How to Sing Quietly or Softly
Singing Softly Is Not For Wimps
Learning how to sing with a soft, yet beautiful sound is one of the most difficult challenges a singer will ever face.
Singing is a wonderful form of expression. But until we learn how to sing softly, trying to be expressive is futile.
Singing reawakens what has been tucked away deep inside, bringing back into the light all our memories, dreams, conflicts, confidences and insecurities.
When we sing we are instantly connected to a deeper place within ourselves because sound is feeling. This brings us to an important step in learning to sing soft. We must imagine the feeling of softness even before we try to sing soft.
What does soft feel like to you? Images of cotton balls, rose petals, marshmellows, a baby's cheek and clouds are just a few visualizations that come to mind.
I remind my vocal students that 'If you can't imagine it, you can't sing it.' So dig deep into your imagination system because you're going to need it if you want to learn how to sing quietly or softly.
How to Inhale Correctly
An Easy Exercise For Singing Softly
Begin by singing the word 'hot' on a comfortable tone, not too high or to low. Make it medium loud (mezzo forte.) Hold the note for a count of 1-2-3. Repeat this 3 times.
Tip - When initiating the 'h' on the word hot, be sure you inflate the abdominal wall, holding the inflated position until the 3rd count. This assures that you are using the diaphragmatic muscle which is your breathing muscle.
Because singing is sustained speech your breathing must come from the belly and not the chest.
Now, imagine the lightest touch possible and sing the word 'he' on an easy tone. Make it soft (piano.) Hold the note for a count of 1-2-3. Repeat this 6 times.
Tip - In order to sing softly you must hold back air by tightening the abdominal wall as well as the buttocks. This is a huge help in controlling your air. Remember that it takes fewer vibrations to sing softly. That means not as much air is required (unless you're holding the note for a long period of time.)
These vibrations (taking place in the vocal cords) occur when air strikes the vocal bands setting them in motion and producing sound. So the louder you want to sing, the more air you need and the less volume you desire, the less air you need.
Tip - Some folks think it's necessary to use a more closed lip and mouth position when singing quietly. Not true. You still need adequate mouth opening for every word for enunciation.
Much to the surprise of most people, it is more difficult to sing softly than to sing loud. It requires more skill and much more control.
We Hold the Most Tension in the Neck and Shoulder Areas
Goodbye Tension - Hello Silky Soft Singing
Whether you sing loud or soft, it's important to release tension in the face, neck and shoulders. Tension is the enemy of the singing voice. It hinder's your natural sound by producing un-needed tension in your tone.
First, totally relax your entire body concentrating on releasing tension from the neck and shoulder area. You can do this either standing, sitting or lying down. Spend a good 7-10 minutes and if you've learned the belly breath (diaphragmatic breathing) inhale deeply and exhale slowly throughout each exercise.
Follow this with relaxing the lips of all tension with about 3-6 lip trills. Then concentrate on tongue trills. This may sound silly, but the lips and tongue hold the most tension, distorting the tone.
When you feel quite relaxed and void of stress it's time for another exercise to learn how to sing quietly or softly.
Do this exercise now:
- In a standing position (this keeps all your singing muscles and spine lined up) first, unlock your knees. Again you are releasing tension in the body.
- Now, hum softly avoiding all tension in the lips. Make sure the pitch is very easy and comfortable. Refrain from high and low sounds right now.
- Be sure to inhale, expanding around the waistline, just before humming. Keep the chest high and quiet with no movement as you inhale.
- The next step is, to begin with a humming sound on an 'm' and once the 'm' is stable add an 'ee' so that you're singing the word 'me.'
- Continue several times with this exercise, concentrating on the vibrations across the nose and in the lips.
- Don't forget that the hum must be soft, so only allow as little air to escape as possible, still keeping the "me" very controlled.
Tip: As you hum softly, keeping the lips relaxed, you should be feeling vibrations in the lips or closely around the lips. These vibrations assure you that you are relaxed enough and rid of all unnecessary tension.
Practicing these exercises several times each day will become automatic as your body learns how to prepare itself for a soft, quiet but controlled sound.
The Rag Doll Exercise To Relieve Tension
This body position involves the following sections of your spine.
- The Cervical vertebrae which is the neck.
- The Thoracic vertebrae which is the middle of your back.
- The Lumbar vertebrae which is the lower back.
If you're ready, you are about to unhinge these 3 sections:
- First, standing with good posture, unlock the knees. Legs will be shoulder width apart.
- Next, roll your spine (cervical - neck) slowly until your chin is tucked into your chest.
- Bringing your shoulders forward will help with touching your chin to the chest.
- Now, you will roll the thoracic or middle back area slightly forward like you are doing a cat stretch. Allow your arms to loosely dangle
- Keeping the chin tucked into the chest, roll the lower part of your spine, the lumbar region, down until you touch your toes or as close to your feet as possible. Arms should be loose. Avoid tension by trying to touch your toes.
- Remain in this position for about 5-10 seconds releasing all the tension in your body.
Tip: To build your breath support, take a big breath at the beginning of this exercise. Slowly exhale using a hissing sound, throughout this rag doll exercise until completed.
Don't Confuse Soft Singing With a Meek, Ineffective Sound
Even though your goal is to produce a softer tone, it must be controlled and supported by stable air. Singers need to know that even the lightest vocal sound needs body connection. Please keep the following in mind as you practice singing softly:
- Keep a rounded mouth opening
- Be careful that the tongue doesn't bunch
- Keep neck and shoulders relaxed
What do I mean by singing with control? Again, it's all about air. The professional singer always determines exactly how much air is needed for a particular phrase or for holding on to a note longer than usual. Always measure every phrase to determine whether you need to inhale a large amount of air or a small amount of air.
You absolutely must prepare your body to meet this requirement just before you sing. When singing a soft sound you still want your tone to be a 'rich' and controlled soft tone and not a 'wobbly' and inefficient soft tone.
Like I said before, singing soft is not for wimps. It's a challenge even for trained singers. Be patient, practice diligently and it will happen for you.
Now get ready to sing with your new soft voice and test it out.
Excuse me - what did you say (or sing?) Abbybirdaytuyu. Oh, I see. Happy Birthday To You.
Yeah - that's wut I said Abbybirdaytuyu.
Ok. We've all heard this song and most of us sing it at least 2-3 times a year. If you haven't heard ' Happy Birthday to you' all you need to do is you tube the title and sing along with one of the endless versions available. Or watch the video below to learn the words and melody.
So now, if you're good and ready here's another fun exercise to help you develop your soft singing.
- Sing this song once all the way through with a normal voice and don't worry about trying to sing it soft at this point. We're just giving your voice a little warm-up. You can sing along with the you tube video or you may sing a capella ( by yourself without music.)
- Next - This time sing only the first 2 phrases ' Happy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you.' Sing these 2 phrases in a medium dynamic. Remember to breathe from the abdominal wall.
- Now repeat these 2 phrases singing with half the volume. Do this 6 times.
- If this is just to difficult, stop at this point and do not continue. Instead go back to the humming exercises above and practice those until they become easy to sing on a very light tone.
- For those of you who mastered this step, you will now again sing the same phrases as softly as possible. Repeat 6 times controlling the tone keeping the sound even.
If your words were barely mumbled and not articulated the listener will hear 'abbybirdaytuyu.' So be sure to clearly and distinctly pronounce each word.
- Continue to add the rest of the song a phrase or 2 at a time until you've gone through the entire song.
- When you've completed this exercise, give yourself a hug or a treat.
Sing Along With This Video to Review The Song
Sing Happy Birthday With This Video Using Your Soft Voice
Famous Singers of The Past and Present ~ Soft Singing Talent
Much to the surprise of most people, it is more difficult to sing softly than to sing loud. It requires more skill and much more control. These great legends all shared the most important skill of all. They were masters of diaphragmatic breathing.
One of the best male pop and jazz singers of all time is the great Tony Bennett. His soft tones blend perfectly into louder tones and vice versa.
Perry Como was spell-binding bringing his beautiful soft tones to his weekly Television Show in the 50's.
Another singer ( the daddy of them all ) bringing soft, almost lazy tones to the emotional phrase was Bing Crosby. His perfectly pitched smoothness influenced some of the best male (and even female) voices in the recording industry including Frank Sinatra, the" bobby-soxers" dream voice.
And then who can forget the soothing, romantic singing voice of the late Andy Williams (Moon River.). And you thought he was only famous for discovering The "Osmonds."
Michael Jackson could "melt an iceberg" with his soft, quiet voice whenever he was so inclined.
The great female singer of the 40's and 50's, Peggy Lee sold millions of albums to fans seeking her soft interpretation of marvelous lyrics. She is remembered fondly for her imaginative voice in the movie "Lady and the Tramp."
Rosemary Clooney ( the aunt of George Clooney ) had the most unique voice and style. Every note felt like velvet.
Note: These timeless singers didn't set out to sing with a soft, smooth, easy listening singing style. These artists were born with the necessary vocal properties. I mention the above singers as an example of pure vocal control which is needed for the production of soft singing.
Listen to the clarity of this soft but expressive voice and how every word is enunciated.
Final Exercise - Soft Voice
Here is your final exercise for learning how to sing quietly or softly.
- Sing the song "Amazing Grace" along with the video below. If you prefer, you may hum along.
- Now sing it again but this time select one phrase and sing it softly. You may choose any phrase or line of your liking. I suggest using the very first phrase to try your new soft voice out because it is in comfortable place range wise.
- When the notes get higher, the body must exert more breath pressure so be sure you inhale more air to help you reach the higher notes. These notes will also sound louder and more powerful.
- Another area you might want to sing softer is the very end of the song in each verse. Example: Was blind, but now I see.
The more times you sing and concentrate on where you deliberately want softer tones, the easier it will become.
Summing it all up.
Singing soft is harder to do than singing loud. It requires more skill and absolute vocal control.
Everyday, practice visualizing soft. You need to do this. You will be instantly calling on your imagination to define and feel soft in your mind in order to sing softly.
Always warm up your voice by humming softly. Just five notes up and five notes down are sufficient. For example:
- Begin humming on an "A" just below middle "C" (men will need to adjust their voice either 3 notes lower or a complete octave lower.)
- ABC#DE-DC#BA then transpose up 1/2 step BbCDEbF-EbDCBb and continue transposing up by half-steps. Stop the transposition when the exercises become to high to sing easily.
- To practice soft singing go from a humming sound to adding a vowel at the end of the hum. Ex. - Hummmmme - Hummmmmeh - Hummmmmo - Hummmmmmah.
- Happy Birthday to You - Practice singing various phrases softly.
- Listen to soft singing which will help you duplicate softer sounds using your voice.
- Sing along with Amazing Grace, selecting which parts of the song you will use your softer voice to sing with.
- As you sing any song or exercise make sure you are controlling your air by breathing from the diaphragm and not the chest. This is crucial for good singing. Make it a priority.
Remember that as you are forming brand new good habits for singing, you are also stopping those bad habits which prevented you from being able to sing softly in the first place.
Be very patient with yourself. Don't expect immediate results. It can take days, weeks or even months to teach your body and mind to develop new singing habits. Enjoy the journey.
Let your intuition guide you but let reason speak. You are the master.
Sing with joy ~
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© 2013 Audrey Hunt