Take Dave Grohl for instance... it seems like he's really putting his voice out there in terms of singing volume, and on a lot of songs is on the edge of screaming. I don't think I could manage for a whole song without my throat being raw but he does it for 90 minutes, day after day when on tour - and presumably even longer when in the studio.

How is this possible? Is it just a case of practice building up vocal stamina, or is this a specific technique which doesn't actually thrash your vocal chords the way it sounds?

  • 2
    Note that some singers do ruin their voices. Chris Cornell and Steven Tyler spring to mind. Nov 3, 2015 at 19:26
  • 1
    Have you tried vocal fry's, shows you the right pressure / shape to get the effect without strain. Nov 5, 2015 at 9:54
  • @DaveEngineer got a link or care to post an answer? I found this but it doesn't seem too relevant: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocal_fry_register
    – Mr. Boy
    Nov 5, 2015 at 11:33
  • One of the reasons such performers are prone to substance abuse is so they don't feel the pain...
    – Vector
    Nov 15, 2017 at 7:33

4 Answers 4


To sing with the type intensity you hear from singers such as Dave Grohl without blowing out your vocal chords or making your throat raw requires both proper technique and some stamina (as well as certain precautions).

First let's talk about stamina. Singing involves many muscles in the face, mouth and throat but the most important muscles used in singing is the diaphragm which can be controlled by the the internal intercostal muscles and abdominal muscles that work in conjunction with the diaphragm (the diaphragm itself is an involuntary muscle). These muscles are able to push a large volume of air from the lungs and using the diaphragm as the primary means of pushing the air across your vocal chords will reduce the strain on your throat.

The diaphragm muscles and the abdominal muscles that work in conjunction with contraction of the diaphragm, can be strengthened with exercises that won't damage your throat or vocal chords. One excellent way to strengthen these muscles is to put a weight (such as a barbell weight plate) on your stomach while lying on your back and push it up and down as if you are doing it with your stomach. In other words force your belly to rise and fall as much as possible with each repetition. Do this exercise two to three times a week. It's essentially weight lifting for the muscles (the ones you can actually strengthen)used in singing.

A stronger diaphragm and supporting muscles, means less effort will be required to push air across your vocal chords.

As far as technique, you should avoid singing with your throat. Many singers tighten their throat muscles to sing higher notes. If you do this, you will become hoarse and get a scratchy throat and your vocal cords will become inflamed. If you are tightening your throat too much, your vocal chords will be straining to push sound through a constricted airway in your tightened throat. To some extent tightening of your throat will tighten the muscles surrounding your vocal chords and force them to work harder to vibrate.

Try this exercise. Sing a note that is in the higher end of your range. If you are like many folks, you may feel a tightening of the throat as you sing the higher notes. Next try singing that note while making a conscious effort to push air from your diaphragm and keep your throat relaxed. It takes practice to learn to sing without constricting your throat but if you plan to sing like Dave Grohl very often, it will be necessary to learn to do this.

I should mention that not everyone has the vocal range to comfortably sing like Dave Grohl. You should never be straining to sing outside of your comfort zone.

Other things that you can do to minimize strain on your voice is to warm up before singing and/or begin your performance with some easy to sing songs that don't require belting or high intensity and are in the lower part of your range.

Another thing that is important is to stay hydrated. This means drinking plenty of water before (starting the day before) your performance, during your performance and after. Avoid caffeine and medicines or other substances that have a diuretic effect.

Separate from hydration is lubrication of the throat. Water will help you stay hydrated but it's not actually a "lubricant" (although if your throat is dry it will definitely help). For lubricating the voice I use raw honey and coconut oil. These natural food sourced lubricants will actually coat your throat and protect it. Some folks I know use cough drops. Just don't sing with a cough drop in your mouth or you might accidentally inhale it and someone will have to do the heimlich maneuver on you. I have tried the syrup in pineapple juice before as it seems pretty slippery, but I think the citric acid may actually cause my throat to tighten up so I quite using pineapple juice.

Although many rock singers smoke, I would recommend avoiding any type of smoking if you want to preserve your singing ability.

It is also important to take periodic breaks during your performance to allow your vocal chords to rest and recover. A fifteen minute break after every 45 minutes of singing will go a long way towards preventing overuse injury. You can even take breaks by allowing other singers to help with the lead singing duties on certain songs or playing an instrumental as part of your set.

Finally, it's a good idea to have a few rest days between performances to allow your vocal folds to recover from whatever stress you put on them while singing. If you are a rock star on tour and have back to back dates on successive nights, try not talking any more than absolutely necessary between shows.

In summary, building stamina in your diaphragm and the muscles that assist it will allow you to more effectively use proper technique to minimize damage to your vocal chords and throat.

