Complete Question – Hi! thanks you all so much for providing this information. I sing in a psychedelic rock band. I really enjoy taking power and a thick sound up into really high notes. I also like to like to scream like a blues musician. I was trained as an opera singer. Went to university of Michigan. I never had any pain or problems when singing, but since I started screaming and growling and such I’m in pretty bad pain afterwards. It seems obvious, I know – scream, and your voice will hurt. But, I want to know how singers like Janis Jopline, or James Brown, or Robert Plant, or scream singers in emo bands or Howling Wolf or Screamin Jay Hawkins ad infinitum seemed to be able to scream like bats our of hell and then sing beautifully night after night. What can I do? I don’t want to give up the gravel and scream, I just want to know if there is a way to do it properly. ~ Rachel
Hey Rachel,

I’ve definitely gotten this question a few times, and wondered the same thing a few years back. I’ve explored this area of singing, and have found a few things to be true in my experience.

1. There are definitely better ways to create much more aggressive sounds while singing. At first I couldn’t create a sound like that without being tired and sore almost immediately, but I have found a few ways to create that sound more consistently without it being painful.

2. In my experience, while I can do this type of singing without it being too stressful, I do tire out more quickly, and I really have to focus on doing a handful of different things right in order to maintain it for any period of time. Vocal balance is key, as well as being very gracious with air (more specifically, not clamping down on the cords so that only very little are can pass through). Allowing this air to flow more freely prevents issues like stop glottals, and over squeezing while creating that aggressive sound. Both of these can tire you out super fast.

3. I’m conscious of what I do, and back off it if I need to. While there are better ways of creating epic growling vocals, it’s still somewhat strenuous on the voice. So, I really make it a point not not to over do it. Now, I don’t perform much anymore, but I am a teacher, and that means I’m singing 6-8 hours a day. That’ll tire out any singer. So, perhaps I’m more conservative than I should be, but I have to make sure not to push my voice too far, otherwise I’m going to be worn out. My rule is if you’re tired, rest. It’s that simple.

When it comes to the actual technique, I think finding vocal balance first is vitally important, and then you can start merging your way into that more aggressive sound either through the use of vocal fry, or an aggressive pharyngeal sound. I describing how to do this online is nearly impossible. It’s really going to take a lot of playing with it. But here are a few ideas…

– Allow the sound to drop into place from above instead of pulling up from below.

– Keep in mind that you can often times find the aggressive sound you’re looking for in a super light voice, and then lean into it. So try that first.

– Definitely be sure you’re well hydrated, and you can even use things like dairy to cover the cords. This is something that can help me.

Anyway, I hope this helps. Best of luck with finding more ease in that aggressive sound.

~ Ken

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