How to Sing Like Layne Staley
Learning how to sing like Layne Staley was one of the first things I wanted to do as a beginner singer. The distortion, the power, the range - Layne really had it all; from the delicate tone of a song like Nutshell to the paint shredding belting in songs like Man In The Box, I really did think that guys like Layne were just 'gifted' and I was stuck with the limited and weak range that I started out with; until I learned what I'm about to share with you.
What makes a 'gifted' singer anyway? Do they have some special voice that the rest of us just don't have - or is something that they are naturally good at doing that guys and gals like you and I can learn how to do with practice, patience and time?
For the most part, naturally gifted singers just 'get it right' without having to try to hard or spend too much time learning the basics - they get the vowel right, they balance their airflow, they have a powerfully mixed vocal tone and especially in Layne's case, they are already masters of forward placement - while the rest of us over-pronounce our words, struggle with a dark and muddy tone, push and shout (or sing breathy) and make every mistake in the book while marvelling at how easy our favourite singers make it look with their 'natural gift'
I'm here to tell you these four simple fundamentals are the key to learning how to sing like any singer out there and sing any song - from Alice In Chains to Aretha Franklin. If you want to learn how to sing like Layne Staley, your first starting point is these Four Vocal Fundamentals;
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- Forward Placement
- Mixed Tonality
- "All In One Flow"
If you're struggling to sing like Layne, even if you've taken a few singing lessons and practiced lip trills and nay nay's for months on end - you first need to ask yourself whether you're raising the soft palate (height in the vocal tract), singing forward (using the bones of the face to brighten your tone and lift the sound from your throat), singing with a mixed tonality (stop pushing chest voice and learn to balance your registers) and also singing "All In One Flow" (balancing your airflow with support and compression) - because these four fundamentals really are the reason that Layne Staley was such an incredible singer.
As a baritone myself, learning how to sing like Layne Staley has honestly taken quite a lot of time, consistent practice and an extensive learning curve - you're not going to sing like Layne Staley overnight, but it will happen if you develop the right vocal technique and build your voice in a healthy and powerful way.
The key to developing better technique as a singer is to first improve your foundation in the same way that Layne supported his voice with excellent technique, an open throat, correct vowels, a forward sound and mixed tonality - all things you can learn RIGHT NOW using The Four Vocal Fundamentals, so let me take you through each of the four fundamentals one by one so you can start singing better right now!
#1 - Height In The Vocal Tract
You might wonder why I don't just say "yawn before you sing" like everyone else on YouTube - but the truth is, this instruction never really worked for me personally, and I'm really all about PRACTICAL coaching tips that actually help people sing better. If it didn't work for me, and it isn't something I use - then why would I just keep repeating the same thing that every other coach out there says?
The key here is actually understanding WHY and HOW yawning can help you sing better - and the key here is the process of raising the soft palate when you yawn - this is why it really didn't work for me, because my first few singing teachers just told me to 'yawn' and brushed off my questions about how and why this was meant to help me sing better. If it had been explained properly that the vowel actually needs to occur in the pharynx by way of a raised soft palate - rather than in the mouth like in my speaking accent, then learning how to sing like Layne Staley would have been a whole hell of a lot quicker process than the many years it took to work out these fundamentals.
Singing with height in the vocal tract actually refers more to the vowel sounds you intend to sing, and also the tonality quality/overtone that you achieve through each register of the voice. In short, as you ascend in range, the soft palate needs to raise up to alter the size and shape of the vocal tract (kindof like the soundhole in an acoustic guitar) to help your voice ring out with a resonant overtone and powerful sound, instead of trying to squeeze your voice out of the mouth and throat like many untrained singers attempt to do - resulting in strain, tension and a lack of range.
My favourite way of helping my students achieve height in the vocal tract is actually with The Internal Smile - and it's called "internal" for a reason. If you're grinning wide at the mouth like a lunatic, you're actually creating WIDTH in the vocal tract, not HEIGHT in the vocal tract. So put that Cheshire-Cat grin away and learn to raise the palate properly by;
- raising the cheeks subtly under the eyes
- keeping to a vertical oval embouchure at the mouth rather than wide spread
- sink the cheeks slightly at the back of the mouth
- aim for a high palate
- sing without speech pronunciation
Bright, enthusiastic eyes also helps too!
