How To Sing Like Chris Cornell
Learning how to sing like Chris Cornell takes dedication, proper training, patience and most of all, the right approach. A high baritone blessed with a seemingly endless range that stretched up well into the fifth octave – Chris Cornell’s voice was known for it’s earth shattering power, belting high range, vocal distortion and incredible versatility.
Building an extensive range really has more to do with resonance and balance than it does brute strength or ‘stretching’ your voice – these 5 steps will show you how to sing like Chris Cornell using vocal techniques like vowel tuning, resonance blending, middle voice, balanced onsets and so much more.
Step 1 – Build a strong foundation
Your posture, breathing and ability to resonate will dictate how well you can sing with advanced singing techniques like vowel tuning, compression and mix voice. Without the proper singing posture, your diaphragmatic breathing will suffer and lead to weak high notes, vocal chord strain and even damage to your voice. Lets get started by setting up your posture for a POWERFUL foundation:
- Head up
- Shoulders back
- Chin Parallel with the floor
- Ribs out
Learning how to sing with your ribs out, known as Support or Appoggio singing technique in the classical world, will allow you to control your breathing and resonance by extension of the diaphragm rather than contraction of your ribs. A fantastic way to widen your ribs is to stand straight using the first three singing posture steps above, and then attempt to raise your sternum without breathing in. If you learn how to do this in the right manner, your ribs will widen and your stomach will contract – allowing you to then breathe by engaging the diaphragm. A great trick for testing whether you’re singing with appoggio singing technique the right way is to stand in front of a mirror while pactising and ensure that your shoulders and chest are STATIONARY whilst you are breathing – that’s right, your chest should actually stay in this widened rib position and strong stance each time you breath. If your ribs contract or expand while breathing, then you’re not setting up the proper singing posture before you engage the diaphragm.
Your breathing diaphragm is a large dome-shaped muscle that lies below your lung cavity. As an involuntary muscle, you need to learn how to engage your diaphragm by first using adjoining musculature and visualisation techniques to develop control over this important breathing function. As you engage your singing diaphragm, it lowers into the abdominal cavity and creates a ‘negative space’ or ‘vacuum’ where air is drawn down into this space to allow you to resonate with air pressure when you sing rather than air FLOW like when most people speak.
A great way to learn how to engage the diaphragm is to first take your STRONG proper singing posture, and then figuratively imagine that you are breathing low and sharp through a drinking straw. You can also try toggling your breathing in between your nose and your mouth which will actually serve two functions, engaging the diaphragm and also developing control over your soft palate, another one of the important “big three” muscles you use in singing, which we’ll talk about next. When you’ve engaged your diaphragm correctly, it will feel more as though your breathing is occurring in/from your belly rather than your chest, and when I show you how to sing with resonance, you’ll almost feel as though you are singing without airflow.
Singing with resonance instead of breathiness is the key to SINGING rather than simply SPEAKING – learning how to resonate and eliminate unnecessary airflow from your singing voice will allow you to sing higher than ever before and develop POWER throughout your whole vocal range, while also ensuring your voice is safe, healthy and constantly growing
A geat way to learn how to resonate properly is to develop vocal placement, which we’ll get to soon – but for now, lets discuss that pesky soft palate. What is the soft palate, and why is it SO important when we’re singing?
Step 2 – Soft Palate Singing
Learning how to control your soft palate to ensure the correct soft palate singing coordination is intrinsic to building your range and learning how to connect chest voice and head voice. You might be wondering where is the soft palate or what is the soft palate function in singing? Along with toggling airflow either between your nose or your mouth, learning proper control of the soft palate allows you to create and alter your resonant space as you are singing higher into your range to allow for the most efficient use of your resonance. An “Open” soft palate is what happens when you hum, or sing an “N” or “NG” – the soft palate is ‘open’, allowing air to escape out of your nose. A “Closed” soft palate is what happens on your vowels and while you are singing consonants other than “M” or “N” for the most part. A great way to learn soft palate singing is to toggle your breathing (which using your fingers to block your nose!) between your mouth and nose, in essence, opening and closing the soft palate to allow airflow through either your nose or your mouth.
Remember, your VOWELS require you to actualy CLOSE the soft palate, so that your sound resonates in the nasal chamber, but without airflow.
Step 3 – Vocal Placement
Learning how to sing with vocal placement is an important skill that develops over time as your resonance grows stronger. Now, I do realise that you can’t physically ‘move’ or ‘place’ your voice in a literal sense, however, you CAN encourage the creation of, or limiting your frequencies to, a specific band of frequencies that resonates in the best manner and with ease.
My favourite way to build vocal placement and sing with resonance is to practice a simple “N” exercise – not with your speaking accent, but with your tongue behind your top teeth and a light buzz behind your nose. You can practice the best singing exercise from the best singing programs and best singing teacher out there – but a singing exercise is only as good as the INTENTION behind the exercise, so in essence, singing exercises are worthless unless you truly understand WHY you are practising them.
