How bad it is to scream, to sing

Heavy metal singers' voices under a magnifying glass

A joint project of the Leipzig University Phoniatrics, the Leipzig Max Planck Institute and Cologne musicologists is currently analyzing the peculiarities of heavy metal singing. With different singing techniques, the scientists look for characteristic settings in the attachment spaces, recurring noise patterns and particular sound causes. Six singers from Germany were included in a first series of investigations, with more to follow.

Piercing screams from a phoniatrics examination room recently unsettled the patients in the Clinic for Otolaryngology and Throat Medicine at the Leipzig University Hospital. "Don't worry, there is no patient suffering here, only the voices of heavy metal singers are tested here," explained Michael Fuchs, head of the Phoniatrics and Audiology Section. The patients then took the other sounds, which went from screaming to roaring, to then arrive in grunts and roars, with humor. The patients were particularly impressed by the volume.

"With this first study of six heavy metal singers from all over Germany, we are starting to implement a joint project idea," explains Fuchs. "The Musicological Institute of the University of Cologne, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and our ENT Department take a close look at the voices of these singers in order to answer various questions. As a doctor and phoniatrist, I want to find out: What is happening in the Vocal apparatus, when professionally - that is, for professional reasons - there is violent shouting, yelling or roaring. Is this singing, which is located apart from everyday singing, harmful to the vocal apparatus? "

No mechanical damage

To answer these questions, the Leipzig ENT Clinic has the appropriate technology, which can be used to make visible on a screen what is happening in the larynx and throat while singing. In addition to the moving images, the vocal sound is also recorded and the vocal performance measured, so that it is possible to precisely evaluate which parts of the vocal apparatus are active at which tones.

After the first investigation Michael Fuchs can say that all six heavy metal singers - including from bands like "Bitterness Exhumed" (Kaiserslautern) and "Endemicy" (Leipzig) - despite the great pressure they build up while singing, despite the great forces that act on the vocal folds and mucous membranes, have a completely healthy vocal apparatus. "The vocal folds, the most sensitive parts of the vocal apparatus, show no signs of mechanical damage," said the Leipzig ENT doctor and phoniatrist.

"In addition to their hobby, some singers also have voice-intensive jobs, such as social pedagogue." Fuchs was impressed that some of them reached a pitch range of four octaves - which is impressive even in comparison with an opera singer. Another result of the research was that the heavy metal singers activate the upper area of ​​the larynx and the throat area more than other singers. In addition, the mucous membrane of the singer produces a lot of mucus, which on the one hand acts as a protective layer and on the other hand serves as a "resonant element" when singing. "This is one of the reasons why the tones are not as clear as with an opera singer," says Fuchs. "But that's not wanted in this genre either." (red, derStandard.at, 12.12.2012)