13 Famous Singers With Surprisingly Bad Vocal Habits

6 Singers Who Made Vocal MistakesBelieve it or not, your favorite singers aren’t always perfect. Read on as voice teacher Elaina R. reveals the bad vocal habits you can learn from… 

 

It’s easy to turn on the radio and assume that famous singers always sound incredible. I promise, though, that’s not the case. Every single singer has experienced vocal faults at some point (even if editing and Auto-Tune buffs every track to perfection).

Here are just a few examples of some of the things that can go wrong, as demonstrated by some of the rich and famous.

Vocal Fault - PitchyWho:

    1. Régine Chassagne (Arcade Fire)
    2. Taylor Swift

What:

Singing a pitch is a complicated coordination between the brain, vocal cords, and breath. Some people don’t have this coordination quite right all the time, and therefore they don’t always sing the notes they want to sing.

In the video above, Taylor Swift is singing flat, meaning she is singing just slightly below the correct pitches. Even good singers sing flat every once in a while. Régine, on the other hand, has trouble hitting accurate pitches in general and tends to go sharp (higher than she intended). Listen to her last note in the song for a good example.

How to Avoid It:

Like any other skill, learning to match pitch requires practice. If you have a lot of trouble singing in tune, devote five to 10 minutes a day to practicing this. I have my students use Pitch Analyzer ($1.99 in the Apple App store) and a keyboard to do this. Just open the app, play a pitch on the keyboard, and try to match it with your voice. Pitch Analyzer helps you figure out if you are flat, sharp, or just right.

Vocal Fault: Nasal Singing

Who:

  1. Rebecca Black
  2. Miley Cyrus

What:

Humans can breathe (and therefore sing) through both the nose and the mouth. The soft palate, located on the roof of the mouth behind the hard palate, lifts and lowers to block off the nasal passages from the rest of the breathing apparatus. Singing with a lowered soft palate lets air out through the nose, causing a nasal tone.

How to Avoid It:

Learn to lift your soft palate. If you have ever “plugged” your nose without touching it (when changing a diaper or jumping into a pool, for instance), you already know how to do this. If not, try making a really nasal sound, then doing the exact opposite. If your soft palate is all the way up, you will not sound any different if you plug your nose with your fingers.

Vocal Fault - Throat Tension

Who:

  1. Katy Perry
  2. Christina Aguilera (last note especially, at 1:53)

What:

Throat tension is not only damaging, it sounds more like yelling than singing. In these videos of Katy and Christina, the vocals often sound closer to yelling than to singing. Note the frayed, pressed tone and the lack of vibrato. If you watch closely, you will also notice that you can see both women’s necks visibly straining.

How to Avoid It:

There are two ways to decrease throat tension in singers. First and foremost, try to relax your throat. Work in front of a mirror or place your hand around your neck so you can feel your throat muscles better. You can also move your neck around while you sing (from side to side, as though you are shaking your head “no”) to keep it from stiffening.

The second way to decrease throat tension is to focus on the fundamentals of singing. Singers throats usually tense up to compensate for a lack of proper technique. Make sure your breath support is working, your soft palate is up, your posture is relaxed, and your energy levels are high as you sing.

Vocal Fault: Tongue Tension

Who:

  1. Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)
  2. Kermit the Frog
  3. Sarah Brightman

What:

Your tongue is a huge muscle that stretches from the front of your mouth all the way back and down, where it connects to the muscles under your jaw. If any part of the tongue becomes rigid during singing, a distinct, clogged sound emerges. The best example of this that I can think of actually isn’t a singer; it’s Kermit the Frog. If you tense your tongue and talk, you’ll find that you sound like the little green guy.

For singers, this clogged sound results in modified vowels, as well as a general distinct tone quality. Both Sarah Brightman and Eddie Vedder’s sounds are characterized by this sound. Singing with tongue tension causes vocal fatigue and can eventually lead to vocal problems, so it’s not something you should ignore.

How to Avoid It:

Many people are completely incapable of consciously relaxing their tongues, even when they aren’t making sound. Start by resting your tongue on your bottom lip, so you can see it well in a mirror, and relaxing it (a relaxed tongue is fat and motionless). Once you accomplish that, put your tongue back in your mouth and learn how to sing vowels without tensing your tongue. (The mirror is your best friend.) When progressing to words, focus on moving your tongue without making it unnecessarily rigid.

Vocal Fault: Jaw Tension

Who:

  1. Eddie Redmayne
  2. Kathleen Battle

What:

When singing, the jaw should be loose and free. Tensing the jaw not only makes it harder to sing, it also sounds (and looks) weird. Eddie Redmayne’s clenched, shaking jaw and matching vocals attest to this. Although Kathleen Battle (an acclaimed classical singer) still sounds lovely, it is obvious from watching her sing that her jaw is doing some bizarre and unnecessary work.

How to Avoid It:

Avoid jaw tension by paying attention. Stretch it out before you sing, look in the mirror, and put your hands on your jaw to feel the muscles. If you notice yourself clenching, stop singing, stretch it out, and try again. Always make sure that you are breathing, standing, and resonating well. Just like the throat, the jaw tends to clench when your singing technique is incomplete.