The purpose of this “N” exercise isn’t to build a useful sound, or a rock sound, it’s simply to LIMIT your frequencies to resonance above your top teeth. Again, the purpose of this isn’t to sing with a huge voice, or sing higher in chest voice – none of that is important and will only hinder your progress. The purpose of vocal placement is simply to train your voice to limit your frequencies to resonance above your top teeth.
Now, if you’ve taken singing lessons before our bought a singing course – you might be mistaking basic vocal placement for the classical technique of ‘masque’ singing, and I just have to reiterate, vocal placement is NOT singing in mask, these techniques are unrelated. Make sure you’re singing with vocal placement the right way by booking a Skype singing lesson with me for professional guidance and practical training.
Step 4 – Shape your vowels
If you’ve ever seen a video of Chris Cornell singing, you might have noticed the darndest thing – he doesn’t open his mouth very much. Crazy, right? The reason his vowels and words still come out clear and powerful is because he is shaping his vowel sounds with the his vocal tract and tongue shape, rather than pronouncing them like we do in speech, while also allowing resonant space in the vocal tract at the back of the mouth. Obviously each voice is different and requires specialised training to shape and tune your vowels efficiently, but a general guide to the simple tongue shapes that make up your five ‘practical vowel sounds’ looks something like this:
- AH – Tongue low and concave
- AA – Similar, but with the middle of your tongue forward
- EE – Tongue “up” at the back
- EH/AY – Similar but with your mouth ajar
- OO – There’s actually two different OO vowels you can shape.
Now, each of these vowel sounds actually requires a specific vocal tract width to allow for proper resonance, AH being the widest vowel, EE and OO being the most narrow vowel sounds. The easiest way to learn how to control the width of your vocal tract is actually to learn proper tuning of your vowels from the very start.
Now that we’ve established that each vowel requires a specific tongue shape, and a specific vocal tract width – we need to TUNE this width all throughout your range so that you can sing past your vocal break and sing with ease in the ‘difficult’ passages throughout your voice. A great way to illustrate this point is to take one of your vowels like “AH”, so, tongue low and concave, and ever so slightly allow your vowel to change character as you ascend in range, towards an “OH”. So AH becomes OH as you sing towards your first vocal break – can you feel how allows a change and release in your resonance so that you can actually sing higher in chest voice and sing past your break? Congratulations, you just tuned your vowel. Now, vowel modification in this manner isn’t particularly efficient, but it IS a great way to learn it if you’re just starting out – here’s a practical tutorial I’ve put together for you to show you the BEST way to tune your vowels
Now, the aperture of the mouth IS actually important when you are starting to develop your high range – it’s important that you don’t “Widen” your mouth from side to side, but instead create an oval aperture from top to bottom like a vertical oval. This allows you to form your vowels in a pure manner while also helping to allow resonant space when you sing high frequencies.
Step 5 – Singing consonants and onsets
Without consonants, all those scales and sirens you’ve been practising are useless – great singing means having the ability to sing actual SONGS, not just scales and drills. Lets talk about your ONSET first.
A vocal onset is how your note starts, and almost ALWAYS involves one of your practical vowel sounds, even while singing consonants and starting your words. There’s actually THREE different onsets your voice is able to create;
- Breathy (weak)
- Balanced (coordinated)
- Glottal (hard)
Now, the ONLY onset you should be singing with is a coordinated onset – sure, you can lean towards either side for a more dynamic delivery, but your onset should always be built around a balanced onset. A breathy onset involves the release of air prior to your vocal chords coming together, a glottal onset involves your vocal chords being slammed SHUT before you release any air pressure, and a BALANCED onset is the perfect middle ground where your chords come together at the very moment you release air pressure to create resonance.
Now, consonant sounds are often tied to your onsets when you start a phrase or sing a new word, so it’s important that you train a balanced onset into your singing technique so that you can with ease and POWER. My favourite way to teach singing consonants to my students is to group them into each of their types and form an approach to each consonant type considering my student’s voice type, accent and native tongue – remember, no two voices are the same!
Along with forming your vowels correctly and creating a mix voice that involves both chest and head resonance, developing finesse with your consonants, onsets and of course the tonal quality of your resonance. Chris Cornell in particular wasn’t pushing or straining when he sang powerfully high songs like Beyond The Wheel or Black Rain, so make sure you’re singing with balance instead of pushing your chest voice or manhandling your voice with muscular force.
A great place to start is the free foundations course Foundation 101 available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio which will show you how to set up the same bullet proof foundation that Chris Cornell was known for while learning to implement vowel modification, resonance blending, middle voice and so many other important vocal techniques. When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level with professional vocal coaching you’re welcome to book a Skype Lesson with me and we’ll start working towards extending your range and building control, balance and consistency in your voice every time you sing.
If you have any questions about learning how to sing like Chris Cornell, you’re welcome 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.