AC/DC is hard to sing!
April 10, 2006 5:54 PM   Subscribe

Singers... I need your advice on vocal care.

I've been a full-time singer/musician for many years. I thought I knew every trick in the book on vocal chord treatments.

I know about ginger root juices, the value of sleep, water and proper diet. The old honey and lemon tea and the importance of warming up the vocal chords before a show.

I formed a new band recently and the vocal demands are very distressing to my vocal chords. I am performing in Las Vegas and the climate is hard on the chords. (I sleep with a humidifier in my bedroom)

I know the classical singing methods, if done properly don't cause wear and tear on vocal chords, but Rock singers can't be so classy.

Any new proven advice or tricks on keeping my singing voice in top form would be greatly appreciated.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I did a pretty comprehensive post on vocal care here a while back.

If you're warming up, hydrating yourself sufficiently (the whole "tea and honey" thing is old-wives-tale-ish, water is best) and not oversinging then you're doing the important stuff already. What specific problems are you experiencing right now?
posted by the_bone at 6:22 PM on April 10, 2006


You want to be drinking room temperature water, too. You don't want your throat to get cold.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:24 PM on April 10, 2006


Oh man, I just noticed the title... was that a joke, or are you singing AC/DC covers?
posted by ludwig_van at 6:24 PM on April 10, 2006


It looks extraordinarily dorky and I can't personally vouch for it, having not used it myself, but I've seen The Pop Singer's Warm-Up Kit...recommended on the Tape Op message boards. It's cheap, and it comes with a CD so you have something to practice along with, so I think it's worth trying out. Really, there's no substitute for vocal exercise.

Stuff like refraining from smoking, drinking lemony stuff, refraining from soda and caffeine in general, muffling your throat in the cold, etc...all of that's great, but it's really warming up with exercises that help your cords stretch and relax that makes all the difference.

I'd also advise voice lessons if you can swing them. It helps to have an experienced coach on hand to correct posture, breathing, and pitch, and just generally help you correct things you might not be able to hear yourself. Having private lessons really stretched my range and helped me correct some bad habits I'd developed. Good luck!
posted by melissa may at 6:28 PM on April 10, 2006


Oh yeah, thanks for pointing that out ludwig van, because holy hell dude, I've tried to sing some AC/DC a time or two just screwing around, and ended up sounding like I was being strangled by Death his ownself. Warm up! You wouldn't start a sprint cold, and singing that powerfully and high is the vocal equivalent.
posted by melissa may at 6:33 PM on April 10, 2006


Oh man, I just noticed the title... was that a joke, or are you singing AC/DC covers?
posted by ludwig_van at 6:24 PM PST on April 10 [mark as best answer] [!]


Actually we are doing a wide range of covers. We are a cover band performing in corporate/convention venues. Our materiel covers the gambit from late 1950's to today, and yes, we do AC/DC songs in almost every show (just 1, sometimes 2) Our usual audience ranges from late 30's to 50's.

Surprisingly, AC/DC is easier to sing than many other songs. I use a doubler vocal effect combined with a rough(grinding) falcetto voice for the AC/DC songs.

I'm just experience general horseness and a lowering of my vocal range.

I took a year hiatus from perorming and now my voice just doesn't seem to have the endurance it had a year ago.

I have heard that my normal speaking voice could be causing as much wear and tear on my chords as singing.
I read in some book that used President Clinton as an example of someone who has a speaking style that causes daily irratation to the vocal chords. This is a subject I'd like to know more about.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 6:40 PM on April 10, 2006


I'd also advise voice lessons if you can swing them. It helps to have an experienced coach on hand to correct posture, breathing, and pitch, and just generally help you correct things you might not be able to hear yourself. Having private lessons really stretched my range and helped me correct some bad habits I'd developed. Good luck!
posted by melissa may at 6:28 PM PST on April 10 [mark as best answer] [!]


Music lessons I have had. Unfortunately, much of Rock music singing breaks all the rules of music lessons.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 6:43 PM on April 10, 2006


Well, assuming you are singing that kind of screamy stuff, I'd recommend trying to find a voice teacher who specializes in rock and pop. My current voice teacher is that sort, although my singing style is generally quite pure and not screamy, so I can't offer much advice myself. But my teacher doesn't try and shoehorn me into a classical style, and I know there are other teachers like that out there. If you find one, he should be able to give you tips on how to perform that sort of music without hurting your voice.

The way I've heard it described by people who sing like that and live to tell about is that it's like playing football - you're going to be taking blows, but if you learn to flex and roll with them you can minimize the damage you're doing to yourself. If you're not properly prepared, however, you're liable to get hurt.

In more of a quick fix vein, and forgive me if this is too obvious, but I'd recommend transposing songs if they aren't in a comfortable range. The audience is not likely to notice that the song isn't in the original key (but they are likely to notice if it's not in a key that's ideal for your voice) and even a half step transposition can make a huge difference, especially if you're performing night after night.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:44 PM on April 10, 2006


A couple more things:

Regarding "classical" vocal technique and rock singing: There's no reason that you can't fall back on that stuff even when you're singing rock. Breathing, using the diaphragm and abdominal muscles to manage the breath, opening up your throat... you don't need to discard these critical techniques just because you're singing "Back In Black." The technique needn't change; just the style. Try using a really energized, frontally-placed falsetto where possible. It will take practice to make that sound "rock," but it's better than screaming and being hoarse for a couple of days afterward.

A brief and non-comprehensive list of things you can do in order to keep your voice in good shape: Limit alcohol/caffeine consumption; try to avoid cigarette smoke when possible (which may be hard to do in Vegas); warm up your middle register first, and then warm up the higher/lower ends; get a really good monitor so you don't oversing for lack of being able to hear yourself; take a couple of "pick-up" lessons from someone who works with rock singers.

