Weekly Teaching Tip 6/6/11
Question: I went to the U2 concert on Tuesday (amazing!) But I was watching him and the way he sang. It seemed to me that he was yelling, but his voice never tired… Is that just talent or is that developed? I can kinda yell like that when I sing but it feels really uncomfortable. Like I have to switch the way I sing… Anyway, I just wanted your opinion. I am trying to get more power in my voice while still sounding good.
Answer: I haven’t really analyzed Bono’s voice particularly, but there are probably several factors that contribute to this. First, is the natural quality of his voice and vocal folds. He seems to have a naturally raspy sound to his voice. Perhaps his vocal folds are more naturally flexible, tougher, rougher and they can withstand more pressure and abuse than you or I could. Also, many singers have “natural narrowing” because of the shapes of the vocal apparatus that maybe you and I don’t have. We need to narrow our vowels and since they are naturally more narrow inside they are not required to narrow their vowels as much.
So, there are many factors that contribute to vocal quality and volume. Perhaps he’s not “yelling” as much as it seems, and perhaps his body is built to better handle some abuse. Either way, he would definitely be better off to sing with good technique and not abuse his voice. We all have a “natural sound” to our voice that determines our sound and unfortunately our limitations. However, by having better technique we can get the most out of our voice that we can. My father had a big voice, my brother has a big voice. I, on the other hand, got my mother’s smaller, weaker voice. However, by understanding and developing my voice I am still the best singer in the family, even though I was not blessed with the best instrument. Because I have a “lighter” voice I cannot withstand the abuse that my brother with the bigger voice can withstand so there is less room in my technique for error than when he sings. He can abuse and get away with a lot more than I can. Also, many times a rock singer just sings on the vocal “fry” and so they are able to get a very aggressive sound that sounds like yelling when there is actually not very much pressure on the voice at all.
Other factors can also contribute to being able to sing with more stress, for example, more moisture in the voice and rest between performances. Ultimately a singer must learn what his or her voice can handle and realize that a voice is flesh and blood and not wood and metal so development and care must be taken. Once a voice is in good shape and there is good control and technique there are many things a singer can do to get different qualities of sound to make their voice more interesting and sound better and stronger. Remember however that singing is more about balance and coordination, and less about strength and muscle. Don’t ever try and force your voice as this can lead to vocal abuse and damage. Also, try and sing the style of music that your vocal quality seems to fit best. You find very few flutes or violins in Rock music, although you can find a few.