Having a voice with grit is almost a prerequisite for singing in a rock band. It adds depth and emotion to the music in a way that can't be matched by clean vocals.
Singing with grit is the less extreme version of voice distortion, with heavy metal growls being on the opposite end of the spectrum. How far you want to go will depend on your singing style and preference.
Many people want to dive right into singing with rasp or distortion, without considering what damage they might be doing to their vocal cords.
When done incorrectly, it can seriously damage your vocal cords and lead to a shortened singing career. So, follow my rock singing tips to preserve your voice while singing with grit.
Singing with Grit Requires Confidence
Confident singers are those who know how to control their voices without resorting to tensing their throat, shoulders, or neck. This control translates into the ability to add grit and distortion on command, without injuring one's vocal cords.
So, what does confidence mean in this context? Confidence comes from practicing proper singing techniques until they become second nature. Adding grit to your voice implies that you already have a good foundation from which to work. So, before you start experimenting with grit, make sure you've got your singing basics solidly in place.
Singing with Grit – Step-by-Step
As with many vocal techniques, singing with grit should be something you build to over time. By moving too fast, you risk damaging your voice – and probably sounding like a strangling cat.
If you think that starting with the proper vocal technique will make you a wimp and not a rock star, keep in mind that many famous rock stars, including James Hetfield and Maynard James Keenan, frequently work with vocal coaches to perfect their vocals.
Are you tougher than James Hetfield?
Here's a short step-by-step guide that should help you develop your vocal talents and inject just the right amount of grit into your singing. Regardless of whether you want a smoky flavor to your voice or want to go full out, the technique starts the same and, with practice, you can build it up however much you want.
You'll need grit if you want to be a rock star who can sing and play guitar simultaneously!
Build a Powerful Voice
When you breathe during singing, always breathe from your stomach. You can learn to do this by putting your hands on the sides of your body just below your ribcage. Then take a breath that expands your stomach, sides, and back without overinflating your chest.
The second step is to support your stomach with your pelvic floor. Raising your pelvic floor takes a bit of practice, but the results are well worth it. When you support your diaphragm with your pelvic floor, you're able to generate tremendous amounts of power with no strain on your throat and neck.
Growl Like a Dog
Once you engage your breathing and support, stand up and try to growl like a dog for a couple of seconds while keeping your mouth open. Ideally, you don't want to feel any strain on your neck, shoulders, throat, or vocal cords. The critical part of learning to growl is to allow your vocal cords to relax while pushing with your diaphragm. Studies have shown that distortion gets generated by the structures above your vocal cords, which clap together as air moves over them.
If you engage your vocal cords at all, you're doing it wrong!
Play with Intensity
Once you've gotten used to the feeling of keeping your vocal cords relaxed while pushing air from your diagram, you can start to play around with the level of grit you want to achieve. A good starting point is a light amount of huskiness, like Kurt Cobain.
Start by singing a note and then adding a light growl. Focus on your breathing and keeping your vocal cords relaxed, and make sure you don’t experience any pain or discomfort during the process. Once you've got a note down, play around with a few words in the same pitch or key. Then expand into other ranges and go as high and low as you can, all while retaining relaxed vocal cords and breathing control.
Doing this may take some time to master, so be sure to take regular breaks when you feel your voice getting tired.
If you just want a slight amount of grit, you can then stick to this level of distortion and just expand your song repertoire. As you continue to practice, you'll find that switching from clean to gritty vocals will become more comfortable and more natural.
Keep your practice sessions relatively short and extend them only when you're more comfortable with the technique. Stop immediately if you experience any pain or discomfort.
If you want to go further into distorted vocals, first make sure you're familiar with the basic technique. Then, adjust the intensity by upping your diaphragmatic support and volume while continuing to keep your vocal cords relaxed.
Follow the same progression of slowly upping the number of notes you can sing with grit until you can sing a few octaves in this tone. Repeat until you sound like the Cookie Monster.
It's vital to take your time when learning this technique. The more you practice, the stronger your vocal cords and diaphragm become, and the more intense you can get. By trying to skip the intermediate steps, you risk doing severe damage to your voice.
Be Careful with Your Voice When Singing Grit!
Whether you're learning how to sing rock style for fun or as a serious career, you must take care of your voice. You must know how to sing correctly and always take care of your throat and vocal cords. Be sure to stay hydrated during your practice sessions and take frequent breaks, especially when you’re first starting.
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