You'll notice with this 'internal smile' setup, your vowels naturally want to move into the back of the head, more like you're singing an AH sound for words like "eyes" and a EH sound for a word like "feed" in a song like Man In The Box.
Can you hear the 'height' in the vocal tract that I'm singing with here? This is a direct result of The Internal Smile and how I'm raising the palate to create a pharyngeal vowel instead of a speechy mouth vowel.
Singing like Layne Staley is easy when you create Height In The Vocal Tract.
#2 - Forward Placement
You can immediately identify forward placement in Layne's voice by the bright, sharp vocal tone that he was known for. This is partly stylistic choice, but actually good technique in the form of forward placement.
Forward placement is the use of the facial bones and sphenoidal sinus, along with a brighter tonality to achieve freedom from strain and tension - along with a more powerful and intense sound when it comes to rock and pop singing.
The key here is to aim for a brighter and slightly more brassy tone rather than a rounded classical tone that is covered and ultimately dark. That works for Opera, sure, but if you want to sing with distortion and achieve that intense but controlled tone that Layne was known for - then forward placement really is king.
Developing twang by narrowing the epiglottis with bright, buzzy sounds like Nay and Zing really is a key element of forward placement - but also keeping an 'enthusiastic' delivery to your vowels in the form of mixed tonality is really the secret to developing a bright but balanced forward placement.
#3 - All In One Flow
You might also wonder why I don't just say "support" like every other voice coach out there when it comes to diaphragmatic breathing while instructing my students - but again, this is something I find is often hit and miss with singers who either 'get it' or 'don't get it'; I was definitely in the latter category when I was first learning how to sing.
Again, I'm all about the practical when it comes to helping others sing better - so "All In One Flow" is just about the most practical way I can teach and show you how to support your voice correctly. Instead of pushing out all of your air when you sing, try to measure out your breath in one slow and controlled exhale from the start of the line to the end of the line. You'll notice this naturally helps you engage the diaphragm while creating a slight resistance horizontally at the ribs as you sing through the line - congratulations, you just supported your voice without the need to push, grunt, clamp or huff and puff.
When it comes to developing distortion and compression in the style of Layne Staley, learning to sing "All In One Flow" while accentuating your forward placement really is key to that intense but controlled sound he was so well known for. Compression isn't pushing - compression is simply managing your airflow so that you sing All In One Flow without releasing excess air, but without fighting the release of air.
#4 - Mixed Tonality
This one took a little while to 'click' for me - but learning to sing with a balanced, mixed tonality has allowed me to break free of the chains that a baritone voice often puts on rock singers. Mix Voice really is key to any kind of rock singing, belting, distortion and just generally great singing - but you'll often find many methods out there that either completely overlook mixed tonality, or even say that it's "not a thing"; but I can tell you, as a guy who had less than an octave range from E2-F3 when I first started learning how to sing - mixed tonality has allowed me to sing like Layne Staley with ease (like you can see in the covers above).
Mix Voice is really two things - a balanced tone half way between chest voice and head voice (instead of a hard switch between the two in the middle of your range), and also a balanced relationship between the TA and CT muscles to allow you to stretch your folds beyond those thick blobs that you're probably struggling with in your speaking range.
My favourite way of helping my students discover mixed voice is with "classroom voice" - you know, the projected but pleasant voice you would use with a group of small children - "Okay everyone, look over here!"
You're not going to SHOUT at the little darlings, but you're also not going to let them walk all over you by speaking weak and quiet. Assertive and pleasant is the key to developing mixed tonality in your singing, and ultimately the final key in learning how to sing like Layne Staley.
Master The Four Vocal Fundamentals
If I had learned to master The Four Vocal Fundamentals from day one as a vocal student instead of spending YEARS looking for "the next secret" to great singing, the process of learning how to sing like Layne Staley would have been much easier, quicker and more efficient; so I've based my whole teaching approach around The Four Vocal Fundamentals (yes, I believe in them THAT much!);
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- Forward Placement
- "All In One Flow"
- Mixed Tonality
One step better than just sharing these Four Vocal Fundamentals with you, I've also designed a full vocal method around this simple but effective premise of "Foundation First" that starts with The Foundation 101 singing course, which will show you how to;
- Connect chest and head voice
- Develop forward placement
- Create height in the vocal tract
- Sing with a mixed tone
- Sing "All In One Flow"
- Increase your range
- Improve your tone
- Sing past your vocal break
- SO much more!