How I found my Real Voice (You Won’t Believe It!)
When I first started singing I had zero vocal training and basically tried to copy the grit and gruff of my favourite singers like James Hetfield, Chris Cornell, Paul Rodgers and Freddie King without much regard for my vocal health or finding my true singing voice – I was happy if I could occasionally yell in key and that was it. Over time my already dubious ability to mimic these singers declined and I started to struggle to sing at all, I even gave up singing for a time and considered a different path in life – that is, until I found my real voice.
Since finding my true voice, I’ve developed my own successful approach to singing that has helped students around the world to improve their singing voices, troubleshoot their vocal issues and reach their singing goals sooner. Here’s how I found my true voice.
I first had to let GO of my old voice
The voice I used to sing with, the strained, roaring and uncomfortable belting I was used to had to stop if I was ever to sing again. It was around this time I saw my first few voice coaches and tried one of the few online courses that was available at the time (we’re talking a good 10 years ago now), and the conclusion I was generally met with was either that I should stop singing rock, or I should only sing low baritone and bass songs like Johnny Cash – don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE Johnny Cash, but this is devastating news when your favourite singers are guys like Chris Cornell and Layne Staley, with powerful and soaring ranges seemingly endless in their reach. Now, working on my low range wasn’t terrible advice in and of itself, and I actually did focus more on my natural low range for a time and started to actually appreciate the gift that was my ability to sing considerably low with a rich and powerful tone – but then I started to wonder WHY I was unable to sing high like many other baritone singers were able to, I mean, Chris Cornell and Eric Burdon were both baritone singers, right? It wasn’t that I was unable to sing high notes, it’s that the coaches I was frequenting were unable to teach me how to sing high notes effectively.
My first classical coach, who was a spectacular singer in her own right, worked with me extensively to develop vocal placement, but nothing we tried worked with my low voice type, and in the end I think we both got tired of my frustrating voice and just gave up. I then spent months on my own trying to decipher just what ‘placement’ was all about, and WHY I had been told by so many other singers and voice coaches that I needed to sing “with placement” without any further explanation as to what placement really was and how it was intended to help my voice. By learning how the vocal mechanism really worked in a physical sense, and how frequencies and resonance are really what makes up the sound we perceive as a voice, I eventually realised that while it’s not actually possible to move or place your voice in a physical way, it IS actually possible to encourage a specific band of frequencies that resonate in a specific area of your vocal tract – in essence, achieving placement.
This change in my approach and shift in my mindset opened up absolutely every single door that was previously closed in my singing and lit the way for the approach I’ve now developed and teach to students all around the world. Everything that you are taught as a singer has a root and origin, and I can’t reiterate just how important it is to understand what you are practising rather than just doing it.
My perception was wrong (about so many things!)
With this change in approach and the newfound power and range I was starting to access, I noticed that my perception of powerful singers like Chris Cornell and Aretha Franklin was a touch askew. I no longer heard Chris Cornell pushing and belting, and Aretha no longer seemed out of reach for my baritone voice, I actually started to hear each of these singer’s true voices instead of how I percieved them through rose coloured glasses. To get that BIG sound I thought Chris Cornell was singing with I originally widened and opened my vocal tract in a haphazard way, without realising that Chris Cornell often sang with a considerably narrowed vowel and generally sang with closure of the soft palate and vocal chords – another vague singing term I once struggled to implement, Open Throat Technique, had just been blown wide apart again. To sing with Open Throat, you actually need closure. Closure of the soft palate, closure of your vocal folds, narrowing of your vocal tract towards closure and even closing of the tongue at times to create narrow vowel sounds like EE and OO that had previously been missing from my voice due to the disproportionate width I was inadvertently causing by my skewed perception – I was finally able to sing like Chris Cornell with ease.
With this newfound knowledge, I realised that singing terms and instructions are often figurative in their means, and terms like Open Throat were really badly translated literal interpretations of what was once intended as a figure of speech. A better interpretation of Open Throat Techniques is actually singing without your throat or no throat technique – your throat should be free of strain and open to a change in coordination without force.
Realising that singing terms were often figurative in their intention, I then went back to the classical training I had received years earlier and begun to implement techniques like Appoggio, Inhalare La Voce, Vibrato and so many more aspects of a great singing voice in the right way rather than necessarily in the way they were shown to me. This allowed me to create a resonant and free sound like I had never heard or experienced before, and I finally found my true voice.
How to find your true voice
I often see beginner singers struggling to sound like their favourite singers, copying their inflection and every stylistic nuance while missing an important part of the puzzle. Your favourite singers aren’t trying to “sound like” anyone, they are simply singing in their own natural way using their resonators to the best of their ability – if you try to mimic their tone or their voice then, in fact, you are singing in the exact opposite manner to your favourite singer. The best way to achieve the same level of vocal prowess enjoyed and expressed by your favourite singers is not to sound like them, but sing like them instead. By breaking down your favourite singer’s voices to the bare elements of their technique, you can start to implement these same techniques in your own singing without mimicing their tone and you will achieve greater success in singing in the style of your favourite singers.
Your true voice is achieved when you implement resonance in the most efficient way for your unique voice and vocal mechanism – your voice resonates unlike any other singer, so you shouldn’t try to mimic another singer’s resonance because you’ll achieve the opposite. If your favourite singer has a powerfully resonant voice, then you also need to develop a powerfully resonant voice. If your favourite singer has a sharp and piercing twang like Chris Cornell, then you need to develop twang in your voice via narrowing of the epiglottis. If your favourite singer makes certain vowel choices, then you need to develop your approach to vowels so you can also make informed vowel choices. Finding your true voice is less about singing like your favourite singers and more about developing the same elements that make their voices great in your own vocal approach.
Where my initial influences of Chris Cornell and Paul Rodgers have continued to be a major source of influence in my singing, it’s only through their inspiration that I even make similar choices that they made in their singing. The balance of natural resonance, plus my influences, plus my own stylistic interpretation plus the new perception I discovered have all played a part in discovering my own true voice. I realise now that while I absolutely CAN sing like Chris Cornell whenever I desire, I often don’t and instead sing with my own approach and natural inflection instead. The thing that made Chris Cornell, or Aretha Franklin, or Freddie Murcury such incredible singers is their unique voices and the individual approach they took to creating their own true voice – develop your voice properly through healthy vocal technique and an approach that works for your voice and the way you like to learn and you will discover your true singing voice!
If you’re ready to take your voice to the next level and discover your TRUE singing voice you can book a Skype Session and we’ll get started today!
If you have any questions about finding your true voice, 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.