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Minimize Excessive Volume for Better Singing

Ron Browning with The Voice runner up, Meghan Lindsey

I feel there is an epidemic among singers to see who can be the loudest! – Says Ron Browning.

Variety of dynamics is important

The term “dynamics” refers to the volume at which a note, a group of notes, or a line of lyric is sung.  This could range anywhere from extremely soft to extremely loud.

Many singers underestimate the need to employ a variety of dynamics and are simply not mindful of how to use it best to augment the drama of the lyric.

A variety of dynamics allows the text to flow more like an exciting and spirited conversation. It keeps the attention of the listener because the story seems to be more believable.

Also, dynamics should be taken into consideration so the singer can make more effective artistic choices.

Never sacrifice yourself or your technique

We’ve all heard singers who keep their volumes to a mere whisper in order to create a vibe – you know – that “artist sound” that’s jam-packed with emotional pain.

While a large majority of singers, on the other hand, muscle up and lock into the loudest volume possible, perhaps to convince the world they are made from the same bionic components as an Adele or a Christina Aguilera.

Both types of singers are lost in volume! Both have sacrificed self and the truth of the story and have become sidetracked with making an impressive sound. These singers listen to themselves intently, more than the audience does.

Once a singer’s dynamics settle into either of these volumes, golden resonance is lost, and real story telling and artist presence goes out the window. Vocal problems soon set in!

Find effective dynamic levels

Singers should analyze the story in the lyric. They should either recite it or paraphrase it to someone else, as in conversation, to notice how the volume rises and falls on certain dramatic points of the story.

The most volume will be where the biggest part of the drama unfolds. The softest volume will be on the more sensitive details.

As a rule, use extremely soft and loud volumes sparingly, and only if the words can be heard easily, and if it is effortless to produce.

Remember that the singing voice starts with good conversational energy and will grow a little bit bigger than that in volume.

Singers who lock into an unchanging volume are not believable and it’s a dead giveaway their vocal technique isn’t second nature yet.

For each song, the singer needs to work out a dynamic flow chart in rehearsals that follows the story line. They must do this until the idea takes over the internal musician. Only then will the singer learn to be spontaneous with using effective dynamics.

The effect of locked-up volume 

The extremely soft singer is frustrating for an audience because the story is never clear. With such a reduction in energy and volume, the consonants are not heard, so there goes the intelligibility of the lines.

The extremely loud singers tend to drift off into a type of singing that could easily be thought of as merely screaming, or yelling. Singing becomes an Olympic event for them. Hopefully they have great health insurance that covers vocal rehabilitation.

With the popularity of singing reality TV shows, such as The Voice, American Idol, and America’s Got Talent, we’re all coaxed to believe that the loudest singer is the best singer.

Why singers fall victim to runaway volume

1. Many do not know how to transition through the passagio from low to high voice. In order to sing higher pitches, the vocal folds must “zip up” and “thin out,” which means that less air is needed. Big volume keeps the voice planted in chest voice and pitches become flat as the singer ascends the scale.

2. Singers simply have not thought about how they use a large variety of volume in daily conversation, nor fathomed how this observation might relate to singing. Therefore, they fail to let the context of the lyric dictate the dynamics when singing.

3. Some singers have a notion that they should muscle up to “project” the voice. But it is more resonance that is needed, not bigger volume and brute force.

Meghan Lindsey’s Success Story

In the spring of 2015, I got a call from Meghan Lindsey, runner up on NBC’s The Voice Season 8. The season had just begun. Meghan was worried about endurance since she had been experiencing vocal fatigue.

She’s a soulful singer with a powerhouse voice. She was locked up into big volume and could not transition well from low to high voice. There was no variety in her dynamics.

She learned to transition through the passagio by:  relaxing her body and articulators, breathing less, denying the urge to project the voice or forcing air, and using the speaking voice for singing.

Meghan finished out the show and came in 1st runner up. She had great voice all through the show. But the biggest magic happened when the big volume simply settled down and she became more conversational in her delivery.

Meghan says:

“Knowing how to use your (technical) tools is so important. When you know how to use them properly, the opportunities are endless. Ever since Ron taught me how to sing with my “electric edge” – that place where Aretha sings from, it’s a game changer. I can hit notes I didn’t know possible, with hardly any effort.”

My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Marianne Vedder Marianne Vedder - Superstar

You have a wonderful voice! But, I am not sure you understand the story here, the pain and tears behind it. You need to study the lyric and understand the drama that is there so that your phrasing points it up. The dramatic details must flow through the voice first. Then the hands can be an extension of your phrasing, instead of your voice following your dramatic hand gestures. Over all, the entire body can calm down so that your voice can be the star. Stay calm so that the “lonely” theme in this piece has a chance. Karen Carpenter has put such a strong signature on this tune with her phrasing, so you MUST do something different to make it your own. Dig into the heart of this story and let your amazing voice tell a REAL story.

Ron Browning is internationally known as the “Voice Coach to the Stars.” Alison Krauss, the most celebrated Grammy Award winner (27 wins), recently praised him in The New York Times, USA Today, BBC News, the Tennessean, and The Sun in London, where she called him “a genius.”  Ron has been seen and heard on Entertainment Tonight, The Voice, Oprah Network, and BBC’s Simply Classics, to name a few.  His clients include all levels of singers from beginners to award-winning celebrities in all genres of music. Ron works with major record labels producing vocals and preparing artists for radio, concert tours, and special television appearances. He is a voting member of the Grammy Foundation and the CMA Awards. He is a successful songwriter, jazz pianist, painter, and is currently writing a series of voice and performance manuals, which will include interviews with many of his students and celebrated clientele. His solo jazz piano CD, In a Sentimental Mood, is available on iTunes and CD Baby. Website | CD Baby

  • During the many years as a performing musician and recording artist, I have observed so many singers trying to ‘over scream’ their microphone. Sounds funny, but that’s how it seems. Why using a a microphone if you can be heard outside the building without one?
    A Tip: get a very long extension cord for your mic, or use a wireless mic, then go where the audience will be and hear yourself sing to the music. Learn about using a compressor and other technical means to enhance your vocals in volume and also in sound, and stop torturing your vocal cords, your band and the audience!

  • Michael Vaughn

    Excellent advice!