Five Ways to Sing Low Notes Like Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash was known for his incredibly rich baritone voice, characterised by a very low range and tonal depth unlike many other pop and rock singers. Learning how to sing low notes takes just as much time and practice as learning how to sing high notes – but there are a few key pointers that will make the process of learning to sing low notes like Johnny Cash a much smoother and simple one.
One of the key aspects of learning how to sing like Johnny Cash is to avoid the temptation to impart an accent, or a drawl on your tone – remember, Johnny Cash wasn’t “trying to sing like Johnny Cash”, he was simply singing.
While there is an element of physical build to being able to hit lows like Johnny Cash (a soprano will likely never sing Walk The Line – and I’ll likely never sing Whitney Houston convincingly as a baritone), your low range requires the same dedication to vocal technique to sing efficiently and without strain, and of course to achieve consistency.
The #1 technique you need to build your low range
The most important technique I’ve found for consistently building my students’ low ranges is placement. Now, the term placement itself might be a little abstract, but in essence really refers to your perception of where your voice ‘occurs’ and ultimately allows you to sing with efficient frequencies rather than any improper vibration that is dragging your tone down – yes, even in your low range.
Vocal placement is easy to develop but is often overlooked by higher-voiced singing teachers who either naturally place their voices, or are yet to experience issues with their voice due to improper placement. This often happens in a Tenor who sings with incredible prowess in their youth, but eventually lose most of their voice ages and their frequencies change. Placement is not only the answer to building a powerful low range and finding low notes you thought were out of reach, but it’s also the answer to keeping your voice safe and retaining your range as your voice ages.
I can’t sing high notes anymore
Funnily enough, this actually goes hand in hand with developing a strong low range, if you’ve lost your high notes or can’t sing high notes anymore, then it’s likely your voice has gone through a natural change and requires development to build control over your ‘new’ instrument.
Singing low like Johnny Cash or singing high like Chris Cornell both involve the same process of vocal coordination and developing control over your vocal mechanism. I often remind my own students that their voices are only ever going to be as strong as the foundation that they build first, so make sure you set up your posture, breathing and placement first to ensure that you can not only sing low notes like Johnny Cash, but so you can also build an extensive range and hit high notes like your favourite singers do with ease.
These five techniques will help you sing low notes like Johnny Cash, but remember, singing is all about coordination and your foundation, so don’t try to run before you’ve developed the skill to walk first.
#1 – Placement
As we just discovered, vocal placement is absolutely key to building a strong and consistent lower range. Without placement, your frequencies will descend into the throat and you will no doubt lose your pitch and feel very uncomfortable as you descend. Develop proper placement first to ensure that you sing with the most efficient frequencies every time you sing.
Placement has been key to developing consistency in my own voice as a low baritone.
#2 – Appoggio
Appoggio is really just a fancy word for support, but it really defines a concept more than a technique per se. In my approach to singing, Appoggio is more the act of breathing and releasing air pressure without your ribs collapsing as you either ascend in range or hold a sustained phrase.
#3 – Middle Voice
You’ll see that when I ascend in range in the above Johnny Cash cover that I’m not shouting in my chest voice, but I’m also not flipping into head voice or falsetto – in essence I’m singing with a combination of chest and head frequencies which is often called Middle Voice. Middle voice, or simply Mix is a coordination between vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension, ultimately allowing you to sing with the right depth afforded by chest voice while accessing the extensive range allowed by your head register.
#4 – Vowel tuning
Vowel tuning really has two facets, first vowel production and then the actual tuning of frequencies often achieved by either vowel modification or physical tuning of the vocal tract. Simply put, pronunciation gives you your speaking voice, and vowel articulation gives you your singing voice. Learn to sing your vowels in the right manner and you will be able to sing almost any song you desire with ease and resonant power.
#5 – The Soft Palate
A lot of confusing is caused by archaic terms like Open Throat technique and even Appoggio. The essence of open throat singing is really just proper control of your soft palate, which should be closed on vowel sounds, but allowed to stretch up and create the space required for your high range. If you suffer from a nasal tone, or you ‘flip’ up into falsetto as you ascend, then it’s likely you’re not controlling your soft palate properly.
Learning to sing like Johnny Cash does take time, dedication and consistent practice, but his resonant low range can be created with proper vocal technique and developing control over your singing mechanism.
A great place to start is the free foundations short courses available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio. Then when you’re ready to take your voice to the next level you can book a Skype Session and we’ll get started developing your vocal control!
If you have any questions about learning how to sing like Johnny Cash, feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.