I've been playing in rock and roll bands since I was about 15 and right out of the gate, I was the lead vocalist. God, I was nervous. Even though it was just a hole-in-the-wall bar, my family and friends were there and I was completely terrified.
Now, 10 years later, I like to think that I have a better grass on this whole “singing thing”. Spanning all sorts of genres like rock, indie, pop, metal, and punk, I've developed my own personal singing techniques that I follow almost religiously.
Keep in mind, I said that these are my singing techniques and not the singing techniques. I am, in no way, suggesting that I have the end-all knowledge on how to sing because I do not.
Support Your Voice With Concentrated Air
This is something that actually took me a little while to fully grasp the concept, but when I did – whoa buddy, did it help! It's all about fighting your first instinct to suck in air like you're trying to rip the paint off the walls.
Concentrated air means breathing in very casually, quickly, and with your stomach. I'm always careful not to over compensate and think that I need to take a good 3 seconds and gulp in the equivalent of a hot air balloon.
On stage, I'm actually paying very close attention to my stomach to make sure it inflates like a basketball. If you're moving your shoulders up and down when you pull in air for you next line, then you're doing it wrong.
It's all about your diaphragm. It's difficult to explain in words, but it feels like your rib cage is being slightly flexed. I keep a reserve tank of air in my basketball stomach at all times and when I need any more, I just takes little sips out of the air.
Use the Right Liquids at the Right Time
I'm always drinking something when I sing. Whether it's recording, performing, or warming up, I either have a glass of water or a diet soda with me.
And yes, I've heard your little spiel on how diet soda is the devil's playground regarding what it can do to your voice and how healthy it is so save it! You look out for you and I'll look out for me. I've been drinking soda for years and it has yet to do any damage to my voice.
In an easy comparison, water beats diet soda … obviously. But if all you have is soda, then drink it because you need something.
Not-So-Secret Day-Of-Performance Tip
On the day of a performance or recording session, I'll include a cheap Cup 'O' Noodles with one of my meals. I'm not really a hot tea with lemon kind of person, so I need something warm & something I'll consider delicious.
Any generic brand of noodles in a cup will do. They're tasty and they're really sure to boost up those vocal chords for the performance ahead so you'll sound awesome. Plus, these can be a real life-saver if you're trying to fight a cold too.
Avoid Cheese on Singing Days
This tip really kills me since cheese is one of my favorite foods, but sometimes you just have to do what's best for your body.
Cheese is a strong phlegm producer. If you eat a couple pieces of pizza before a recording session, you're gonna feel like you have a huge bit of phlegm stuck in your throat that you can not get up.
Which would you rather do? Put an extra slice of cheese on your burger or nail every pitch on the track?
If You're Serious About It, Invest In Your Skill
OK, let's get real here for a moment. Everyone and their mother thinks they can sing. Have you ever heard a crappy local band with a vocalist who's pitches drill into your brain more ferociously than a dentist?
There are just so many bad singers that it's unreal. And what's funny about the whole thing is that it's so insanely cheap to just do a little bit of research and improve your skill.
When I got into my first screaming band, Let All Prevail, I decided to get serious about my voice. I began reading articles online and watching dozens of YouTube videos on screaming techniques.
What I found to be the single best thing for my style of singing / hardcore vocals was The Zen of Screaming DVD. This little beauty put me eons ahead of all the other screamers in my area and it was mostly because it teaches you the basic fundamentals of how to take care of your voice. And what I've found is most people do not know, or do not care to know the basics.
These are some of the things I specifically learned how to do:
- Safer throat manipulation for screaming
- A number of breathing techniques attributed to strong air support
- How to properly retain air on stage
- Vocal exercises to practice on a daily basis
- The basics of heat and fire on vocals
- How to properly heal vocal chords that have been damaged from over-screaming or over-singing
I think at some point I'll write up a detailed review on The Zen of Screaming, but I highly encourage you to check it out or its 2nd edition that came out. I hear that one is just as good.
Seriously, Get Some Sleep
You know how sometimes when you wake up in the morning, you sound kind of groggy? Well, often that's simply because you did not get enough sleep.
Now, I'm not going to get on your case about getting 8 hours a night because that simply does not work for everyone. However, you know how much sleep you need to feel well-rested. And when you get that magic amount of sleep, your body and your voice will repay you well.
Yea, it sucks knowing that you need to take it easy and turn in early when you have to perform or record the next day. That's life. Suck it up. You can party tomorrow night.
And think about it – people will not even want to party with you if you sound like shit on stage.
Practice Outside of Band Rehearsal – Stop Trying To Sound Like Someone Else
When you get together with your band, it's actually called band rehearsal and not band practice. This is when you get together with your band mates and rehearse what you should have already been practicing.
If you're showing up to rehearsal having done nothing since the last one, I really would not want you in my band. That means you have no motivation to improve for yourself or for the other guys in your group.
And I know what your biggest grievances are with practicing your singing:
- It's embarrassing when people hear me practicing …
- I do not have a place where I can be loud.
- I live in an apartment.
You can bet that my neighbors are not too pleased when I have to practice singing. So, what do I do? I take it to my car.
You're probably singing in your car already. Why not use that time constructively! Work on your melodies. Practice your pitches. Get your breathing down right.
And if people point and laugh at you while you're driving just realize that they're soulless piles of excrement that will never posses as much talent as you have in your pinky finger.
Stay True To Your Vocal Range
“All right.” you say to yourself. “Hear comes that really high pitch in the song. You can do it. You just need more air. Dear God, I better hit it this time. * Gulp * Oh, say can you see!” * voice cracking *
So, you know how you're practicing your vocals so you can sound like that one really screamo guy? Yea, the one who does those sweet high pitches and then drops again and growls? Yea, that's the one!
No matter how hard you try, you're never going to sound like any other vocalist except yourself. Your voice is your voice and his voice is his voice. It's as simple as that.
This is why you'll always hear singers cracking their voices on high pitches and guys sounding silly when they can not go way down low again either. It's because they're not true to their range.
For years, I wanted to sing just like Geoff Rickly, the former vocalist of Thursday. I would spend hours in my bedroom going over his songs and screams only to come out raspy and out of breath.
But I did not give up. I was just convinced that I needed to practice more. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I later learned that Rickly is a natural tenor, while I'm a baritone.
It's easier for him to hit higher pitches than lower ones and for me, it's the opposite. No matter how hard I tried, my voice continued to crack and each performance was a struggle from beginning to end.
But what can you do to change the songs? What if your singing melody is set in stone?
Well, if your singing melody is not set in stone, change it. Create a slight variation that does not involve you sound terrible. Trust me – it'll be okay and people will enjoy your performance more.
If the singing melody is set in stone, then communicate your problem to your musicians and convince them to tune down or play down a step. Then you can sing your melody more comfortably.
Just do not continue to struggle with melodies that you can not sing. You're only hurting yourself … literally.
It's Mostly About Preparation
The honest truth is, the more you do of something, the better you'll become at it. If you want to sing better, you need to sing more.
And do not just think you can get away with singing at shows. Spend the time yourself. Practice breathing correctly. Practice correct diction. Practice scales. Practiceitting pitches accurately.
The more you think of singing in a professional sense, the more you'll dominate it.