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Veins in neck sticking out, neck muscles bulging

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Hello. New to the place. This question has been perplexing me for a long time, so I finally decided to join such a forum and ask some knowledgeable people about it. Any answers you can give me are very welcome.

Why is it that when so many successful rock or pop rock singers sing, their neck veins stick out, and their neck muscles bulge, but yet so many vocal instructors say that is a horrible thing to do and ruins sound? It seems to me that the people who are best at that commercial sound are the ones who supposedly should sound bad since their veins stick out and their neck muscles look like they are about to pop, yet they sound so good (both live and in studio releases). :/

Here are some examples:

Kings of L eon's Caleb Followill (vein out, neck/chest muscles bulging):

Audioslave's Chris Cornnell (veins out, tensed up, lower jaw jutting and tensed):

Pat Monahan from Train: (veins out, muscles looking like they're on steroids)

I could post many more examples. I don't think many people disagree with the claim that these guys sound really, really, really good. But so many people knowledgeable about vocals and singing say what they clearly do all the time is really, really, really bad. That it makes you sound bad, is dangerous, etc. Yet these guys do it, and sound fantastic while they do it, including live performances.

What is the reason for that? Is what they do really bad? Is it not what it appears to be, maybe? (like, maybe they have sung so much that their necks are just buff, and it only LOOKS like they are straining?) I do not understand this apparent paradox. Would someone knowledgeable explain things? Thank you!

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Can you describe what sounds good to you about their singing?

(I am not into rock music, but I am guessing that a "strained" sound is a key part of the genre, whether or not they are actually straining. Rock and clean or rock and relaxed don't mix. Looking tortured is part of the act! :D)

Huh. That's hard. If you don't actually enjoy modern rock vocals I don't see how you could find a lot of redeeming qualities in it anyway, but I'll give an attempt to describe why I like the sound (keeping in mind that I know next to nothing about singing in general, so I don't know how useful I can be here).

(1) There is a bit of edginess, yes. It is appealing because it lends a more desperate or edgy or energetic sound. This is always very well controlled, it seems, but has either a loud or quite power (depending on the point in the song) that I don't hear in many other styles.

But the thing is, with that pic of Chris Cornell, he isn't screaming at all at that point, and the sound does NOT seem strained at all. It's a relatively low pitch part of the song. The lyrics he's singing at the screen cap is "I was lost in the pages," which is a pretty soft and low part of the song. That part doesn't even SOUND strained or scratchy. It sounds rather soft, but full and deep. Yet his neck veins/muscles are bulging.

Here's a vid of the performance:

To be honest, there seems to be both strain and total relaxation, in different parts of his mouth and neck. The sound there is just as mixed, it seems to me. The really "screamy" parts seem to be more in the facial cavity than the throat to me, based on what he looks like at those parts.

(2) Generally, the sound is nice and full, but not floaty, if that makes any sense. It is powerful, and hits hard at the consonants.

(3) The vowels seem open and ringing, but much more closed than I hear in "normal" singing. Actually, I'd say the vowels are rather closed, but they still resonate a lot.

I guess I'd say that yeah, there's a bit more strain in the sound, but it isn't quite that simple, I don't think. I can't exactly put my finger on it, but I think I can better say what it isn't, and maybe that will help explain why I like the sound.

* Doesn't tend to have excessive vibrato, and when it does, it isn't so symmetric and smooth (which is a bad thing, in my taste, because it makes the sound less organic).

* There is less variation in vowel sounds, I guess, than other forms of singing. It's a more continual shape. This is good to my ear because it interrupts the vocal mood less. While modern rock singing has solid and hard separation of consonants, there isn't much discontinuity in vowel sounds (at least the kind I like), which keeps the mood. When I hear over enunciation of vowels to where the vowel sound is all over the place, it's kind of intrusive to my ear. What I mean is, I much prefer to hear "I" pronounced more like "ah" than "aiiiiiyeeeeeeyyyy." Once again, I think it comes back to making things sound more organic and less, I don't know, pieced together.

Let me also add that I believe that a lot of the things I like in modern rock vocals are also done in some pop music. I guess that would be more crossover music, rather (again, I posted a pic of Train's singer, and they are kind of on the boarder between rock and pop).

But in any case, I see time after time after time, people singing this adult contemporary rock and alternative rock having veins sticking out and neck muscles bulging. Not always to an absurd degree, but I see it so often.

Here is an example of Train doing Drops of Jupiter in a mall. It's a pretty poppy song. Less rock than some of their other stuff. Pat's singing still has lots of veins popping out nonetheless.

I like Train. It isn't necessarily my favorite style, but I still like it.

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A member here who studies the highly acclaimed Estill method once made a thread about how the "visible neck" is not always a bad thing, sometimes even a good thing, called "internal anchoring". And how very successful singers, even Stevie Wonder, have been seen with the bulging veins and whatnot.

So its a bit of a myth that the bulging veins etc directly correlates to a damaging vocal technique.

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Its just strain, there is no rule that forces a strained production to sound poor. To me it sounds killer.

Just because SOME famous singers have veins popping when singing it does not mean that it is "safe", specially if you check how Cornell performances became afterwards. Or that veins popping indicate "technique" of some sort.

People just pick random parts of research to justify what they feel its necessary, curiously most of this research is done on classical singers who are exactly the ones who you will not usually see with veins popping.

