Oversinging is a term, sometimes derogatory, aimed at vocal styles that dominate the music they are performed in, including melisma and belting, and overuse of embellishments on one sound.


Professor and voice instructor Melinda Imthurn writes:

"Since oversinging is not a technical term, it's hard to define. To one person it might mean pushing the voice beyond healthy singing technique, while to another it might mean embellishing a song too much, sometimes to the point where the melody is no longer recognizable."[1]

Oversinging is not a word found in common dictionaries, but it is a well-known phenomenon.[2][3] Some forms of oversinging, especially in the United States, can be traced and attributed to renowned soloists in the 1980s like Whitney Houston.[citation needed]

There are different opinions on what oversinging implies, though it is commonly recognized as one or both of the following:

Oversinging can be technically understood as pushing too much breath pressure through the larynx,[4] which is known as overblowing of the vocal folds. The result is the over-production of sound. Oversinging may also be termed "vocal gymnastics" when referring to usage of melisma.[5] Hollywood vocal coach Roger Burnley describes this type of oversinging as "using too many riffs, runs, and embellishments".[3]

Singers who try to impress or show off their vocal abilities may turn to this kind of singing.


Many complain that contestants in shows such as Idol tend to oversing,[6] and blame some of the most prominent American female singers for inspiring them.[3][7] Some say it has been a rising trend following the many singing contests that started appearing in the early 2000s,[2][3] especially in the United States.[8] Essentially, oversinging can be considered a style, as trained vocalists might also use this technique.

Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Ariana Grande, and Céline Dion are well known for their heavy use of melisma and belting, and the term "oversinging" is most often applied to well loved singers such as the aforementioned by people who feel negatively towards the singers of the style.[3][1][9] This criticism is mainly focused on too much "vocal gymnastics" which some feel degrades the artistic merits of the song,[10] and not necessarily that they strain their voices too much.

While [Roger] Burnley believes all of those divas to be oversingers in their own right, [Hollywood vocal coach, Chrys] Page argues the opposite. "They don't oversing, but some young hopefuls, trying to sound exactly like those artists, consistently do it because they haven't yet found their own voice and style," he said.[3]

When amateurs on shows such as American Idol are criticized for oversinging, it can be both because they use far too great "vocal gymnastics" and strain their voice beyond their vocal capability when trying to mimic famous singers with far greater vocal ranges and training.

Professional opera singer Sarah-Jane Dale on Whitney Houston's use of melisma: "You can't do it without proper breath control, and that's the one thing that Whitney Houston had bags of. Let's face it, singers like that do not come along every week."[5]

Vocal damage

Straining the singing voice, for instance by using belting without proper coordination, can lead to forcing, which in turn can cause vocal deterioration, known as fatigue of the vocal cords, also known as vocal fatigue. Straining the voice can lead the development of vocal nodules, a form of scarring on the vocal cords caused by strenuous or abusive voice practices. Professional singers on extended tours with tight schedules run a substantial risk of damaging their voices unless they make sure to rest the vocal cords and get enough sleep and proper diet.[11][12]

Some famous singers known to have developed vocal nodules are Luciano Pavarotti,[13] Whitney Houston,[14] Mariah Carey,[15] Freddie Mercury,[14] and Joss Stone.[16]

Singers known to have had their vocal nodules surgically treated include Justin Timberlake, Sam Smith, Tove Lo, Adele, Björk, Shirley Manson, Keith Urban, John Mayer and Rod Stewart.[11][14][17][18][19] Julie Andrews is well known for her singing voice being permanently damaged by the surgery. Elton John is notable for having vocal surgery, as it caused his voice to significantly deepen.

Research by Massachusetts General Hospital which analysed a group of elite singers who suffered vocal cord damage, with a total of 240 Grammy award nominations among them, showed that 90% of those injuries was the result of vocal trauma and overuse.[20]


  1. ^ a b "Wo-o-o, whoa: Stop oversinging!". Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Fort Worth, Texas, United States: Gary Wortel. March 26, 2007. Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved April 21, 2017.
  2. ^ a b Hebert, Chris (Jan–Feb 2003). May, Lorin (ed.). "The Harmonizer Jan-Feb 2003" (PDF). The Harmonizer. United States. 63 (1): 16–19. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Moss, Corey (February 6, 2006). "The Scourge Of 'American Idol': Oversingers". MTV. Archived from the original on October 23, 2012. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  4. ^ Jones, David L. "Sing dramatically Without Pushing the Voice". The Voice Teacher. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  5. ^ a b Everitt, Lauren (February 15, 2012). "Whitney Houston and the art of melisma". BBC News Magazine. United Kingdom. Archived from the original on February 4, 2013. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  6. ^ Grant-Williams, Renee. "Singing on American Idol". Renee Grant-Williams. Archived from the original on October 9, 2018. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  7. ^ Daly, Sean (August 3, 2006). "You're no Mariah". Tampa Bay Times. United States. Archived from the original on October 24, 2012. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  8. ^ Grant-Williams, Renee (March 25, 2010). "Grant-Williams Bemoans Over-Singing Epidemic". MusicRow. United States. Archived from the original on April 1, 2010. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  9. ^ "Technical Virtuosity confused with Quality". Arizona Daily Star. August 22, 2003. Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  10. ^ Willman, Chris (December 11, 2000). "Genie at Full Throttle". Entertainment Weekly. Archived from the original on May 23, 2013. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  11. ^ a b C. McKINLEY Jr., JAMES (November 18, 2011). "Advances in Medicine Lead Stars to Surgery". The New York Times. New York, United States. Archived from the original on July 16, 2014. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  12. ^ Hodge, Cheryl (2008). A Singer's Guide for the Well-Trained & Powerful Voice. United States: Cheryl Hodge.
  13. ^ "Opera legend Pavarotti dies". Stuff. 31 January 2009. Archived from the original on October 26, 2020. Retrieved 26 October 2020.
  14. ^ a b c Parsons, Aubrey (March 2008). "Taking Care Of Your Voice". Performing Musician. Cambridge, United Kingdom. Archived from the original on March 26, 2013. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
  15. ^ Johnson, Chris (August 1, 2016). "Mariah Carey case study". iSing Magazine. Archived from the original on March 3, 2018. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  16. ^ "Joss Stone's 'diva' tendencies could ruin career, say ex-managers". Evening Standard. United Kingdom. 13 October 2007. Archived from the original on October 26, 2020. Retrieved October 26, 2020.
  17. ^ Connelly, Chris; Soichet, Aude (January 9, 2012). "From Adele to Kiss' Paul Stanley: Why Are So Many Award-Winning Singers Undergoing Vocal Cord Surgery?". ABC News. New York City, United States. Archived from the original on October 20, 2012. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
  18. ^ Snapes, Laura (November 21, 2012). "Björk Undergoes Successful Laser Treatment for Vocal Cord Nodules". Pitchfork. Chicago, United States. Retrieved July 27, 2013.
  19. ^ Ganz, Caryn (May 2005). "Q&A Shirley Manson". SPIN. SPIN Media LLC: 28. ISSN 0886-3032.
  20. ^ "Comprehensive review analyzes vocal-cord restoration in 18 Grammy Award-winning singers". EurekAlert!. February 7, 2019. Retrieved July 30, 2020.