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I can sing with dynamics, but the problem is I dont know how to effectively apply it. Can someone tell me how do I know which areas of the song to sing softly and which areas to sing loudly while singing a song.

I know I should not sing the entire song in one volume but I am not able to figure out which parts of a song to sing loud, which parts to sing soft and which parts to use a medium volume.

I was thinking of hip hop and pop songs

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  • What song are you working on?
    – 000
    Aug 28, 2023 at 20:28
  • If you’re not already a pro I would work to be able to sing an entire pop song as the exact same dynamic level the whole time. It’s pretty much impossible but a good exercise. Aug 30, 2023 at 4:59

4 Answers 4

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There are some "obvious answers"; let's not spend too much time on those, but let's mention them just in case:

  • If you have instructions, follow them. If you're reading from notated music, there might be dynamic indications like f (forte, loud) or p (piano, soft). Expressive performance usually adds more dynamic variation than what's written, but they're a starting place.
  • If you're copying an existing performance, do what they do. Unless you're trying to put your own spin on it, in which case see what works, but copying others can be a good way to "get a feel for it."
  • Follow what the rest of the instruments do. When the backing track gets louder, get louder! And vice versa.

So those are the "obvious" answers, in which you have something to "tell" you (sometimes indirectly) which way to go. For the smaller details, or if you're creating your own original music, you have to make your own decisions. Large decisions, like "this verse should be softer" or "this bridge should be louder" are purely arbitrary creative choices. But smaller decisions, about which individual notes should be louder or softer, have more objective factors. This is what's often called "phrasing," or simply being expressive.

Some factors to determine where to be louder and where to be softer:

  • Follow the inflection of the text. For many languages, some syllables in a word are emphasized and some are de-emphasized, and sometimes meaning is conveyed through emphasis (think about "THIS is my hat" vs "this is MY hat"). If you're creating your own music, try to let this natural emphasis pattern be reflected in your choices of rhythm and melody, and let your singing match the way you would speak the line; emphasize the strong syllables and de-emphasize the weak ones. Different genres and personal styles might do more or less of this, but it's a good place to start.
  • Follow the contour of the melody. Now, what if there were no lyrics? Think about what the melody itself does; what notes would you emphasize if it were just instrumental? It's a simplistic rule, but a lot of the time you can find an expressive phrasing simply by getting louder when the notes go up and softer when they go down.
  • Follow the harmonic tension. In a given musical phrase, some moments seem more "at rest"—places that the music tries to "get to"—and some seem more incomplete, moments that want to "resolve" into another place. Try singing the "Happy Birthday" song: when you get to the chord in which you substitute the birthday person's name, that would be a very unresolved place to stop; there's a sense of being suspended, and you need the final line to "bring it back home." If you study a bit of music theory you'll soon learn that these places of tension and resolution are "cadences," but even without knowing why they work this way you can often feel their working. Look for places of tension and perhaps get louder as you approach them, then relax as they resolve.
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    Inflection of the text is typically more the composer's problem in deciding how to fit the text into the musical meter (and of course loudness is one element of metrical accent). But the text has another aspect, which is its dramatic content. The composer will also make decisions related to this, but the performer can often decide, particularly in a strophic song, whether to express sorrow quietly or loudly, whether there is effusive (loud) joy or contemplative (quiet) contentment, etc. Also, frustrating expectation by getting quieter in the high register can be very dramatic.
    – phoog
    Aug 29, 2023 at 9:40
  • To this good answer, could you add a bullet point concerning the meaning of the lyrics themselves, the emotions being conveyed by the song? Aug 29, 2023 at 16:16
  • @phoog and Greg, these are good points but I consciously decided to avoid questions of "text painting" and otherwise dramatically interpreting text since it's a creative decision, and although fairly straightforward (expressions of strong emotion are probably louder), still pretty subjective. I was trying basically to just give an answer about the objective elements that typically inform phrasing. Aug 30, 2023 at 14:12
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The lyrics and the emotion the writer tries to convey with them, should give you clues on how to approach a verse or section. For example sadness might be expressed softly, anger and frustration probably loud.

Parts of the music might lead into a differently expressed section, such as a bridge or verse leading into the chorus. You can use that section to start the transition, for example a very happy chorus after a sad verse allows you to build up volume towards the end.

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  • This is great advice, but I would add to it that doing the unexpected can also be effective. Perhaps quiet anger or loud (mourning) sadness is the more effective choice precisely because the song suggests the opposite.
    – phoog
    Aug 29, 2023 at 9:44
  • I agree with phoog on this point, it can be very effective to go against the flow to express strong emotions, for exemple a vocal crescendo when music goes quiet, you can hear these kind of contrasts in Queen, The Mars Volta or Twenty One Pilots, it adds a lot of personnality
    – Kaddath
    Aug 29, 2023 at 15:12
  • (However, you need to know what is expected before you can choose to go against it.)
    – gidds
    Sep 2, 2023 at 15:42
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Impossible to answer properly. Each and every song will use different dynamics at different times. And even the same singer won't use the same dynamics for the same parts every time.

Maybe use one song as an example, and we could suggest various dynamics for that, but then it goes out of the remit of this site. Good, experienced singers will develop a feel for which parts will be louder/quieter than others. Listening to others' recordings of the songs in question will give you some insight.

But you're correct that a song sung at the same volume right through will not sound as good as one where dynamics are used - but not over-used.

It should go without saying that tender parts will usually be sung tenderly, and 'highly emotional' (angry, maybe) parts in an appropriate voice. Stating the obvious, probably.

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Can someone tell me how do I know which areas of the song to sing softly and which areas to sing loudly while singing a song.

Think of it as you would a dramatic reading. Ask yourself what you want to communicate to your audience and how you would communicate it. Better still, don't just think about it, do it. Read the words aloud, not in the rhythm of the music. Get to know the text by itself. Make some dramatic choices.

Then add the rhythm back in. Maybe you'll find you need to make some different choices. That's okay, as long as you have some dramatic goal. Speak the words in rhythm. Try different speeds. Try different volumes. Try different emotions.

Finally, take those experiments back to the melody. You probably won't need more advice at this point; you'll have a good idea how to apply the ideas you've considered to the song. But think about frustrating the audience's expectations. Even within the context of a single emotion, you can provide contrast by varying the intensity of the emotion.

Is it an excited song about some good news? Perhaps one section can be quieter, perhaps more about optimism than joy. Is it a quietly cynical song about someone's hard life? Perhaps one section can be more about loud defiance or anger. Look for clues in the music: a good composer will help you out here. But start with the text. It's all about the message.

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