Vocal Fault: Damaged Vocal Cords

Who:

  1. Mariah Carey
  2. Kelly Clarkson

What:

Vocal cord abuse and overuse (such as singing or talking too much or too loudly, yelling, or using improper singing technique) can damage your vocal cords. Singers who perform lots of taxing music often suffer from vocal cord damage, especially after years of performing in tours and concerts.

Kelly still sounds good, but the newly acquired raspy quality and her avoidance of high notes are both red flags. In Mariah’s recording, her cloudy tone quality, squeaking, and inability to hold out notes all point to severely swollen vocal cords. Singers can even get calluses (nodes), polyps, or vocal hemorrhaging (bleeding welts) that require surgery. Adele, Sam Smith, Tove Lo, Keith Urban, John Mayer… the list of celebrity victims goes on and on.

How to Avoid It:

Be kind to your voice! Don’t scream and yell, and don’t overuse your vocal cords. If you suspect that you have hurt your cords already, or if you don’t know how to sing or speak properly for your health, consult a voice teacher or a vocal therapist immediately to avoid really hurting yourself. If it hurts to sing or speak, consider taking a few days off and going on vocal rest (no talking or singing whatsoever). It’s amazing what good a few days of quiet can do.

Banishing Vocal Faults

While celebrities sing off-key through their noses, you can learn to sing in tune, with a raised soft palate and healthy vocal cords. Find a good teacher, ask him or her about these vocal faults, and practice a little every day. Soon, you might be singing better than some of your favorite famous singers!

Elaina RPost Author: Elaina R.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She received her Master of Music from the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!

Photo by Jana Beamer

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16 replies
  1. Chris
    Chris says:

    This article is hit and miss for me. Agreed, some of the examples are vocal fails, and most of these things can make singing harder, but some are unnecessary. I’m sure some of these examples are also anamolies in an otherwise better set of performances. Especially Eddie Vedder. His sound is definitive of the whole genre. You would recruit tongue tension if you wanted to parody an American 90’s grungy rock singer.
    I’m not even a fan of Myley either but her fans love her sound. Ray Charles was nasal for his whole career, but to fans of the style it was character not nasality.
    Sorry if I’m generalising, but being an opera coach you probably would correct all of these things. But in contemporary music there are tensions that relate to vocal qualities that can be lived with, if done correctly and offset with releasing exercises.
    Like I said, I partly agree with you. Just don’t agree with the angle.

    Reply
    • zig
      zig says:

      Well as a singer and life long Musician myself, I think Eddy Veddar was the WORST male vocalist..ever! He has no range at all, sounded flat on his recordings and even worse live. He always sounded like he was having a heart attack singing. He also always sounds like he is singing the same note.

      Reply
  2. Eleanor R
    Eleanor R says:

    I think that this has been done very well. I am both an opera singer and jazz singer, so i understand both techniques and nothing should hurt or strain. Chris, This is about technique. People like Ray Charles were popular but that doesn’t mean that automatically gives them the right to a good technique. With hard work, there is a way of achieving a contemporary sound following the above. Classical technique (although it may seem very different from contemporary music) is highly relevant to a good technique and can be applied to any type of music. I think that people don’t understand the word “opera” and just associate it with too much vibrato and therefore so far removed from contemporary singing. Art music is much more than this and we have a lot to learn from it. It’s where contemporary music came from.

    Very good example with Kathleen Battle by the way.

    Reply
  3. Jeff
    Jeff says:

    Elaine
    what about gasping out in on mic like you hear Katy Perry in hot and cold?do you gasp in mic?
    how do you calm heavy breathing down after concert?

    Reply
  4. John
    John says:

    I guess you’re not including singers whose actual style is singing off-key – since you don’t have the obvious Morrissey (of the Smiths). Or maybe you’re just not going back that far . . .

    Reply
  5. craig
    craig says:

    Why you should listen to someone who can be heard breathing on mic like Elaine is bad.
    message me craig sparky facebook

    Reply
  6. Brad Chapman
    Brad Chapman says:

    All of these singers have great feel and emotional expression. Unfortunately for their voices, this is what the audience wants. Like a famous athlete, they will or are paying the price. Good luck changing the world’s musical tastes.

    Reply
  7. Sris
    Sris says:

    Well, no wonder you are gonna find flaws with some current day mainstream singers that are completely reliant on technology, and whose fame is a complete mystery.

    What flaws do Mavis Staples have?
    Aretha?

    Reply
    • Stefan
      Stefan says:

      Well Mariah Carey and Kelly Clarkson were, and to an extent, still are good vocalists. They’ve lost much of their range and ease, but still could knock out most of their competition, the only good vocalists in today’s relevant music are Beyonce, So Hyang from Asia, and Ariana Grande shows lots of potential, but I stress potential.

      Reply
      • Yoon Cheli
        Yoon Cheli says:

        Hey, there’s always Ailee and Hyolyn. Solji as well. There’s a lot more out there, totally relevant singers.

        Reply
  8. Jai Rus
    Jai Rus says:

    But Taylor is improving so much!!! She doesnt sound flat all the time!! Maybe 45% are flat LIVE performances but she have a great potential and plus the emotion added to the song that makes us, SWIFTIES to love her

    Reply
  9. Jill Marie
    Jill Marie says:

    This article is spot on. Thank you for expressing what I have been thinking for years. This was also a gentle reminder to myself of what not to do while performing. Bravo!!!!❤

    Reply

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