“What can you teach a heavy metal singer?”
I’ve often been asked that question in various ways by “legitimate” singing teachers. What they are actually saying is “all heavy rock singers do is scream and yell and growl. They are beyond helping. What they do isn’t music… it’s noise.” Of course that’s not true. Although I work with singers in all genres of music, heavy rockers have always been some of my favorite students.
Too many singing teachers are limited by their knowledge of only a few types of music… usually classical, musical theatre and standard pop. They often try to discourage heavy rock singers by telling them that they are going to ruin their voices. That may occur if the singer is singing wrong, but learning good breathing techniques, the right way to hit the high notes, growl or scream and increase stamina will assure that their voices will last all their lives. Heavy metal or rock singing doesn’t ruin a voice… faulty habits and techniques ruin a voice.
Several years ago I was in a phone conversation with Steven Tyler, and he told me that he still takes singing lessons every week. Often, more than one. And yet I hear rock singers often say “I don’t need lessons.” Tiger Woods has his teacher, as does Roger Federer. The top players have their coaches and boxers have their trainers. Google such singing teachers as Roger Love, Seth Riggs and Brett Manning, and you will be amazed at the lists of their professional students.
If you are a serious heavy metal-rock singer you should be working with a good teacher who understands your music and knows how to train you so you can continue to sing without fear of developing nodules or other problems. Singers of all genres of music can and do develop major vocal problems (John Mayer, Elton John, Adele), but heavy metal singers are especially vulnerable to such problems.
But… good teachers are expensive, and musicians are eternally broke. Here are some tips on preserving your voice when you can’t afford a teacher or a recorded course:
1. Never perform or rehearse without having warmed up your voice with at least 5 minutes of light, scale-like humming and vowels. Don’t use a song for this. Only scale-like melodies. A very effective warm up is to sing an “ah” on a medium high note, and then slide down to the lowest note you can sing. Try to keep a solid sound throughout the entire exercise (not loud, but consistent). Then move up a little higher and do it again. Continue this until you feel you’re stressing your voice. It’s OK to start in the head voice or falsetto… just change back to the main voice as soon as you can.
2. Learn to use your mic to preserve your voice. Let it provide the volume. You provide the attitude and energy. Too many rock singers believe that high volume is necessary to the genre. This just isn’t true.
3. Pace your set lists so that you aren’t doing too many extremely high or powerful songs in a row. If you have other singers in the band, use them.
4. Have a good monitor system. If you can’t hear yourself you are going to try to sing louder, thinking that will help you be heard better. Chances are, the audience can hear you just fine through the mains.
5. Spend some alone time during your breaks. If you spend all your break time out talking with fans you are wearing your vocal cords down. The same vocal cords that speak for you, sing for you. Give them some rest.
6. Lay back on the alcohol. A little goes a long way when you are performing.
7. Remember that hoarseness and loss of high range tell us that something is going wrong with the vocal cords. Be aware, and be careful.
However… when you can afford it, find a good singing teacher.