90s rock singing technique

How To Sing 90’s Rock

Growing up in the late 80’s/early 90’s, it was everything from Def Leppard, Metallica and Van Halen to a 70’s resurgence of Zeppelin and Sabbath, but most of all Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots – that 90s rock Grunge sound was huge, the rolled “Rs” of Layne Staley, gritty glam of Scott Weiland and Andrew Wood and the crazy range of Chris Cornell. But what were these classic 90’s rock singers really doing – did they know how to sing, or did they just yell and ‘yawl’ their way through everything and hope for the best? Lets take a look.

Chris Cornell

Monster range, grit that would strip paint from your walls and such a bright, piercing tone it could cut though the heaviest, most drudging doom rock. Along with being naturally gifted with a great sounding voice and powerful range, Cornell also knew how to sing well and use his full singing range with force and dynamics in so many different ways. Sure, some of the grit wasn’t the best thing you can do to your voice, but how else was he supposed to belt out Jesus Christ Pose?

The  vowels, the compression – Chris Cornell was absolutely a well trained, well practice, super polished singer with excellent vocal technique, punctuated by a few grit techniques that weren’t the healthiest in the long run. Even the last Soundgarden album had some killer singing even after 30 years of road-wear, with a weary any worn tone but most of his youthful range still in tact and a ton of power still at his disposal even into his 50th year! Great singer. Keep in mind, that ‘rolled tone’ actually comes from being super open and focusing on a rounded, open vocal tract rather than ‘pronouncing’ a covered sound. Good technique? Totally.

How to sing like Chris Cornell:

  • Build your middle register
  • Develop the transition between your mix and head voice
  • Stop belting and learn how to release into your high register
  • Build your breath support

Layne Staley

Being a tenor, Layne’s voice was pretty different in timbre and type to Cornell, but they both possessed the same powerful, gritty open delivery and had miles of power at their disposal. Again, that rounded sound came from keeping an open vocal tract and focussing on an open throat rather than pronunciation or consonant production. Absolutely amazing singer! There’s a few stylistic things here and there that suit his voice and range perfectly, but I probably wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re truly versed in open throat, resonant singing, modified vowels and strain management in your singing voice. For example, the more nasal “EE” sounds that work for a tenor like Staley simple aren’t created by a baritone voice such as mine, so there’s a few workarounds and techniques we have to use that may differ to singers who possess a different range or vocal type. Layne Staley was one of the greatest rock singers of his time, and one of my personal favourites.

How to sing like Layne Staley:

  • Release your registers
  • Twang like crazy
  • Articulate your consonants the right way

Scott Weiland

The vocal chameleon – Scott’s voice was as much Bowie as it was the 90’s gritty powerhouse he was most known for. Songs like Atlanta and …And so I know showcase the best of Scott’s open, crooning and really show the depth of range and tone he had developed a little later in his singing life from STP’s debut Core in all it’s gritty growling and grunting. Obviously Plush, Interstate Love Song and Vasoline show both the gritty power and some of the range he was able to use, along with the more raspy 60’s sound of Big Bang Baby and Tiny Music in general. I think Weiland’s voice and the music of STP can be a personal taste sometimes, and probably not as accessible (or maybe MORE accessible) as the Pearl Jams and Soundgardens of the same era, but Scott’s voice was powerful, open and his delivery really was second to no other. Whether he was aware of the technique he often used, or it was a natural intuition, he was truly capable of some amazing singing and was in possession of an incredibly gifted range

How to sing like Scott Weiland:

  • Bridge into middle voice early
  • Use your belt register
  • Sing with a ‘buzz’ resonance

What singing techniques were used in the 90’s?

There’s an ongoing theme here, super OPEN and controlled, powerful singing – even if you hear it as a ‘rolled’ and  sound sometimes with guys like Layne Staley, quite often great singers like Chris Cornell, Layne or Jeff Buckley actually keep their voices open and develop their stylistic traits on top of the foundation of correct breathing, healthy resonance and properly placed grit and tone. Remember, a healthy voice comes first and any ‘tricks’ or tone like grit, distortion and stylistic delivery come after building your voice in a healthy, relaxed manner.

