Sing, But Don’t Oversing
What is oversinging?
The term oversinging is widely used, but can have many interpretations. Generally, these interpretations fall into two categories, which I will call ‘vocal oversinging’ and ‘stylistic oversinging.’
- Vocal Oversinging produces a tone that is pressed, pinched, strained or constricted. In extreme cases, it sounds like it hurts (and often does). The audience may feel like the singer is shouting or screaming at them, and will likely “tune them out” overtime. Being able to create a broad spectrum of dynamics is an important skill to develop.
Sometimes the terms ‘belting’ and ‘oversinging’ are interchanged, but belting is a distinct technique when appropriate and done safely. Oversinging is not. Vocal oversinging can cause, at best, an unpleasant experience for the listener and, at worst, eventually lead to vocal damage for the singer.
Lots of things can contribute to oversinging: from a lack of technical training to performance nerves or a desire to wow audiences. Singing a song that’s out of your vocal range or imitating the vocal quality of other singers can also lead to oversinging. Vocal oversinging can occur in group singing, but is particularly rampant anywhere a person sings with or ‘over’ amplified instrument.
- Stylistic Oversinging (aka ‘overworking’ or ‘doing too much’) happens when adding so much to a melodic line that it becomes unrecognizable. Vocal licks, riffs, runs, or melismas, for example, are most effective when tastefully used to convey emotion within the storytelling of the song. Just because you can do lots of “vocal gymnastics”, (which can be impressive if you are skilled at that), it doesn’t always serve the communication of the song. The same applies for affectations such as: excessive breathy singing, vocal fry, inflections, and vibrato to name a few.
What is YOUR intention? Is it to impress others or to authentically communicate a story through your voice and being? To me that is the difference. I recommend developing great vocal technique to balance the instrument which opens many possibilities for expressing yourself. Also use your practice time to explore various stylistic options, then “scale” it back to fit the song and how you want to express yourself as an artist. It’s like wearing tasteful accessories to complement an outfit. In many cases, less is more when it comes to singing. Just allow the emotional content of the lyrics to guide your choices.
It is when we let go of working too hard or doing too much, that we can REALLY sing!