Most people who are learning to sing want to know how to sing loudly, and that’s a very important skill. But an often underrated skill is being able to sing softly. It sounds easier than it is, especially if you have a naturally big voice. When singing softly, all too often breath control goes out the window, and our voices become pitchy and wobbly. But luckily, there are some techniques we can use to sing softly. Not every technique is relevant for every type of music, and the methods you choose to decrease your volume should be chosen with style in mind.
Let More Air Out
Letting out more air is a great choice for popular genres, like indie pop and jazz standards. Typical vocal pedagogy will have you hold back air. Letting out just a little bit more air will both soften your voice and give you a nice intimate sound.
Sing on Thinner Vocal Folds
Most singers understand thin vocal folds as head resonance, or head voice, and that’s a perfectly reasonable image to use if it helps get your voice where you want it to be. I prefer to think of it as more of a head-dominant mix, because as we’ve discussed in other posts about vocal registers, it’s more accurate to think of your voice as a spectrum than as a series of discrete registers. In any case, singing in a head-mix instead of a chest-mix is a great way to lighten up. To learn how to do this, imitate a tiny kitten and say with a very thin, small voice, “meeeeeoooww.”
Do you feel how small your voice feels? Now apply that feeling to the part of the song you want to sing more softly on, and you’ll be good to go. Singing on thinner vocal folds works in any genre.
De-Brighten Your Voice
Writing this almost feels like sacrilege, because I spend so much of my teaching time working with students on brightening their voices. You may have heard voice teachers use words like ping, squillo, and twang. To de-brighten your voice, you want to diminish some of that twang. In anatomical terms, twang is brought about by narrowing your aryepiglottic sphincter (AES). Removing twang is brought about by widening it.
Listen to do the difference:
To feel what a wide AES is, try talking in the stereotypical soft-spoken old lady voice.
Tilt Your Thyroid
The thyroid tilt thins out your vocal folds, giving you a lighter sound. It’s used in almost every singing genre, but to varying degrees. A heavily tilted thyroid (often accompanied by a lower larynx) is something you commonly hear in classical and legit Broadway singing. But you’ll also hear a slightly tilted thyroid at the ends of long belted phrases in pop music to facilitate vibrato and make coming off of the belt less jarring.
Close Your Mouth
It’s probably not a big secret to you that opening your mouth wider can help produce more sound. The oral cavity is a resonance chamber, and the degree to which you open your mouth affects the resonance. The reverse is true as well. Closing your mouth cuts off some of the resonance and makes your sound smaller.
Lower Your Soft Palate
Lowering your soft palate (that fleshy area in your mouth above the root of your tongue) makes for a more nasalized sound, so this may not be your first choice when it comes to softening up. But especially when singing character roles, it shouldn’t be discounted. To feel what it’s like to lower your soft palate, start with a small “ng” sound and then switch to an “EE” sound without adjusting the space in your mouth. To test whether your soft palate is low, you can try plugging your nose. If the sound cuts off altogether, you’re singing with a lowered soft palate.