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I don't know if this is related to singing specifically, but I noticed that when I am singing and I hit a powerful, held note, pushing all of my vocal power forward (to the point of slightly affecting my hearing), I often get dizzy and feel pins and needles in my limbs. Does this mean I am singing wrong or doing something incorrectly? Naturally this worries me that I am getting nauseous.

I must add that I am not vocally trained, purely learning by ear as I have for drumming.

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    Something similar can be achieved if you breathe rapidly, then hold your breath and exert pressure with your diaphragm. I'm not sure of the exact terminology. Are you eating plenty? Does your throat hurt if you do it quite a lot? – Dave Engineer Apr 27 '15 at 15:18
  • yeah I eat quite regularly and my throat does ache a bit... – ThunderToes Apr 27 '15 at 15:32
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Not only is this quite normal for a singer, it can actually be a sign that you're breathing correctly in the more intense passages. I first experienced it when learning to breathe from the diaphragm when I first began taking voice lessons. When we sing intensely, we tend to go through a lot of air. Compared to normal breathing, this looks an awful lot like hyperventilating... which is precisely what it is.

The effect you're describing is called respiratory alkalosis. It's a normal response to hyperventilation: you're expelling carbon dioxide from your body more quickly than it's being produced. This overwhelms your blood's pH buffering system and leads your blood to be slightly alkaline compared to normal (carbon dioxide in solution is quite acidic, which is why Coca-Cola and other fizzy drinks are so acidic).

This effect is not at all dangerous for an otherwise healthy person, although it can be unpleasant and even scary. You do stand a risk of fainting if you overdo it, but you will faint long before you cause any kind of real damage. (I'm not a doctor, but I confirmed this information with one.)

This should improve somewhat with practice, both due to tolerance to the effect and due to learning to be more economical with your breathing. If it continues to bother you, do some exercises specifically designed to conserve air while singing (one such exercise is to deliberately sing a passage for as long as possible without taking another breath -- start with 2 or 4 bars and work your way up).

All this said, if you experience frequent dizzy or fainting spells when breathing normally, or if this doesn't improve at all with practice, it's always better to see your doctor and get a medical opinion specific to you.


Edit

The previously-mentioned doctor had this to add: "The only other thing is that if he's trying to force out the note [i.e. singing with some restriction in the throat], he's doing a modified Valsalva, which stimulates the vagus nerve. That drops blood pressure, causes nausea and lightheadedness as well."

Singing with restriction in your throat, which is a common, but incorrect way of getting a more intense sound can also cause this. Still not dangerous, but potentially a sign of incorrect technique in some contexts.

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    To recover quickly from hyperventilating, use a small paper bag. Bunch it up near the opening so you can breathe in and out as though it were a balloon. Blow it up as you exhale, and when you breathe in, try to pull the air out of the bag. – aparente001 Apr 28 '15 at 4:56
  • Thanks for this, I am happy that it isn't dangerous and happier still that it suggests I'm singing correctly. When I started out singing I was always told not to strain or constrict my throat so that has been conditioned in my mind. I'll just have to manage breathing better as you suggested. Thanks Again! – ThunderToes Apr 28 '15 at 7:50
  • Try @aparente001's suggestion when you experience it. If you have any doubt, have a couple of sessions with a vocal coach. They'll be able to give you better and more specific advice about this and other things. – Greg Jackson Apr 28 '15 at 7:54
  • @aparente001 Just out of curiosity how do you get the section breaker in your answer above the edit section – ThunderToes Apr 28 '15 at 13:12
  • There's a button for a horizontal rule in the editor, which inserts "----------" on its own line. – Greg Jackson Apr 28 '15 at 19:22
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It may mean that your brain doesn't get enough oxygen, which indicates poor breathing technique or naturally low blood pressure (assuming you're otherwise healthy, otherwise you should see a doctor).

But it may also be psychological, here's a related anecdote:

In the early years of my career, one night I went on stage without eating a proper meal all day. Towards the end, while singing the bridge of Radiohead's Creep ("she run, run, run, ruuuun" part) I felt dizzy. My vision, my hearing and my balance were almost completely gone, I had to gently sit down to avoid a fall. I also felt the pins and needles you describe. I have naturally low blood pressure, so luckily I was familiar with the feeling and I didn't injure myself. I've been very careful about eating properly on performance days ever since.

The weird thing is, it kept happening. At the exact same spot of the exact same song! Even though I was able to sing much harder parts by then, for some reason I had a great difficulty singing that part. It went on for years before gradually disappearing. I guess my negative expectation was creating a self fulfilling prophecy.

I still sing that song sitting down (or even lying down) because now people think it's part of my stage routine. Well, now you know the real story of how it begun :)

  • The effect is not due to a lack of oxygen, but rather a lack of carbon dioxide. It's definitely a phenomenon with a solid root in physiology, even if there's some psychological aspect to it. See my answer for details. – Greg Jackson Apr 27 '15 at 22:33
  • Fair enough! (and great answer btw). – cyco130 Apr 27 '15 at 22:40
  • @GregJackson Isn't the lack of CO2 the cause of lack of oxygen, or is that incorrect? I had believed that since the body is cued to breathe by detecting the CO2, a lack of CO2 means the body forgets that it has to breathe. – awe lotta 5 hours ago
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I only have a shared experience to share but a theory as to why it happens, so I hope to shed some light on the issue here. I like to sing karaoke while driving and there are some songs that I just "run out of air" with and start to feel dizzy when singing which is super dangerous while driving so I am acutely aware of this. If you are wondering while reading this, I have learned how to not actually pass out while driving because I can just recognize "losing air" quicker now. I am pretty sure it's just a lack of breathing in which could be based on the lyrics and the style of music. Meaning, if there is a long sentence or lyric that doesn't have a stop for a breath in it, and it repeats several times in a row like that in a verse, then by the end of that verse, you would not have breathed in as much compared to a normal song lyric with shorter words per verse and you just lacking oxygen from not breathing as much as you may normally be when singing a song with a lot of 'breath-breaks" in it. In conclusion, I am pretty sure this all has to do with the lyrics and the amount of breathing out versus breathing in is actually going on and when breathing out while singing happens more often than breathing in, voila, you have less oxygen going into your body system and you get symptoms of oxygen deprecation which is dizziness, fainting, loss of sight, all simply due to a lack of oxygen. However, this is just my theory.

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