The key aspect of 90’s rock singing technique is a rock solid foundation – guys like Layne and Chris were never weak and unsupported, and they were never searching for notes or falling short of the key due to their excellent vocal foundation.

Foundation in singing really is just like the foundation of a house being built – the rock solid base that your walls and roof (tone and range) are built upon. A great place to start building your vocal foundation is the Foundation 101 singing course here at Bohemian Vocal Studio which will show you how to;

  • connect chest and head voice
  • blend registers
  • sing with mixed voice
  • Support your voice
  • balance your onset
  • increase your range
  • place your frequencies
  • improve your tone
  • warm up your voice effectively
  • SO much more

You can even get started right now with this exclusive Mixed Voice Singing Lesson in which I’ll share with you the simple but effective process that I use with every single one of my own students to help them created mixed resonance while connecting chest and head voice. I also suggest checking out the following Fundamentals Singing Lesson to find out just how easy it is to sing with effortless power and range using this simple approach;

Want to see what all the fuss is about with the Foundation 101 approach? You can also join my free Mixed Voice singing group to see how my students are progressive with the course along with ask any vocal technique questions that noone has really been able to answer for you yet. Here’s just a few examples of what I’m personally achieving with the Foundation 101 approach – just imagine the amazing things you’re going to achieve when you’re finally free of strain and tension and singing with a rock solid foundation!

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  1. So True – Layne Staley = Absolutely amazing singer!

    It would be very interesting if you will add review on Jeff Buckley in future 🙂

    • Love Zep! You should be able to hit most of Robert’s range now without any strain, just remember to ‘pull down’ and release your registers as you ascend, it will be much more narrow than you’d expect, and not TOO loud either!


      • Hello I am a singer in a Zeppelin tribute band where the instrumentalists are amazing and can replicate each song perfectly. I have always been able to sing Zep songs since I was a kid and can sing several different styles. My band mates tell me that 90% of the songs sound amazing vocally but some sound a little nasally especially the E , A keyed songs. My vocal range is there and so is the tone but I feel like a need a little more oomph on certain parts.
        EX: Beginning of Black Dog- “Hey hey mama”

        How can I fix this?
        Bob Plant

        • Hey Bob – or should I say Robert?

          A nasally sound is a direct result of how you use (or aren’t using) the soft palate. each vowel sound should resonate in the back of your head in the pharynx without any airflow through the nose – this happens when you ‘raise’ the soft palate to allow sufficient space for your high range, while also blocking off any airflow through the nose.

          It’s possible you’re singing a little forward as well, the bright Plant sound really should be in tandem with a rich resonance in the back instead of being forward and artificially brightened.

          Hope that helps!!

  2. Hi I want to know how can I practice singing in my deep voice my lowest note is C#2 but I couldn’t sing below them easily.Can you tell me what singing method should I use to sing easily

    • Hey Muhammad! C#2 is quite low and considered the bass range – do you mean C#3 at the 9th fret of the thickest guitar string, or actually the octave below? If it’s the former, yes you can improve and develop more lower range depending on your voice type – likely down to the G or A below if you’re a tenor, and down to somewhere around the E2. If you’re already singing the C#2 in a resonant and fluid way, you’re likely a bass – so, you can strengthen this area and get down to the C itself – but again, this is an extremely low range for many singers (C2 is around my lowest note).


  3. How do I sound like Daniel Johns (silverchair) but also a little Weiland, Staley, and Eddie Vedder? I don’t quite understand all this stuff about compression and all the actual anatomy terms used. I wanna sound raspy/gritty without destroying my voice….and I wanna be able to go in higher notes without coming back down and being unable to sing low again.

    • Hey Ben! Really enjoy the first few Silverchair albums – big voice for a kid! Cool – well, the first step is to sing your vowels correctly/open instead of using speech sounds (notice how Johns doesn’t sound “Aussie” when he sings?), and secondly developing a forward placement so you can get started with grit.

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