Dynamics are more than just loudness and softness. They’re what makes a song punchy and animated or smooth and mellow. They put the mood into a song. They affect the balance between parts – do the men have a soft “oo” underneath the women’s parts or does the men’s part dominate with the women singing softly behind them? Or does the song require an even balance of parts to make the harmony shine?
Dynamics are always under your director’s control; this is why it’s essential to watch for directions.
So, how do you accomplish dynamics?
Singing louder never, EVER means yelling. You must remain on pitch at all times, even when singing full voice. Think of increasing your breath pressure, not forcing more air over your vocal chords. Forcing more air means you’ll run out of breath faster. Focusing on breath pressure lets you sustain even a loud note for a surprisingly long time.
Singing softer never means going breathy or vague. You must still remain on pitch, even when your entire section is singing so softly you can barely hear your own voice. Reduce your breath pressure; don’t cheat by letting air bleed past your vocal chords. Good breath pressure keeps your tone clear and clean.
There’s a whole range of dynamics between loud and soft. For example, “Do You Hear the People Sing” starts out very soft, like a crowd in the distance. As they march towards you it gradually gets louder and louder until your audience is immersed in the triumphant energy of the last chorus. There’s no sudden switch from soft to loud.