There is plenty of material showing that neck tension, high larynx and increased sub-glotal pressure are far from a good recipe for vocal health. I don´t believe for a second that Cornell did his singing believing that he was "saving" his voice in any way.

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It's hard to make a hard and fast judgement call. I've seen great Voice instructors with veins popping out when belting high notes.

First of all, bulging veins don't mean anything but the body increasing the throughput of blood. And if you are belting out high notes you're expending more energy for sure, hence blood flow. And those people with thinner skin will show these blood vessels easier.

But seeing muscles straining can be cause for alarm. You've got a lot of muscles that could accidentally be evoked with poor technique. You don't want to evoke muscles that aren't needed - they can get in the way and possibly cause damage.

With that said, as Owen stated, we had this discussion before and were shown a video of a famous Opera Singer who's neck really showed a lot of veins and muscles, but she had awesome technique.

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I would also say this. And MDEW has said this before and there was discussion for and against, as there always will be. But no muscle acts totally independent of another. Having suffered a few broken toes and a broken hand, before, I am here to tell you that just the disability in that one part affects so many other things.

And while we have talked so much about intrinisic anchoring, it does involve extrinsic motions, as well, such as jaw drop, apple bite or singer's smile. Jaw drop to stabilize the larynx, smile or bite to retract the soft palate and allow resonance in the upper chambers.

So, some singers seem to have muscular necks and prominent veins and sing for decades with no loss.

It can happen. And rather than worry about the appearance of the singer, I would think it is more important to judge the durability of the singer. And not many singers talk about what they do.

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I would go with idea that any strenuous activity is going to increase the blood flow to whatever area is being used. Try just reading the song as a story without singing keep an eye on your neck muscles and veins. Just that will give some tension on the neck even if you are are speaking softly without the added emotional expressions.

Either way, you train to give as little effort to create the sound. While singing to a croud in the thousands you may tend to over sing a little. :cool:

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happens all the time with me also. it's nothing to worry about, as long as inside the throat is relaxed and there is no strain it's fine and healthy. what's next? vocal coaches going to tell you that any sort of facial expression expressing intensity means your technique is bad? LOL too many arm chair theorists

That's right. You can't always tell from the exterior.

I remember a piano teacher who looked at the blood vessels in the hand to determine if we were using good technique. If the blood vessels weren't visible during performance, meant that we may be constricting - using too much tension and constricting the blood vessels. He wanted the blood vessels to expand so the blood was not constricted. When you're relaxed, the blood vessels can expand to whatever is needed at the time. Blood flow is a good thing.

I think when we use the great belting techniques of Ken Tamplin, it requires a lot more energy, and I often can see blood vessels in my throat. You can see them in Tamplin's throat too. If I'm using light mass, Neutral, the blood vessels don't get big.

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Well, especially when you are belting heavily you ARE using muscles around your larynx. The whole thing that teachers sometimes tell their students that (extrinsic) support is the only stabilizer of singing is simply wrong.

There are quite some muscles around your larynx and in the back of your pharynx (in Estill they have that picture of "neck anchoring", which specifically has the neck in it).

Those muscles need oxygen when they are tensed. Thus is not surprising that the veins can pop out. It is a different matter when the muscles around the jaw contract. This usually leads to strain, but it is usually hard to tell if they are tense.

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The score of the tension/posture index correlates significantly with both the VHI and the DSI. In a linear regression analysis, the combination of hypertonicity of the sternocleidomastoid, the geniohyoid muscles and posterior weight bearing is the most important predictor for a high voice handicap.

And just to remind you guys, when the tension is visible, it means that it reached a very high level already. The neck muscles ARE used even on classical singing as an extension of support, when doing a high C on FF you will need to use all your body to deliver it. Never all the time.

Even so, its VERY rare to see a tenor that shows visible tension when doing those passages, and on vocal pedagogy, specially classical its pretty much a norm to reduce cervical tension in order to manage the stress level. Sure to sing rock we have to let go a bit and let go the protective measures, still neck tension all the time during singing = not a very good idea.

These muscles aid breathing and support, its not the extrinsic larynx muscles and THOSE are not supposed to be super-tense all the time either.

In doubt, ask your ENT.

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raze, i'd like to add that singers sometimes need to simply configure (adjust) the mouth, jaw, lips, cheeks, etc. simply to help them direct the breath tension to a particular resonating cavity for ring, brightness, whatever the sound goal.

some tension in rock singing is inevitable, even required at times.

i personally feel (just my opinion) as a belting, wailing type of singer, when you get too overly concerned with being tension free, rather than learning to minimize tension, you end up singing too sterile and commonplace.

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Thanks for the responses. There is a lot of insight here. Now of course, I am curious about what "anchoring" is, and will have to check that out (I'm sure it's in the technique forums).

Nautically, anchoring is throwing a big metal thing with wings on it overboard, connected to a chain. And it prevents the ship from moving too much from it's present position in anything but heavy seas.


(my first step-father was a boiler tech 2c aboard the USS Ogden during the early 70's. )

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Thanks, Xam and Jens. At least you appreciate my sense of humor and my earnestness. I do like to laugh and, as Jens says, I am not lying.

In fact, some of you guys might surprised to know just how much I tell the bald truth as much as I can.

From what I gather, anchoring is another way of setting alignment in one's vocal tract.

Intrinsic anchoring, as mentioned in 4 Pillars, is about jaw drop or apple bite, combined with setting the tip of the tongue against the lower teeth while twanging at the same time.

I may be wrong but that is how I understood it at the time I was learning about it.

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