Sing It, Don't Shout It!
Sonnie is a professional musician and educator who teaches Singing, Classical Voice, Pop Voice, and more. She is available for online lessons on her Lessonface profile.
In our daily lives, shouting is not something we normally consider ourselves doing. Or is it?
You wouldn’t necessarily shout in a boardroom meeting during a presentation of the year’s projected numbers. But on the other hand, when you enter your house and shout “hi everyone,” it’s perfectly normal. In office jobs, unless severely injured, or surprised by a celebrity, there would be no reason to shout. However, in most other jobs there is shouting involved whether it be to draw attention to yourself, hail silence or to make a point.
Is shouting bad for you?
In the right situation, shouting is good for you. For example, if you are drowning, shouting is a highly effective way for people to realize that you need help and for them to ensure that you do, in fact, receive that help in your hour of need. However, if it is not for a lifesaving event or to release the pure agony of stepping on a Lego block, then shouting generally is not good for your voice. If you get a scratchy sensation in your throat when you shout (like when you eat dry bread without drinking water afterwards), then you can safely assume that it is bad for your voice. The reason being is that it creates friction in your vocal cords as they grate against each other instead of just vibrating against each other. This friction, if it occurs often enough can result in loss of voice, pain, and vocal damage such as nodes and polyps. This friction can be compared to scratching a mosquito bite. If you scratch it once and then leave it, it won’t leave a mark. However, if you scratch the same mosquito bite every day for a few minutes or even just for a few seconds, you are going to end up with a wound.
You might be thinking: “but I don’t shout that often.” Let’s look at the normal day of most parents. It usually starts with some form of shouting in terms of getting the kids out of bed, feeding them, making sure they are dressed, shouting at your spouse to find out if they know where the phone charger is. And then comes the morning traffic like hand sanitizer to a paper cut where we often shout, groan and moan at the woes of the daily commute. Finally, after a long day at work (where you would have shouted as well, especially in the teaching profession), you go home where the shouting continues as you find out where the kids are in the house, where your spouse is and what everyone wants for dinner; all of this after the second bout of groaning in daily traffic. By the end of a typical day, you might have exhausted and damaged your voice without even realizing it happened.
Luckily, there are ways to shout that are less harmful to your voice and these methods are more like singing than shouting. The benefits of this are that your voice does not get damaged, you still get the same intensity of sound, and you will have notably fewer experiences of your voice sounding like you just woke-up at 4 A.M. on a Monday morning to answer the phone.
So how can you sing it and not shout it?
Firstly, if you notice you are shouting or even just speaking with intent, and it feels like you are eating sand then you need to stop immediately and follow these steps:
• Take a deep breath to relax the vocal cords
• Lower your chin
• Tighten your stomach muscles slightly as you would when saying the letter “k” and then maintain that feeling.
• Squeeze your backside
• Imagine that you are about to say: “whoo-hoo”
• Then say or shout what you want to.
These techniques take the strain away from your vocal cords and allow your body to support the sound. It’s like the difference between standing on two feet instead of one. Lowering your chin takes tension away from the vocal cords, using your stomach muscles gives “body” to the sound and allows the energy to come from your core and not solely from your vocal cords. Squeezing your backside slightly helps to align your spine so that you have better posture, with the tension spread evenly throughout the body.
The sensations you should experience in your body are vibrations in your vocal cords and a little bit of tension in your stomach and butt (but not excessive amounts that make it uncomfortable). You should not feel any scratchiness or discomfort in the vocal cords. If you are unsure of what it should feel like you can put your lips together as though you are about to hum and then (with your lips closed) go: “whoo-hoo.” It should be a free, natural sound. The moment you feel like you are forcing the sound out of your body you have to stop as this will damage your voice.
So, the next time you want to shout to your family about who took the dog out or exclaim loudly and excitedly when your sports team has finally done something terribly right or terribly wrong, think about your voice. Everyone is always trying to sound like Batman or Gollum, but that is not necessarily the voice you want to have one day when talking to your new-born child or grandchild (“my precious…”). To avoid eventually sounding like either a dark hero or a creepy villain, keep your voice in mind as you go about your daily life. In this case, it might be better to change the old saying of: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” to “It’s not what you shout, but how you can sing it.”
Sonnie graduated from the University of Pretoria with a Bachelor degree of Music, specializing in music education, music therapy and singing. She received this degree with distinction and academic honors in 2015. In the same year she started her Master’s of Musicology degree and received a bursary to study music education in Finland for six months. During this time she specialized in music education, music therapy and indigenous music. In 2016 she was part of a team that compiled music textbooks for the South African CAPS (Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements) for grades 10-12.
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Wonderful, wonderful class. So much to learn. Sonnie is a patient, attentive vocal teacher and I look forward to her class each week!