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Published on  |  Last Updated on August 11, 2023

How do we define Vocal Dynamics?

Vocal dynamics refer to the way in which a singer varies the loudness, intensity, and emotional expression of their voice during a performance. This includes changes in volume, pitch, tone, and timbre, as well as the use of vibrato, phrasing, and other techniques that help to convey the emotions and meaning of a song.

In music, we understand dynamics as, the term used to indicate the level of quietness or loudness of a sound. While notated, they are relative and somewhat subject to a performer’s interpretation. No matter how quiet or muted, or how dramatically loud and bombastic, composers want a performer to play, there is a dynamic term that they can use to indicate their wishes. Dynamics are fluid, and a crucial part of a performer’s musical expressivity, so composers use a number of symbols to denote gradual or sudden changes in dynamic levels. This makes the music more interesting and provides rewarding musical choices for the performer.

Application of Dynamics in Voice Performance

Vocal dynamics in any song create a sense of drama and tension. Dynamic levels contribute to conveying the singer’s personal feelings and experiences. Singers use a quieter, more intimate tone to express vulnerability & tenderness. In order to convey anger, passion, or urgency they instead use a louder, more forceful tone. When we study a piece of music we often notice that vocal dynamics ultimately give shape to the song and thus also contribute to the arrangement and composition of a piece.

Where do we get our individual vocal sounds from?

Articulatory, phonatory & breath support (air pressure) systems

The illustration above shows the phonatory system. In this system, when air passes through the trachea the basic sound produced by the vibrations of vocal folds or the laryngeal muscles is called the “voiced sound”. But at this stage in the vocal production system, it’s still a naked vibrational sound with a buzzy characteristic. This voiced sound when it hits the articulatory system fluidly shapes spoken word speech.

The articulatory system is where your mouth, nose, and throat contribute to muscular constrictions that reshape the passageway. This creates a resonant chamber for the air to pass through. In this resonating chamber, our personal vocal characteristics are shaped. A part of our speech voice or speaking voice characteristics come directly from the environments that we are exposed to. Other elements are simply a result of the shape of our articulators, the mouth Some of your speech voice characteristics come directly from the environment in which you cognitively learned how to communicate, while other elements of the voice simply have to do with the shape of your mouth, nasal passage, and pharynx.

This interplay is the reason you’re able to alter your voice to sing in a variety of timbres and styles, but you’ll never be able to not sing in your own voice.

The vocal tract resonators of the articulatory system amplify and modify the original “voiced sound,” while vocal tract articulators (the tongue, soft palate, and lips) modify the sound shapes as they leave your mouth. In other words, the articulators produce recognizable words.

Voice Projection

Voice projection & dynamic control in music refers to how loudly or softly we sing. We can control it by enabling correct breathing techniques and the usage of the diaphragm.

General vocal dynamic levels

To understand this lets us try the Rhyme below:





-We will try out this rhyme on all different dynamic levels – WHISPER, TALK, SHOUT & SING.

· WHISPER – This is the lowest level of vocal dynamics to be applied to the phrase which creates an airy, breathy and undertone quality that effectively gives the rhyme a subtle and smooth tone and expression.

· TALK – This is the dynamic level just above a whisper and below shouting levels. Thus at this level, we effectively get a narrative and general speaking level tone and expression.

· SHOUT – This level of vocal dynamics implies that we speak the above rhyme in a higher level than normal speaking level tone. A great way to understand this level is to imagine yourself reciting this rhyme and making sure that anyone next to your room is able to hear it too. This gives this vocal dynamic level leverage on many aspects of the expression. It is much more stronger than previous levels and effectively changes the emotion or expression of the rhyme compared to previous levels. This is close to chanting just as done in groups or when national anthems are sung in groups.

· SING – This level of vocal dynamics defines the ‘singing voice’. Generally, this level lies somewhere in between the speaking voice and the ‘shout’ level. It is not necessary that it does. It may vary. However, the singing voice is always said to be slightly louder than the speaking voice and never quite close to ‘shouting’ levels.

Thus we can conclude that by varying their vocal dynamics, a singer can create contrast and texture in the music, highlighting different elements of the instrumentation and creating a more dynamic and engaging performance overall.

Dynamic Symbols & terms in Music Theory

Dynamic terms and symbols Like many musical expressions, dynamic markings are traditionally provided in Italian. Shown here is a list of the most commonly used dynamic terms, from quietest to loudest. There is often not enough room to note the entire dynamic term in a musical score, so the accompanying symbols are frequently used to denote each dynamic level.

