How to sing 90s Grunge Songs
As a child of the early 80’s myself, I grew up in the height of the grunge era – I even recall asking the bus driver to play my Nirvana Nevermind cassette on the way to school (“only if you damn kids behave!” he said). While grunge is often known for angsty lyrics, greasy hair and poorly fitting flannel and military boot style, I personally remember the 90’s as great singers great singing, heavy guitars and a great time for music in general. Singers like Chris Cornell Soundgarden, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana and Layne Staley are some of my favourite singers ever, and as I’ve ventured into voice coaching myself I can’t help but wonder where all the fantastic singers have gone in Rock ‘n Roll? Never fear, this tutorial is going to show you how to sing 90’s Grunge Songs with power and ease, the same way that guys like Chris Cornell and Scott Weiland were able to in their heyday.
Great singing in any style of music, from classical to grunge is simply an act of coordination rather than a muscular feat, so make sure you set up a healthy foundation first – as I often say to my students, singing voices are only as strong and reliable as the foundation they’re built on. Let’s get started on how to sing 90’s Grunge Songs!
How to sing like Chris Cornell
As my all time favourite singer, I relish the chance to coach other Soundgarden fans how to sing like Chris Cornell. The wild range, the intense delivery – the sheer reach and length of the Chris Cornell octave range is impressive, not to mention how controlled and powerful his voice was. To sing like Chris Cornell it’s first important to understand the way that your registers really work. You’ve likely heard of Chest Voice and Head Voice before, but did you know the muscles responsible for each of these main registers can coordinate together into a third powerful register that retains the rich depth of chest while allowing the extensive range that head voice affords? This third register is called the MIX voice or the middle register and is a simple coordination between the muscles responsible for chest voice, the thyroarytenoid (or simply TA) and those that allow your head register, the cricothyroid (CT). With a balanced TA and CT engagement, you can extend your range with a powerful and consistently bright timbre just like Chris Cornell singing with Soundgarden or Audioslave.
If you want to learn how to sing like Chris Cornell, it is absolutely imperative that you develop your middle coordination to access your mix register – this is why Chris Cornell had such an extensive range that was so incredibly powerful, and seemingly so effortless to boot.
How to sing like Layne Staley
Another favourite singer of mine is Layne Staley, Alice in Chains lead singer and one time frontman for Mad Season. Layne Staley possessed a natural Tenor range, but with a venomous and earth shattering power that gave way to a vulnerable side at will. As Alice in Chains singer, Layne Staley was the epitome of the Seattle sound, all twang, incredible range, powerful delivery and a troubled side that increasingly crept into his lyrics, interplaying his raucous belting with a soft and controlled lilt where needed. One of the greatest secrets to powerful singing is a subtle narrowing of the epiglottis known as twang. Now, I’m not talking about nashville drawl or a southern twang, I’m simply talking about a boost around 3k in your vocal frequencies via this narrowed epiglottis that occurs when the pharynx itself starts to resonate in singing. Twang is immediately recognisable in Layne Staleys singing, that bright and sharp BITE to his voice that was not so much nasal, but powerful and buzzing instead.
Learning how to develop and control twang takes time and proper vocal technique – unfortunately, this sound was hijacked by singers less studied and trained than Layne, and some singers opted to mimic his tone with nasality caused by an open soft palate instead of a true narrowing of the epiglottis and proper vocal technique. If you want to learn how to sing like Layne Staley, developing twang is a great starting point.
How to sing like Eddie Vedder
Eddie Vedder was an oddity in the 90s Grunge Music due to his bellowing baritone range that was all rage and belting rather than finesse and range. I always loved the interplay between Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder on Temple of the Dog’s Hunger Strike – you can hear just how different Eddie Vedders voice is to Chris Cornell’s wailing shriek. One of the most important aspects of Eddie Vedder’s singing is his support mechanism – while I don’t recommend yelling and belting like Eddie often did from a technique perspective, you can clearly hear that the guy had a SERIOUS set of lungs and knew how to control his airflow. In singing, supporting your singing through your breath is often called Appoggio, which is simply the act of controlling airflow through extension of the diaphragm instead of expansion/contraction of your ribs. I suggest starting with our free foundations short course Breathing 101 to get started on breath support and learning how to sing like Eddie Vedder.
How to sing 90s Grunge Songs the RIGHT way
While 90s grunge music might seem like screaming and wailing mixed with out of tune guitars and poorly maintained instruments, learning how to sing 90s grunge songs takes time, perseverance and proper vocal technique. If you wish to learn how to sing like Chris Cornell, or learn how to sing like Jeff Buckley, or even learn how to sing like Courtney Love, it’s important that you develop your voice properly and build a strong and powerful foundation for your voice so that you can extend your singing range without strain, and your voice stays healthy and consistent with the more experience you gain as a singer.
By developing your middle voice coordination and learning to add elements like twang to your singing technique, you will be able to sing like your favourite 90s grunge songs and singers with power and ease – no more straining and no more struggling! Learning proper vocal technique is the only way to sing like Chris Cornell and Kurt Cobain without strain.
If you listen 90s music on repeat like I do almost every day, you likely marvel at the sheer range of Chris Cornell’s voice, the piercing power of Layne Staley’s resonance, the bellowing boom of Eddie Vedder, the sheer venom of Courtney Love’s voice along with so many other amazing singers that are truly a challenge to sing along to. With proper vocal technique you will be able to extend your range beyond any imagination and truly develop a powerful and intense singing voice. If you’re ready to take your singing voice to the next level so you can sing 90s grunge songs and learn how to sing like Chris Cornell and so many other fantastic 90’s singers, you can book a Skype session and we can get started building the perfect grunge voice today!
If you have any questions about singing 90s grunge songs, you can leave a question or any feedback 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.