The Theme is Scream: Can You Scream-Sing Properly?

Have you heard those heavy metal screaming bands? They may not be your cup of tea, but you might end up with a lead-singer from this type of genre on caseload someday. These singers growl and grunt on a nightly basis when on tour, so how is the voice not completely wrecked? Screaming is not only hard on some people’s ears, it is hard on the vocal folds as well. There is, however, a ray of hope for those suffering from vocal issues as a direct result from their love affair with screaming metal music.

As Melissa Cross explains, proper screaming technique can be taught. She instructs singers to scream properly so they can avoid damage to their vocal folds. These screaming performances night after night will take a toll, so without proper training, she warns, it could end a career. You can scream using your true vocal folds and/or your false vocal folds. Your true folds are more delicate than your false, and they have no nerve endings. They vibrate together about 500 times per second, and can swell with overuse and misuse. This swelling is what causes roughness and hoarseness in the vocal quality, because the true vocal folds can no longer vibrate efficiently with increased weight.

Enter, the false vocal folds, sometimes called vestibular folds. The false folds are located right above the true folds and can vibrate together much like the walls of the throat would vibrate for a laryngectomee with a tracheoesophageal prosthesis. This man has had his voice box and vocal cords removed and is using a hands-free prosthesis to inhale air from his stoma. The air does not exit the way it entered, and is forced up through the throat tissue. That is why he sounds the way he does. This is also different from the electrolarynx. Have you seen that tobacco commercial? The electrolarynx is held against the outside of the neck and sends vibrations through the tissue that can be shaped by your mouth, tongue, teeth and lips to produce words and sentences.

Growling is utilized in mainstream music too, but much more infrequently. Artists like Carrie Underwood and Christina Aguilera both use their false vocal folds to add intensity to some of their phrasing. Here, Carrie growls at 1:23 on “fight” and here Christina does it on “My” at 0:03 and on “touch” at 2:38 here.

Ms. Cross is interesting to me because she is a classically trained voice teacher and she is educating a select population on how to effectively use their mechanism for the sound of choice for their music style. She aims for multiple overtones in the screams she teaches, which I would hope would decrease any resultant hyperfunction from too low or too high of a scream. She warns not to utilize both folds simultaneously, for fear of overuse as well.

There is information that is erroneous out there too. Here is someone saying that the epiglottis is responsible for the growl. Um, no. We have this video, I don’t know why she is teaching the student to vibrate his palatal arches, but she is. Perhaps she is trying to eradicate any accidental use of the true vocal folds? But why not educate the student on the whole mechanism? The diagram gives me shivers.

Ms. Cross is due to discuss her techniques on a NATS Chat in February, and I’m very interested to hear what she has to say. Her techniques are unusual, but obviously encourage a balanced vocal subsystem of equal parts air, sound and resonance. Your opera singing vocal teacher might cry blasphemy, but it is all the same mechanism, and I haven’t run across anyone else who has taken on this niche. Very cool.


Kristie Knickerbocker, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and singing voice specialist in Fort Worth, Texas. She rehabilitates voice and swallowing at her private practice, a tempo Voice Center, and lectures on vocal health to area choirs and students. She also owns and runs a mobile videostroboscopy and FEES company, Voice Diagnostix. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 3, Voice and Voice Disorders, and a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Pan-American Vocology Association. Knickerbocker blogs on her website at She has developed a line of kid and adult-friendly therapy materials specifically for voice on TPT or her website. Follow her on Pinterest, on Twitter and Instagram or like her on Facebook.


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