Keep in mind that your voice might not necessarily be the best voice to sing this style of music. I've taught singers for a number of years now, and when I tried to sing in an AC/DC-esque style just now I sounded like Adam Sandler doing a bad Axl Rose impression. Know your strengths and avoid your weaknesses wherever possible.
posted by the_bone at 6:44 PM on April 10, 2006


Music lessons I have had. Unfortunately, much of Rock music singing breaks all the rules of music lessons.

I don't think it has to, though. Bend the rules, but not break them. I think that's the only way to do it if you want to keep singing in the long term. But again, I'd recommend finding a voice teacher who'll specifically work with you on this sort of thing.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:45 PM on April 10, 2006


Ah, should have previewed.

Decreased range/general hoarseness/prolonged warmup time can indicate that there's some medical issue... I'm not a doctor, but it sounds to me that there might be some concerns with acid reflux. Try to see an otolaryngologist if you have insurance, and follow all the rules for avoiding reflux.

Further, because you live in a desert you probably need to drink much more water than you currently do. When people say "8 to 10 glasses a day," that's really a minimum figure. Don't drink so much that you develop problems, but you're only going to help keep your voice in shape if you increase your water intake.
posted by the_bone at 6:49 PM on April 10, 2006


ludwig_van is wise. You can break the rules sometimes and get away with it, but not forever. There's plenty of rock singers who've developed nodes and other permanent vocal damage who can attest to that.

Now that you've clarified a bit, go get your cords checked out by a specialist to make sure you don't have any nodes or other problems developing. Then, get a teacher specializing in rock/pop. Mine didn't, but still -- what I learned about head and chest voice, breath control, and exercising my voice has served me in good stead singing rock and pop and pretty damn loud in general.
posted by melissa may at 6:52 PM on April 10, 2006


Good advice Ludwig. Thanks. I have great access to pro vocal teachers (my day job is in a music school)

But transposing some songs too much loses so much of the feeling for me.

The way Elton John performs his old rocker songs in concert today is almost embarrassing because of his dramatic transposing. (the DVD - Don't Go Breakin' My Heart with Kiki Dee in Madison Square Garden 2000 for example)

I really think that my normal speaking voice could be causing damage and I have no idea how to change that. I speak in a rather big voice.

Coffee to me is like crack to a crack-head, so I won't be giving that up.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 6:58 PM on April 10, 2006


SJ, I know what you mean about transposing, but it took me awhile to realize that it's not really about where the song lies in absolute pitch, but where it lies relative to one's voice. It works in both directions, too. There's no way I can sing lots of Magnetic Fields songs in their original keys - they're much too low. But I can move them around until I find the right place in my voice that brings out the same sort of character that's present in the original song. That may mean moving it up a perfect fourth or fifth, but again, all the audience cares about is that it sounds good in my voice, not Stephin Merritt's.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:05 PM on April 10, 2006


ludwig_van is wise. You can break the rules sometimes and get away with it, but not forever. There's plenty of rock singers who've developed nodes and other permanent vocal damage who can attest to that.

Now that you've clarified a bit, go get your cords checked out by a specialist to make sure you don't have any nodes or other problems developing. Then, get a teacher specializing in rock/pop. Mine didn't, but still -- what I learned about head and chest voice, breath control, and exercising my voice has served me in good stead singing rock and pop and pretty damn loud in general.
posted by melissa may at 6:52 PM PST on April 10 [mark as best answer] [!]


Yes Melissa, I have had that checked out. I have a very sensitive gag reflex, so it was not easy that day the doctor stuck his camera gizmo down my throat.

The diagnosis was extreme irritation due to over-use, cigarettes, no sleep, drinking and smoking cigs and being in a dry climate. Thank God I had no polyps.

But THE GOOD NEWS< for those who may read this thread in the future, is that vocal polyp removal is now done with laser surgery similar to Lasik eye surgery. The results are mush better than the old surgical methods.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 7:07 PM on April 10, 2006


Well, if worse comes to worse and I lose my singing voice comepletely, maybe I can become the 1st 39 year old white rapper.
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 7:20 PM on April 10, 2006


Something worth mentioning, I believe, is the Neti Pot.

Although many think it's weird it really helps with allergies, illness and, believe it or not, your voice. I sing as well, though not full time, and I've noticed a big difference. Plus with all the other benefits you really can't go wrong!

Just use it for 30 seconds on each nostril in the shower or before bed, wherever it's easiest.
posted by freudianslipper at 7:22 PM on April 10, 2006


Avoid whispering when you're trying to go easy on your voice--it can actually be harsher on your vocal chords than speaking quietly.
posted by stray at 8:24 PM on April 10, 2006


Stay away from smoky bars. New Orleans killed my singing voice.
posted by radioamy at 8:46 PM on April 10, 2006


One important thing that hasn't been mentioned yet in this thread: avoid dairy right before a show. It generates phlegm. You don't want to be hocking any loogies into the front row.
posted by wsg at 11:57 PM on April 10, 2006


One important thing that hasn't been mentioned yet in this thread: avoid dairy right before a show. It generates phlegm. You don't want to be hocking any loogies into the front row.
posted by wsg at 11:57 PM PST on April 10 [marked as best answer | unmark] [!]


Only when we cover a G.G. Allin song.
(God rest his nasty soul)
posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 12:17 AM on April 11, 2006


Not very in-depth, but I heard this the other day on Fresh Air: Learning to Scream, on Cue and in Key.
posted by owen at 7:28 AM on April 11, 2006


Maybe not a long-term solution but I have found throat coat tea to be a lifesaver on rough nights.
posted by raider at 4:40 PM on April 11, 2006


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