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One way I fulfill my desire to perform music is by playing in a band and a duo as the lead singer (with my guitar). We play mostly cover songs.

Some shows last as long as four hours but the average gig is 3 hours with at least one ten to fifteen minute break. I find that if I sing mostly songs that don't require me to reach into my upper vocal range, I can sing again the next day.

But if I end up singing a few songs that require me to hit many notes in the upper end of my range, the next day my vocal chords are tight and I have to push hard to get any sound out. I suppose you could say I'm hoarse. The effect is similar to having the reeds on your harmonica tighten up and you have to blow harder to get any sound out.

What is it about singing high notes that seems to put more stress on the vocal chords than low notes?

Aside from avoiding the high notes altogether, is there anything I can do to reduce the stress that results from singing higher notes? I have already transposed many of the songs we perform to lower keys - but there is a limit to how low you can sing certain songs and have them still sound authentic. I am not doing any screaming, growling or grunting, just normal singing.

Are there any specific microphone techniques, warm up exercises, or exercises in general - that I can utilize to alleviate this problem. If I can't sing and have to cancel a show - the entire band suffers. Any advice would be appreciated.

  • How close are you getting to the lower end of your range compared to the upper? I'm by no means capable of singing in a band, but I find getting really low to be much harder on my voice than getting high. I can imagine that using more energy to produce higher pitches would be more tiring, though. – Matthew Read May 21 '15 at 14:31
  • @MatthewRead I routinely hit my lowest possible note that I can sing when I sing Garth Brooks Friends in Low Places and Johnny Cash Folsom Prison Blues. It does not seem to bother me to sing really low. – Rockin Cowboy May 22 '15 at 4:42
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Singing pitch is mainly controlled by the tension on the vocal folds. Higher pitch, higher tension. You failed to mention your age: the vocal folds (basically peripheral parts of muscles) and other movable parts of the larynx are fixed to cartilage. This cartilage construct gets a growth spurt (like a calving glacier) when your voice changes in puberty and hardens out (ossifies) again over the course of a number of years. As a result, the voice is both more malleable and damageable in young years: the tension on vocal folds has to come somewhere.

Now the key to singing painless is control of registers: the larynx has more than one mode of operation. The common speaking mode is "chest voice". In that mode, the larynx is in a fixed position and the pitch is controlled by tensing the vocal fold muscles themselves. Since this leads to a rather firm closure of vocal folds interrupted by regular puffs of air, this production of sound generates a sizable number of overtones that can be shaped by the vocal tract into "formants" carrying the vowel information of speech.

That voice type is what you are usually working with as a starting singer. However, there is more than one register. A counterpart is "falsetto" where one actually relaxes the vocal fold muscles and pulls them tight using a lever mechanism in the larynx. Without the self-curdling of the vocal folds, closure is less, so people tend to start out with a wheezy kind of falsetto where considerable air is escaping. With practice, closure gets better, as does pitch control (which works through a separate muscle group, remember?).

Once one has good control of both pure chest voice and pure falsetto (the main work area is extending the falsetto downwards), one can start bringing aspects of one register into the other, with the ultimate goal of being able to smoothly transition from one type to the other without an audible "flip" of the larynx configuration.

Imagine this like closing a door with balking latch quietly: you do that by pushing with one hand and pulling with the other, resulting in a controlled change from unlatched to latched rather than the latch giving in and the door smashing closed.

But even when you don't have the transition fully under control yet, you can still take pressure of the door.

So my basic advice is practising your falsetto and working on making it sound more robust, extend its range downwards and get good pitch control and quality into it.

That does not mean that you will actually want to use it when singing (its quality still may vary a lot and it may not fit your singing style, particularly when you cannot yet use it deftly and confidently) but you want to learn controlling the door's other side and develop a feeling for how far it is from flapping open and what effort you actually need to keep it where you want. Because the default approach can be likened to leaning on it strong enough "just in case", and doing that for hours on time is strenuous.

  • The last time I learned this much about singing it was by reading an entire book. Welcome to Music.SE! – Todd Wilcox Jun 12 '17 at 19:36

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