIR to sing quietly.  What we usually try to do however, when trying to sing quietly, is to STOP the breath support and try instead to support our tone from the throat. Trying to sing in this manner will frequently cause the tone itself to “break” (for lack of power and correct support).

Another “trick” for singing quietly is to add air to the tone (an unhealthy way of singing causing great damage to the vocal cords) or simply shifting into some sort of “head voice”  (typically achieved by allowing the vocal cords to split apart—see my article in the last edition of Worship Musician! Magazine).  None of these ways of attempting to sing quietly are good options. So a lot of folks just give up on even trying. Most singers I know have never really explored what it takes to sing quietly.

So How Can I Sing Quietly with a Good Tone?

I believe that one of the best ways to get a good tone while singing quietly is, of course, to have good solid breath support.  If you do not have a good grasp on what breath support is, please contact me and I can send you some information and resource opportunities to help you.  Breath support is necessary for any proper singing but especially with quiet singing. That’s because it’s difficult to keep a steady tone while keeping the cords fully adducted and still keep the volume low. Having a steady flow with enough air pressure is key to keeping the tone strong and stable with a lower volume level.

Additionally, tone placement is imperative. It’s important to keep a steady, pure “ring” to the tone at all times, but never is it more important (or obvious) than when you’re trying to sing quietly.  In order to develop this “ring” I start my students singing on a special hum.  This hum is basically on an “N” instead of an “M”.  (This hum is made by placing the tip of the tongue slightly between your teeth with the rest of the front part of your tongue resting against the front roof of your mouth) When you hum on an “M” you tend to buzz in your lips, mouth and the front of your lower face. When you hum on an “N” it shifts the resonance higher into the nasal area. When properly done it doesn’t create an ugly “nasally” sound but a ringing warm tone.  If you place your fingers near your nose you should feel a “buzz” when humming like this. The next step is to lower the tongue and sing an “ah” but try to keep the tone placement the same. With practice, this technique should help you to add a lovely “ring” to your tone.

When learning to sing quietly, try to sing through the passage by simply humming through it on an “N” using proper breath support.  This will give you the idea of how it should not only sound but how it should feel as well.  In effect, this will compress your tone and yet it will have a nice “ring like” quality to it.  Next try to sing through the passage in the same way—keeping the tone ringing in the same area but now with your tongue lowered and in a normal singing position. Your tone should stay put, but your tongue should relax back to normal as you begin to sing and articulate the words. You may find that it helps to keep your mouth a little more closed than usual too.  Just make sure you pay close attention to the tone quality if you choose to close up a bit and don’t close so far that it becomes muffled or you sacrifice your beautiful tone.


As with anything new, practice will help.  This technique will definitely work if applied correctly, but feeling comfortable and confident with it will only happen once you’ve spent some time perfecting it.  So, for this new year, get out some of those beautiful melodies from days gone by, or just try your new favorites and add a wonderful little dynamic—piano or pianissimo….you’ll love the results! God bless you and a Happy New Year!



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One Response to “Singing Quietly”

  1. Posted by: George
    October 16th, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Ok, I’m surpised that i searched for this on the internet and i actually found a solution, usually those articles are all scientific talk and stuff, but this actually helped me. Thank you!

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