Extreme Singing

Originally published on March 13, 2011 on www.voicecouncil.com

heavy metal singer with distortion and rough vocal effects

Whether you are a Twanger, Belter or Distortionist, Dane Chalfin asks: are you making your signature sounds without damaging your voice?

Are You An Extreme Singer?

There are many singers who live comfortably within the normal parameters of folk, jazz and commercial pop; these vocalists use speech-based sound mixed in with some lighter qualities. In this series, however, I want to address any singing that is over and above your normal speaking range, volume and stamina requirements.

We start moving into ‘extreme’ territory when vocal effects come into play, such as twang, belting, distortion or other effects that add a powerful and often “signature” quality to the voice. Just think of the bright, edgy sounds you hear in country gospel, musical theatre or hard rock genres; or, think of artists such as Patti LaBelle, Axl Rose and Stevie Wonder.

extreme singing with extended vocal techniques like twang belting and distortion

Why is extreme singing so effective?

In scientific terms, twang, for example, produces an increased acoustic energy between 2.5 and 4 kilohertz; the human hear is very sensitive to this range and it increases the perceived sound from 6 to 20 decibels. Still, this effectiveness is of no real value if you blow your voice out reaching for these important sounds!

Are You a Twanger?

To produce “Twang” all you have to do is make any one of these sounds: –  A quacking duck –  An annoying playground taunt –  A screaming baby –  A hungry cat –  A happy witch –  Bugs Bunny

Here is what you must remember: there should be no sense of additional effort on the voice as the muscles doing it are above the vocal folds. Twang is produced not in the vocal folds but in the aryepiglottic sphincter (AES or “twanger”) and pharynx.

vocal twang is produces by the narrowing of the aryepiglottic sphincter and pharyngeal wall to boost singing projection

Twang becomes harsher and more scream-like the higher you take it in the range – this is why it is a favored sound of gospel singers and hard rock bands like hair-metal. High piercing screams are a twang quality or twang set up. The danger singers get into with twang is that, for the larynx, it closely resembles swallowing and sometimes the larynx can be tricked into constricting, the way it does during a swallow. When vocalists come to me with damaged voices, due in part to badly produced twang, I stress that they need to produce this sound without extra effort; I teach them to over-ride this with de-constricting exercises such as holding the feeling of a stifled laugh when singing.

The larynx must be high to produce a good pop/rock twang, so traditional yawn/sigh? exercises for de-constricting are not appropriate here.

Whether it’s twanging, belting or distortion, your voice needs to work smarter, not harder -says Dane Chalfin

One of the principles that I hope emerges throughout this series has to do with redefining the term “work” in the phrase “vocal work”.It seems that many vocalists think that if they have pain when they sing, that they are working hard. It is so important to realize that although there can be much muscular work in your body involved in your signature sounds, each of these sounds must be produced in ways that have no adverse effects on your vocal folds – this includes belting.

Are You a Belter?

Singers who favor belting include Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Bono and even Pavarotti.

Belting is a term that gets thrown around liberally and means different things to different people. According to various research, including my own, we can see that belting is very similar to, if not the same as yelling or calling out.

belting safely when singing loudly