Steven Tyler Sings the National Anthem. What happens when you sing a high note?

About Dr. Reena Gupta

Dr. Reena Gupta is the Director of the Division of Voice and Laryngology at OHNI. Dr. Gupta has devoted her practice to the care of patients with voice problems. She is board certified in otolaryngology and laryngology and fellowship trained in laryngology, specializing in the care of the professional voice.

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The internet is buzzing today about Steven Tyler’s rendition of The Star Spangled Banner at Sunday’s AFC Championship game.  Critics called him “raspier-than-normal” and state he had difficulty with the notorious high note.

Listening to the replay, I wasn’t moved to tears or touched by the spirit of patriotism that the song is meant to inspire.  However, neither was I horrified at his voice.  I don’t believe it’s news to anyone that Tyler has a raspy voice and that his tenor scream is his trademark.  I don’t believe anyone expected a smooth, clear, operatic high note.  Basically, I’m surprised anyone was surprised.

Tyler sang a very “Steven Tyler” version of the national anthem, scream included, and was actually on pitch throughout.  For anyone who has sung a capella, this is challenging even if you’re singing in your shower.  But on national television, singing the Star Spangled Banner a capella on pitch is no small task.  The fact that he did this, including an on-pitch scream, is pretty amazing after years of battering his vocal cords.

I wrote about aging and voice earlier, when we were faced with our own judgments when an older contestant appeared to be doing very well on The Voice (NBC).  The fact is that Tyler has made a career of singing in the exact style he did yesterday.  While perhaps not the best of his performances, I don’t think it was anything to be ashamed of.

I’d be interested to strobe him to see what those years of screaming/singing have done to him and to see how someone with so many years of damage can still produce those high notes.  Producing high notes requires a very finely coordinated stretching of the vocal cords.  The vocal cord edges must also be straight for the note to sound clear (i.e., no nodules, polyps, etc).

If you watch the video below, you can see what happens when the singer switches from a low note to a higher note.  The cords elongate and vibrate more quickly.

Fine, straight edges are needed for a clear note at this rate of vibration.  Any irregularity is easily heard by even the average listener’s  ear.  I would guess that Tyler has some irregularities on his edges that make high notes a challenge.  But because he is not striving for clarity, he can get his cords to stretch and hit those notes.

However, if you are a singer and are trying to get your high notes to sound clear and are unable to, it’s possible you have a vocal fold mass.  Having a laryngoscopy and stroboscopy are the only ways to tell if a vocal mass is responsible for your loss of range.

To learn more about Dr. Reena Gupta or vocal cord anatomy, visit: