As a voice teacher I care about vocal health and singing the healthiest you can to preserve the life of your voice in whatever vocal calling of singing genre you have. There is a fine line between a scream and a sing. I’ve actually heard that line crossed many times and each time I do it makes my own vocal chords cringe with muscular empathy for the person who does it.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good heavy medal voice, but one that it supported by muscles in the abdomen rather then one that is riding on raw vocal chords. This doesn’t contain itself just to heavy medal. I have heard many a tenor and soprano cross the line from sing to scream when going for a high note they are not supporting. Ouch. Or someone who is to high out of their tessitura and ends up yelling a whole song.
It is actually a minor adjustment to go from sing to scream and that’s why the nuance of it can be so difficult to master especially when you are standing out there on stage. It is simply taking the tension out of the chords and putting it low into your musculature for body support.
Let me explain to you technically what a scream does to your chords. It takes them and just rubs them together in an awful form of friction which is the opposite of how the vocal chords are intended to be used for good singing.
If you feel the scream in your throat then you are not supporting it and you ARE doing damage to your own voice. The more you do it the more likely you are to develop vocal nodules which are essentially blisters that come up from too much friction on your vocal chords. This can cause eventual permanent vocal damage if not treated properly with vocal rest, healthy vocalizing, and or yucky surgery.
Now, there is the question, how can you prevent the unsupported scream in a singing situation? You need proper vocal support in your body. The higher you go in the voice the lower that you need to be accessing muscle support from in your body. So think of singing your higher notes with your feet or even from the “imaginary” roots in the ground under your feet. Access the earth to get you through a tough passage.
When we are nervous our muscle support system can fall apart due to our shallow breathing. You need to remember to breath and to breath low. (My Voice Lessons To GO v.1 Vocalize and Breath has a long section of breathing exercises to help you master this). What may have been beautiful singing in your house can completely go “screamy” in a performance with shallow unconnected breathing. We see this happening a lot on the American Idol auditions. People walking in saying I don’t know what happened I didn’t sound like that at home. And it may be true, but no one cares. You need to be able to deliver consistently no matter the audition or performance.
Some keep on singing instead of screaming tips:
If you are in a band:
Remember you have a microphone and an amp- so use it. You should not have to be constantly screaming over your band to be heard, rather turn them down and turn yourself up so that there is a better balance. People want to hear your words no matter how good your guitarist is. Give yourself a break by making this possible with the proper balance of amplification.
Don’t over rehearse the night before. If you use up all of your healthy singing the night before and go to long you may inflame your chords a bit. This will throw you off in your performance. If your chords are a bit swollen it can throw off your whole technique which can push you to push or scream.- Not good. I Iike to prevent a rehearsal the day before when possible so that the voice can remain fresh for the performance. If it is not possible to prevent the rehearsal then mark your way through it. Save the gusto for the performance.
Use moniters on stage. Make sure you can hear yourself. I think that this is a really important. There is a strange phenomenon that occurs on stage when you are singing with other instruments or singers. You don’t always here yourself in real time since acoustically the sound goes out and bounces back to your ears. If possible, make sure there are monitors on stage that you can hear and only listen to them.
When singing unplugged:
If the acoustics are bad in a room don’t try and over compensate by over singing. Memorize the sensation of singing freely and do that no matter what the room does or does not give back to you. People will hear your push as a push , if your do it, so don’t.
If your acoustic accompaniment is playing too loud, rather then try and sing over them give them a visual sign to hold back (in a friendly way). Make sure when possible to do a sound check with them as well, not just rockand roll singers need this. Every piano is different. Every room creates a different acoustic experience. Check the balance before hand so that you are comfortable with what you are putting out there.
Remember that you audience will absorb the sound. Literally. Just like carpets and drapes do. So filling a room with people will change your balance, don’t be thrown by it. Still, sing naturally.
You can’t be the judge. What you hear on stage may not be what the audience hears. Just because you are standing near an open piano that is blasting in your ear or a baritone who is resonating for days, it doesn’t mean that your voice is not pinging through to the last seat in the house. Trust your voice and your training. Sing healthy and naturally no matter what. Remember, if you push to be louder you will just sound pushed and throw of your technique. Who knows, if you stick to your good technique the loud baritone may come across negatively as someone trying to sing over you. Always give an honest performance of your own voice.
Certain music requires a certain amount of “scream”. What you can do to sustain that is to balance it with healthy vocal work outside of that. Use your scream only when necessary, don’t practice it in rehearsals- just save it for the performances, and for God’s Sake- SUPPORT YOUR VOICE WITH MORE THEN YOUR VOCAL CHORDS ! Your are singing because you love it. SO think always about how to sustain your ability to do it well.
Sing well people!
written by Ariella Vaccarino creator of Voice Lessons To Go (singing lessons on CD) and author of Vocalize!
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