A common myth reverberating in our modern society is the value placed on “Big Singing.” Even I used to wear it as a badge of pride when my choir directors would tell me I was singing too loud. I would say, “Well, I can’t help it. I just have a big voice.”
The truth was that I had no choice but to sing big because my muscles were overloaded. My embarrassment and my ego chose to take this criticism as a good thing. Now I know my voice better and can use it more appropriately in each environment.
At any given moment, we have a certain size and weight of voice that is the max. When we go beyond this limit, we are singing too heavy and big, with too much “weight” and too much volume. Our vocal cords are quite literally being over-used (set up in a “too big” state) for the given pitch. Remember, there is an exact length, width, and depth of vocal cords vibrating to produce any given pitch.
In order to “support” that excessive vocal weight, we have to then begin a vicious cycle of singing or “yelling” louder to attempt to secure the pitch. We increase the airflow and work really hard. This causes the cords to be even bigger in reaction to this air. At some point the stretcher and closer muscles cannot hold against the big cords and intensely forced air. The muscles buckle under the strain with results like flatness or sharpness, wobble or tremolo, loss of breath, distorted vowels, and an inability to articulate consonants. We usually also look like we are straining: all red in the face with bulging veins.
What’s the alternative?
What is needed is to learn how to sing “smart.” This means singing within the capacity of your body. When we do this, our voice will carry, words will be understood, and we will be on pitch and in tune. The goal of singing is to express with our vocal instruments what is in our hearts and minds so as to share that with others in a way that is meaningful. This goal can be achieved healthily. We do not have to bellow and yell and sing too big. We can sing smart!
Singing smart requires that you understand the basics of how the voice works so you don’t get in the way of its natural processes. Then, you can work diligently to create a balanced voice that fulfills the demands of the repertoire and does so in a sustainable and beautiful way. I’m all for competition, but would like to suggest that you compete against yourself for personal goals and inflate your ego by being the most reliable singer and musician you can be.
Bigger isn’t better. Smarter is better.