Vocal Dynamic Levels:

In the chart you can see all the basic dynamics terms commonly used in music today.  Essentially, dynamics fall into two main categories – loud or soft. The dynamic music definitions will go from the softest to the loudest Italian terms.

Vocal Dynamics Levels &Terms

In real life, music that is performed very, very soft or “pianississimo” would be almost a whisper. Whereas music performed very, very loudly or “fortississimo” would be music that is deafening and as loud as possible for the instrument or ensemble as a whole.

Pianissimo – very soft – pp

Piano – soft – p

Mezzo piano – moderately soft – mp

Mezzo forte – moderately loud – mf

Forte – loud – f

Fortissimo – very loud – ff

Now to understand this application of vocal dynamics in a passage we take the rhyme ” Mary had a little lamp”.

If we look at the phrase carefully we notice a ‘<‘ sign over the phrase indicating vocal dynamic levels change from moderately soft (mp) to loud (f). In Music Theory, these signs are known as crescendo and diminuendo as explained in the next section. Therefore, when we sing this phrase we start off soft and gradually end the phrase at a louder volume level.

Dynamic levels on staves shown

Crescendo and Diminuendo Dynamic Signs



These two signs are often found in Music Theory which denotes a gradual increase or decrease in volume or in this case ‘vocal dynamics’ in any section as shown below. Here the main instrument is indicated to forego this dynamic change. In any given song where the vocals are the main instrument, this symbol would apply in the same way to the vocal dynamics. The signs here indicate a gradual change in volume supported and controlled with the help of good vocal techniques and healthy vocal control.

Crescendo & Diminuendo Signs in Music Theory

Breath Support

Many vocal instructors swear by the adage to “sing from your diaphragm.” This advice can be misleading to novice vocalists when it comes to translating it into practical techniques. The diaphragm is actually a skeletal muscle that rests just below our lungs, best known in the human lived experience as the body part that spasms when you hiccup. Breath support gives us control over air and enhances our performance.

As anyone who’s tried to rid themselves of the hiccups knows, it’s pretty difficult to control the diaphragm, it’s an involuntary muscle after all. There are no muscles that directly move the diaphragm when activated. The work to be done is actually in consciously expanding our lungs with more force, which activates the diaphragm to flatten and create more space for the lungs. It is with that space that you can establish proper air pressure to carry a healthy vocal sound.

From there, our power source (air moving up from the lungs, through the vocal tract and out the mouth) engages with the vibrator that is our vocal folds. Located in the larynx, the frequency at which our vocal folds vibrate determines pitch, while the force applied (by air pressure and muscle engagement around the vibrator plus resonating spaces) dictates volume.

Processes during singing

During singing in the lower register, the larynx is lowered since the muscles which connect it to the rib cage are tensed whereas the muscles above the larynx are not tensed. Consequently, a large proportion of the vibratory energy is transmitted to the thoracic area, giving singers the impression that their voice is resonating in the chest. This impression however is false. The chest by virtue of its design and location can make no significant contribution to the resonance system of the voice. The chest is on the wrong side of the vocal folds and there is nothing in the design of the lungs that could serve to reflect sound waves back toward the larynx.

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Techniques to enhance vocal dynamics during singing & performing

1. Breathe in through the nose and breathe out through nose & mouth both while singing, this optimizes breath control.

2. Keep your shoulders relaxed & avoid raising them while singing.

3. Maintain posture – beginning at the top of your head that is pulling up the spine and make sure body feels long & tall while performing.

4. Keep your chin parallel to the floor.

5. Hips are to be in alignment with the spine, neck and shoulders.

6. Knees should be relaxed and not locked.

7. Keep your feet apart to distribute weight evenly while singing in standing position.

8. In order to improve your posture – balance a book on your head and try warmup exercises maintaining the balance.

8. Practice cross-touch exercises daily before singing.

9. Pull your hands up and look up at the sky for 10secs & then bring them down. Repeat this at least for five rounds. This helps your spine maintain its optimal position for singing.

Other than the above points we also use breathing exercises and breath support training on a daily basis to give shape to individual voices and enhance control over vocal dynamics. To learn more about vocal techniques and breath support exercises begin today with your vocal session at musicmaster.in.

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