To Oversing or Sing …

Lots of things can contribute to oversinging; from a lack of technical training to performance nerves or a desire to wow audiences. Singing a song that’s uncomfortably out of your vocal range or imitating the vocal quality of other singers also can lead to oversinging.

Oversinging often happens at rehearsals. It can show up in choir rehearsals, but is particularly rampant anywhere a singer is singing with or “over” (pun intended) other instruments. Singers working with amplified instruments should ALWAYS be amplified, too. (You have my permission to be obnoxious about this. *smile* ~sg)

Also, for many of us, when we are unsure of our parts, we sing louder in an effort to hear ourselves better. As the rehearsal goes on, we sing louder and louder. By the end, we feel fatigued. But, oversinging can be about more than just singing too loudly.

So wait … What is oversinging?

The term oversinging is used widely, but loosely. It can have many interpretations, but generally these interpretations fall into two categories. I call them vocal oversinging and stylistic oversinging.

Vocal Oversinging

In terms of vocal production, an oversinger’s vocal tone is pressed, pinched, stained or constricted. In extreme cases, it sounds like it hurts. And the audience may feel like the singer is shouting or screaming at them. *wince*

You can hear these qualities in your voice when you push the “chest voice” (aka the second register) up beyond its optimum function. It feels – and sounds!– like you are pushing your voice uphill (or that at any moment something might pop *grimace*). You may feel like you cannot control your voice, your face gets red or the veins on the side of your neck stand out. (All signs that you are working too hard!)

We sometimes talk about oversinging as singing “from the throat” (I sometimes call this kind of singing “chesting it out” in reference to the chest voice). Appropriate vocal technique produces the sound using the support of the diaphragm and optimum coordination of the muscles of the larynx. With good vocal technique, our pitches are still loud, but they sound clearer and effortless. (They still have intensity, but they’re easier on us. *smile*)

Sometimes the terms belting and oversinging are interchanged, but belting is a distinct and, at times, appropriate vocal technique. Oversinging is not.

Vocal oversinging can cause, at best, an unpleasant experience for the listener and, at worst, vocal damage.

Stylistic Oversinging

Perhaps overworking or overdoing would be a better term for this kind of oversinging. In this case, the singer uses too many ornaments or affectations, adding so much stuff to a melodic line that it becomes unrecognizable. I call this the “American Idol syndrome.” The song becomes a vehicle for demonstrating vocal tricks rather than communicating the song’s message to an audience. (Given this definition, even instrumentalists can “oversing.”)

Usually, we open our bag of vocal tricks when we are not sure we can impress the audience with “just” our singing. Plus, oversinging can feel powerful and audiences respond to it. (Listen to the crowd roar when Ms. Aguilera puts it into high gear at 1’01”) Who among us hasn’t gotten a thrill when we see somebody really “sangin?” I have a singer friend who says, “You wanna make a crowd go wild? Just sing bigger and higher. Bigger and higher.”

But bigger and higher can take its toll on the singer. Those of us with lighter voices must resist the urge to oversing vocally. If we force our voices too hard and too often, we can do damage.

Those of us with big voices must temper the urge to oversing stylistically. Just because you can sing loud, high, etc., doesn’t mean that that’s what’s always best for the song. An important job of singers (well, all artists really) is to reconcile how something feels for us with how it impacts the receiver.

Good vocal technique takes a lot of the work out of singing (it’s supposed to!), but it won’t remove passion or intensity. This lack of effort can take some getting used to. I had a teacher who told me that, as I mastered my technique, it would feel like I was hardly singing. (She was right.) It is when we let go of working too hard or doing to much that we can really sing. *smile*~sg

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