  • 3
    A fifteen minute break after every 45 minutes of singing So THAT is why rock concerts feature 15 minute drum solos! Thanks for your answer. Nov 4, 2015 at 0:16
  • 1
    As for the supporting muscles: As Rockin Cowboy states, not only the diaphragm is important, but also the surrounding muscles. You have to widen your body so you can use the full volume of your body. If you inhale, try to place your hands above your hips, about at the height where your kidneys are. You have to press those sides out, that way you can get more power out of your belly without straining your throat. Additionally the muscles in your back. Also posture is very important, stand upright, widen your rips and only breathe with your diaphragm. But most important: Get a coach =) Nov 4, 2015 at 8:29
  • "you will become hoarse and get a scratchy throat" - that's me all over. Trying to sing in a nice tone I seem to sing only using my throat! I can feel the pressure there as I try to force air through!
    – Mr. Boy
    Nov 4, 2015 at 10:21

Well, I can't give you a fully qualified answer, but I am currently working on the same problem myself.

In my band, I am singing quite raw and agressive most of the time. Still clean singing but quite raw.

At first I had some problems doing it, especially when the set list grew longer. After my first gig I had great problems regaining my voice because I used too much power and pressure to sing my songs.

I am working with my coach to improve this kind of singing. The most important thing is of course your breathing. You really have to relax. But that is mostly easier said than done.

I am especially training singing the songs and consciously relax myself. In most cases you don't need half the pressure and power you think you need. I trained with my band. I sang the songs with as less power as possible imaginable and step up bit by bit until they said it sounds good. The air has to flow freely when you sing, if you feel pressure on your larynx, your are already doing it wrong.

I can't tell you exactly what to do or which technique to use (I don't think there is much of a technique, growling set aside), I am currently firguring it out myself. But just train to sing the songs with much less power and pressure. By the time you figure it out more and more what to do. A good tip also is, if you want to sing raw, you don't have to sing the whole word or even sentence raw. Just emphasize and distort for example the first and the last part of a phrase. That will relieve your voice of a lot of stress and the audience won't hear a big difference. Also, when not singing, even in very short breaks, try to releax, breathe deeply, try to calm down your throat so to say (sorry, no native speaker, don't how to describe it properly) When you sing a stressfull singing style, your voice needs every bit of relaxation and break it can get.

Also, there are a few practices to relax your voice. Google after them, some of them, you can do while you have a short break to releax your voice (not into the microphone of course) that will also help. Humming is always good, it massages your larynx and your vocal chords so to say. Also good preparation is crucial. Don't just start singing and screaming. When singing, muscles are involved, so treat them accordingly. You don't get out of bed and start to run a marathon either.

I hope I could provide some useful tips. But again, I am still trying to figure out how to do it correctly myself, so I can't say that all I am saying is really the right way to do it. I just describe my experiences.


Rockin' Cowboy makes some great points - just a few things to add - the importance of finding a great "vocal colour" that works with your sound system or vocal-chain can be just as important. If you can find a great microphone-compression-eq-fx chain that takes some of the work, you don't need to work as hard. You'll also have a much more consistent sound gig to gig. It can take some time but nailing this down can allow you to sing with much less throat pressure (let's face it, a great rock sound is going to have some throat constriction at least some of the time, for effect. Additionally, you don't have to sing with the same colour all the time. Changing it up is not only more interesting to the listener, but also lets you cut loose with a killer sound only when it's super important in the song, and lets you relax sometimes.

Breathing and breath pressure is really important. It used to be taught as "sing from your diaphragm". This anatomically-incorrect imagery has persisted even though that's not what's going on....that being said - Rockin' Cowboy is correct that you need to breathe all the way around into your back and lower ribcage. Try not to have your shoulders rise when you take a breath. The big shoulder-high breath plus 'bearing down' on a high note is GUARANTEED to mess up your voice at some point. Make sure when you're standing that you're not standing sway-backed with your a** sticking out. An exaggerated arch in your lower back will reduce the amount of air you can take in and cause other muscles to tighten when they don't need to.

TONS of trained singers mess up their voices when they tour. Some can mitigate damage by doing a song from the album that's particularly high in a lower key instead - or by changing how they sing the song - (the "tour" version). You can use prerecorded sections for a really strenuous section or 'vocal wail' integrated into any stems you use with any click-tracked pieces to save your voice a bit in extreme situations. (lots of famous singer do and have done this - because no human being is capable of singing their album tracks full out wailing every night without doing some damage or causing fatigue).

This approach can seem to not be fully 'authentic', but failing to find some way to give your self a break will result in a "fully authentic", but completely laryngitic singer.


blah blah blah - the truth is most pop and trad vocalists use 'blend voice' and more of a light chest, then mix phonation - rock singers are encouraged to use head voice, or "above the pencil", if you imagine a pencil in your mouth for all vowel sounds, register shifts and also for speaking during the day, which shouldn't be excessive.

Zen of Screaming with Melissa Cross explains how you can make high output/gravelly singing noise without constriction, forcing the vocal chords or holding your jaw unnaturally.

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