The term ‘oversinging’ is often bandied about especially when criticizing an ‘American Idol’ contestant or certain singers of the National Anthem. It can be a confusing concept because it actually means two different things. Oversinging can mean singing too loudly, often called ‘pushing’ but also refers to singers who overuse vocal embellishments such as licks, riffs and runs.

I’m particularly interested in the motivation for both types of oversinging. What drives singers to go to the extreme in vocal production or musical choices? I suspect that blasting volume is usually a result of inexperience and is the purview of amateurs falling victim to the belief “the louder, the better”. Experienced singers learn that high volumes exact a heavy toll on vocal health and that it’s smart to use high volume only when it really counts.

Beginners are often mistake decibel power for emotional power. They couldn’t be more wrong. Watch several acknowledged great technicians and you may be surprised to see how often soft and medium volume is used. We remember the power points, but that’s only because we’ve been led to those peaks gradually, carefully, inexorably. Master singers take us on a journey, sucking us in before hitting us over the head.

What about the over-embellishers? What’s going on mentally there? Is it just garden variety showing off? Does a rifforama hide insecurity? Or is it just subjective taste; one singer’s roller coaster is another’s tasteless display? Personally speaking, I belong to the school which touts the idea that ornamentation is based on melody and should not obliterate it.

Performance dilemma: what do you do when you’re onstage, the band is playing loudly, you can’t hear yourself over the din and you know you’re prone to blasting in the best of sonic situations. You can still ‘feel yourself’, even if you can’t hear yourself well. If you feel like you’re singing through your throat and your vocal folds feel like two little squeezing fists, then you can bet you’re singing too loudly. Imagine, instead, that you’re singing through your face. That simple thought will reduce the contraction of your vocal fold muscle (vocalis), reducing your volume though not your projection.


Here’s a video tip on the difference between a ‘throaty’ and ‘facey’ sound.

Leave both types of oversinging to beginners and those who have something to prove. Take the high road and try to make choices which reflect your good taste, at least before you hit them on the head with your power and licks.

Originally posted 2011-03-20 00:03:34.