Secrets of singers who shout their brains out?

Dear Alice,

I sing part-time in a rock and roll band. Recently, I formed a second band, and have been filling in vocally for a third. My voice is hoarse from overuse. My question is... how do professional rock and roll singers shout their brains out night after night and still retain any ability to stay in tune?

Dear Reader,

Yes, AC/DC, Bruce Springsteen, Green Day, Janis Joplin, and other renowned rock singer-shouters, present and past, do/did seem to go unscarred by this brand of vocalization, but they, too, go/went off key and off the tour because of throat and vocal cord ailments brought on by the strain of both singing and yelling. Keep in mind that all singers and their singing voices are different; notes and volumes that Mariah Carey might hit are out of your reach, and sounds and stylings that come out of you would elude the best of them. Pop and rock singers sometimes go the "shout, shout, let it all out" route because they can, and because they've been doing it for a while — perhaps with specialized training to minimize injury. And then there are anti-inflammatory drugs, such as cortisone, that enable them to harmonize right through irritation and illness, but only as a last resort.

You may not be a rock star? yet, but it looks like you have the performance schedule of one. Hopefully, you do what you can to take care of your voice and the rest of you with one or all of these chart-topping throat guards:

  • Hydrating with warmish, clear liquids when performing
  • Generally staying hydrated; in particular, no milk and other dairy products at least 24 hours before a performance. Regularly using humidifiers to moisten the surrounding air can be helpful, too.
  • Allowing your voice to rest between sets and shows
  • Getting your body used to your act through practice
  • Avoiding smoking, if you smoke, during all singing sessions

A singing coach might be able to train you to use your instrument in new and improved ways that will enable you to sing pain- and injury-free for longer stretches, not to mention boosting your existing talents. Rock on (with safety in mind)!

Last updated Jul 29, 2015
Originally published May 16, 2003

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