How to sing like James Hetfield
Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, there was one constant on my radio throughout all the years – Metallica. James Hetfield’s shrieking roar has been a huge influence on my own singing, along with being one of the first motivations to improve my voice and seek out better singing technique.
Setting up a strong foundation is the first thing that you should do if you want to learn how to sing like James Hetfield, and we’ll get to that soon – but I think the most important thing to understand is that you should never strain to sing anything, even Metallica songs. You CAN build a powerful and extensive range so that you can sing like James Hetfield, but you need to follow the right approach and make sure to develop the proper singing techniques needed for this tricky endeavour.
In this singing tutorial, I’m going to share with you five killer tips on how to sing like James Hetfield and nail those Metallica songs like a Master (of puppets).
Tip #1 – James Hetfield Sings with Mixed Voice
From day one, I was blown away at how HIGH James could sing, and how he still managed to be powerful and full – especially with all that grit he is so well known for. What I didn’t realise then was there is another ‘secret’ vocal register that sits in between Chest Voice and Head Voice – known as the ‘middle’ or ‘mix‘ register. Learning to control my mix has taken my super low natural baritone range way up into the high range while still retaining my ‘full’ voice and powerful sound.
Middle voice requires you to build a balanced coordination between your two main registers, and starts when learn how to connect chest voice and head voice. This initially small connection will GROW over time, and you will have a full and monsterous middle range that extends into the head register with ease while keeping your full and rich chest tonality.
Tip #2 – It’s HIGH, man (so approach it that way!)
If you’ve ever tried to sing a Metallica song, you were probably surprised by how HIGH alot of those songs are – for example, Master of Puppets starts on a high G, which is well above the first vocal break of most Baritone singers like myself. To learn how to sing like James Hetfield I’ve had to learn how to develop my MIX coordination and bridge my registers by tuning my vowels, releasing into my Middle range and of course singing my vowels in the right manner so that I can tune my resonance. Make sure you’ve developed your high range properly before trying to delve head first into a Metallica song, because they’re often higher than you expect, so be prepared.
Tip #3 – Place your resonance
Most budding singers make the mistake of growling and singing Metallica songs too deep and rich in terms of vocal placement. If you truly listen to James Hetfield singing, you will notice there is actually very LITTLE low end to his tone, and his grit is very high and piercing, because he has placed his voice correctly.
Learning to place your voice like James Hetfield requires you to limit any excess or unnecessary frequencies that aren’t resonating in an efficient manner, in essence removing any dead weight from your voice so that you can dial up the power in the BEST frequencies and spend your time building your voice the right way. Placement has been one of the main keys to building my baritone voice range and allowing me to sing like James Hetfield without straining.
Tip #4 – Balance your onset
Along with his piercing, vicious distortion, James Hetfield was a master at nailing a sharp onset. Learning how to sing your onsets in the right manner will allow you to sing with POWER, while starting your resonance without strain. In singing there are three onsets your voice is capable of creating, but only one truly healthy and powerful onset you should be developing:
- Breathy onset – air is released before you achieve chord closure
- Glottal onset – your chords are closed and air pressure blows them apart
- Balanced – air pressure and chord closure meet at the perfect moment
Learning to balance your onset in this manner is the only way to effectively and safely sing with power and proper chord closure, so make sure you singing with a balanced and coordinated onset to avoid damaging your voice or tiring your chords.
Tip #5 – Support aka “Sing from the diaphragm”
Learning to breathe correctly by engaging your diaphragm will allow you to sing with appoggio singing technique, meaning that your air pressure and air flow are controlled solely by extension of your diaphragm rather than contraction of your ribs like often happens in speech. Learning to engage your diaphragm is super easy, but often overlooked in some of the most popular contemporary singing methods. Your breathing starts with posture, so make sure you’re taking the right stance for powerful singing:
- Head up
- Shoulders back
- Chin parallel with the floor
- Sternum up
Now, keeping your sternum raised isn’t necessarily part of healthy singing posture, it’s simply a way for me to illustrate how to widen your ribs, which is what is known as appoggio singing technique. Keeping your ribs in this wide position is how you are going to be able to control your breathing via extension of the diaphragm.
Don’t push your high range
Learning to sing into my higher range with a full sound has taken training, perseverance and of course learning the RIGHT vocal techniques:
- Diaphragmatic Breathing
- Middle Voice
- Bridging registers
- Frequency Control
- Release, release, release!
Make sure that you’re not pushing and straining in your high range, or your foray into singing like James Hetfield will be a short one, and painful at that. Learning how to sing correctly takes delicate coordination of the many different elements of singing, from your onsets to your registers, even for a BIG voice like James Hetfield sings with. Remember, if it’s not easy, then it’s not right – stop straining and learn how to sing the right way.
Learn the RIGHT way to sing like James Hetfield
If you want a powerful, full sound without pushing and damaging your voice, it’s important that you learn the right techniques like middle voice and vowel positions. To get that full ‘roar’ in your voice and a THICK sound, you need to power up your middle voice. Here’s another video lesson I’ve put together that will not only show you how to bridge into your middle register, but also POWER IT UP!
Bohemian Vocal Studio has become synonymous with POWERFUL singing and the most practical and comprehensive approach to vocal coaching. Since launching in 2010, BVS has steadily grown into the premier voice studio for professional singing lessons in the world. When you’re ready to take your voice to the next level and build power in your mix voice while learning how to sing like James Hetfield, you can Book a Skype session today to learn how to increase your range and build power in your voice!
Feel free to leave any questions or 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.