Shrieking Versus Singing

It used to be that singing was easy to recognize. Not so much anymore. It used to be that we knew when someone was singing because there were recognizable cues. Not so much anymore. The lines continue to blur.

Why?

I don’t have an answer. All I can say is that it many factors have converged to make the various components in CCM singing looser, freer and less “formalized”.

High rock belters are definitely shrieking, but that’s because rock is often an extreme form now and the capacity to sing this way has evolved along with the style to become, finally, expected. Whether it’s Christina Aquilera or Steven Tyler screaming out some off-the-Richter Scale high note or some other power belter plowing through a gospel song, the sounds no longer shock as they did when we first heard them. Our ears have become used to such shrieking, for better or worse.

This is no different than any of the other extremes our society has come to accept as we drift further away from convention of all kinds and more towards chaos. The backlash from this drift is to become fearful, try to hold on to what is known, go back to what was before, and decide that the old way was better. You can see that in the ideas of the “right wing” conservatives and you can see it in governments. It is stagnant thinking and it is bound to fail.

On the other hand, order isn’t a bad thing and some kinds of structure are necessary in order for us to function in a healthy manner, both in our own lives and in the world at large. Singing only gorgeous, beautiful tones that are always just pleasant and appealing might be nice but it can also be boring and completely inappropriate to some CCM styles.

I tend to think we need all of it, but a measurement has to be there as well and that measurement is vocal health. You can shriek away as long as it doesn’t injure your vocal folds. You can make noise, sound scruffy or breathy, as long as it doesn’t cost you in terms of your ability to continue to sing well. You can avoid sustained tones, vibrato, clear undistorted vowels and have next to no special ideas about breathing and as long as you can still get the job done on a regular basis, you certainly can continue. On the other hand, if you want to invest in your own vocal well being and you have decided to sing for a living (or try to anyway), then you must, whether you like it or not, find a way to make sounds that suit your artistic vision that do not also hurt your voice while you sing. If you can shriek for hours and days on end and have an OK voice after you do, then the choice is yours for the having. If, however, you are like most people and can’t quite get away with such vocal behavior, you must discover what your vocal folds will do and what they won’t and work within that structure.

There are those who think that certain people have voices that are only good in a specific style….sort of a genetic disposition to gospel or rock or country. I don’t believe that at all. There are those who think that any kind of shriek, scream, yell, shout or exclamation is automatically harmful. I don’t believe that either. BUT, I do think that if you constantly shriek you run a high risk of vocal damage, and if you continue to ignore the toll of singing full out, you make that risk even greater.

I never had any desire to sing rock music nor to be a shrieker. I never had any interest in being a gospel belter, but I know many people who did have those desires and some of them were able to see those desires come to pass. I am more personally inclined to like “pretty” singing more than shrieking, but all of these things are just my individual preferences, not “the way it should be”.

If you are going to sing something “shrieky” and you intend to do so repeatedly and for a long period of time, you have to condition your vocal folds to maintain those sounds without injury. If you might also sing something that is warmer and more intimate, you might find that getting that to happen requires you to let go of the shrieking, at least temporarily, and lighten into head. The only way to know is through trial and error. Where does the speaking end and the singing begin? Where does the normal singing end and the exaggerated singing begin? When are you singing and when are you shrieking. Only you can decide.

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