Are You Shouting Instead Of Belting? Try This!
Reading Time: 4 min
Reading Time: 4 min
This shouting or singing with too much effort comes from tension and strain in your throat. This tension could come from a couple different places, so let’s take a look at six possible causes for tension and what you can do to release it.
One of the biggest factors I see in singers when they are working too hard to create powerful notes is the vocal folds squeezing together too much. When the vocal folds are closing too tightly it’s difficult for your air to flow through. You can think of your air as being the car for your voice - you need it to get the sound out. If there’s not enough air flowing through the vocal folds because they are squeezing together too much, then you’ll often fall flat on the note and you feel like you’re working super hard.
To combat these overly tight vocal folds you want to practice singing with a breathy voice. Of course that won’t be the final sound that we’re going for, but it will help you decompress the vocal folds and sing with more ease. You can always add the power back in once you’re feeling that breath flow.
Be mindful of your abs squeezing! Did you know that your abs and your vocal folds are (sort of) connected? When you’re squeezing your abs, your vocal folds will squeeze together too! So instead of thinking you have to squeeze your abs to “support your breath”, just focus on consistently letting the breath flow. I personally like to think about keeping my ribs out as much as I can while I’m exhaling to help me not squeeze my abs.
The thickness of your vocal folds also plays a factor. The vocal folds can only be long and thin or short and thick. If we want to belt higher notes, then we have to let the vocal folds stretch out and thin out, otherwise you’ll go flat! The thickness of the vocal folds is a big factor in vocal strength or power, but it’s not the only one so don’t ONLY rely on your vocal folds to create power. Adjust your vocal tract accordingly as well, to get you those belt qualities you’re looking for, without sounding shouty. To help you thin out your vocal folds, only sing at 80% of the volume. That’s my rule of thumb when it comes to singing in general - 80% is my new 100%. You’re not actually going to be any less loud or less powerful, you’ll get the same exact effect, but with 20% less effort. It’s that extra 20% that’s making you feel exhausted and there’s no need for that!
Be mindful of the position of the larynx. While we do need to let the larynx come up when we sing contemporary music, we need to make sure it doesn’t get stuck too high in the throat. A high larynx encourages firmer vocal fold closure (which was the first thing we talked about!). To help you drop your larynx, inhale through a yawn. Yawning lowers the larynx and functions almost like a reset button for your voice.
Watch the shape of your mouth! Of course we need to open the mouth when we belt to get all that sound to come out. But if you feel like you’re shouting and it’s difficult to control the pitch and the volume, then you might be overly spreading your mouth. To combat that, work on narrow vowels like EE and UH for a while to keep your mouth shape in check, and then slowly but surely open the vowels up while still trying to maintain an open, but not spread mouth shape.
Then of course we have a few muscles in our face and neck that like to engage when we sing that work against us. The major three being the jaw, tongue and neck. To release tension in the jaw, try holding it still with your hands as you’re singing. For the tongue I love doing tongue stretches to keep it from retracting (pulling back) too much. To release the neck I like to take my hands and literally hold down my neck muscles or do a small pendulum swing to keep them from tightening up.
I was struggling with this shouty undertone for probably a good decade. This caused me to constantly lose my voice until I eventually had to go to the ENT to check on any vocal injuries due to the constant abuse and misuse of my voice. Sure enough, I had vocal pre-nodules and needed to go to vocal therapy. That’s when I knew I needed to change things.
I sought out the best coaches, therapists and resources that I could get my hands on to turn my voice around. It wasn’t until I understood WHY I had this shouty undertone and why I was working so hard to get those sounds out that I could change my behavior.
The list above is a great entry point to understand why certain things might be happening in your singing. If this is interesting to you and you’d like to dig deeper into this topic and get tons of exercises to practice all these ways to release tension and sing with more ease, then check out my brand new online course The Effortless Singer. I’ll help you sing without strain so that you can express with freedom.