About Unhealthy Vocal Sounds

Voiceover Directory

About Unhealthy Vocal Sounds


If you are looking for pop singing lessons, you should look for a vocal coach or singing teacher who does not shy away from teaching or allowing so-called “unpleasant” or “dangerous” sounds. Some of them border on what many voice teachers consider to be bad or unhealthy. Most voice teachers will tell you that constriction of any kind is bad, unhealthy or dangerous for a singer, and by and large I wouldn’t argue with that. But I also know that popular singers do it all the time, especially Blues and Rock singers, and I’ve come to believe that when we talk about bad, unhealthy and dangerous, we need also to realise that generalisations about the voice are always that – generalisations.

Particular voices can have particular qualities and capacities, and this is an area of vocal work that desperately needs more research. It’s very difficult to understand why some voices can sustain so much more hard usage than others. It’s also difficult to know why (when the voice is being produced in a clear, open way) some vocalists seem to have unfailing endurance while others must keep a careful watch over the length of time they are singing for, or the strength and volume of sound they are producing. One of the first Rock bands I coached had three lead singers, an expensive but interesting option.

One of these lead singers was a young man who was passionate about Rod Stewart’s raspy vocal quality. He was convinced that Rod had damaged his voice through hard living, and that this damage was responsible for the wonderfully husky tone quality in Maggie May (he believed this track to be the greatest Rock recording of all time). In the summer of 1990, this singer set out on his one – man journey towards vocal disaster. Every night after his gigs, which didn’t generally finish until 2.00 a.m, he took himself of to the shores of Brighton and there, with a bottle of Gin, he would drink and sing at the top of his lungs for hours in a quest for vocal disaster. It was a fine plan, sandy but promising. He usually sang until he fell asleep. Occasionally some of his band mates would accompany him but it obviously wasn’t all that fascinating to watch. He stayed with it for most of July and August, but despite his best efforts, the results were disappointing. Worse than that, he found that his voice was stronger than ever and his one – time tendency to go hoarse on long nights or when he pushed notes particularly hard seemed to vanish completely. His voice remained disappointingly clear and certainly stronger, and I can still remember the suppressed laugh and the assumed solemnity all around the rehearsal room when he bitterly announced the failure of his nightly howling to the ocean.

What can we learn from this? To be honest, I’m not sure. This guy was young, his voice was obviously strong, perhaps the warmth and moisture of the ocean air in was a tonic of some sort? Maybe there was just something peculiarly strong in his vocal constitution that could accommodate this kind of ‘abuse’. I couldn’t begin to explain it. But I do know that general rules about voices have their limits. And I feel convinced that if this particular singer had gone to any singing teacher to describe his plan, the teacher’s reaction would no doubt have been panic. I am also convinced that if he had described the plan as one by which he intended to strengthen his vocal endurance (which is what, in the end, he achieved), a singing teacher would first have laughed and then have panicked.

In my own case, I knew that the amount of singing I was doing was staggering. Apart from performing five sets, six nights a week, we often put in four or five hours of practice sessions up to four times a week. I was singing extremely demanding Rock repertoire – some original – some cover versions, and I used to worry at times whether I would do some long-term damage to my voice. I worried about the long-term, because I could rarely ever see a problem in the short-term. The times when I did lose my voice were nearly always the result of one of two things: viral illnesses, or time off. The first seemed understandable to me; the second, mysterious. Most years, after the New Year, we would take a week or two off. When you’re working as a singer or musician there’s no such thing as paid holiday so time of is a rare thing. And as much as I looked forward to it, I always dreaded the inevitable vocal problems it would entail once we started up again. Inevitably; the first month after a two-week lay-off would be filled with difficulties – rearranging sets and material to cover the hoarseness and the temporarily limited range of my voice.

These days, I wouldn’t generally advise a student to keep singing, 40 to 50 hours a week, that many weeks out of the year, if they wish to maintain their vocal health. But for me, that was the recipe. I can’t explain it any more than I can explain the young singer’s “ocean therapy”.


Source by Meechelle Martin

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