Layne Staley Vocal Range
As the primary voice of Alice in Chains, Layne Staley mixed vocal prowess with a touch of dirt and sorrow to create the quintessential sound of Seattle, and ultimately the classic 90’s rock archtype. Often as overdriven as it could be soft and soulful, Layne Staley’s voice stretched from the middle of the 2nd octave high up into the 5th with seeming ease and endless power. As much a style icon as an influential singer, his voice really deserves it’s own classification separate from any standard Tenor, simply titled the Layne Staley vocal range. In this tutorial, I’m going to show you how to sing like Layne Staley by developing the vocal techniques that he was best known for, and the approach that he took to build his powerful singing voice.
Layne Staley Voice Tips
Layne Staley’s voice was expressive and powerful, and as much the result of many years of training and practice as it was a product of his own unique delivery and approach. To sing like Layne Staley, it’s important that you follow these steps build a voice that’s as healthy and robust as it is powerful, as after all, a singing voice is only as strong as the foundation that it is built on. Here’s 5 powerful tips on how to sing like Layne Staley.
#1 – Shape your vowels
That rolled 90’s grungy vowel sound isn’t the product of wacky pronunciation, it’s actually the result of shaping your vowels and learning to articulate your sound through efficient resonance production. Learning how to shape your vowels is a special skill that should be taught by every voice coach – but is often overlooked by coaches that have been either singing for their whole lives, or, posess an accent (such as American) that naturally leans towards these vowel shapes. Vowel shaping is part of your foundation as a singer, so make sure your vocal approach teaches you the five basic tongue shapes and vocal tract widths for each of your pure vowel sounds so that you can learn how to sing like Layne Staley with ease.
#2 – Practice efficiently
Like all of the Mad Season band members and the guys from Alice in Chains, Layne Staley was a well trained muscian who truly KNEW his instrument. Like learning any musical instrument, and many pursuits in life, there’s no magic pill for learning how to sing like Layne Staley, you have to practice, train and invest your time in the right vocal approach.
Learning how to sing like Layne Staley isn’t simply a matter of practicing scales, you need to learn the concepts of placement, mix voice, resonance tuning, vowel shaping, consonant grouping and others – without an approach to each of these singing techniques, learning how to sing like Layne Staley will be an impossible feat.
#3 – Breathe using Appoggio Singing Technique
I like to think of Appoggio as a full breathing concept rather than a breathing technique, and involves controlling your airflow and air pressure by extension of the diaphragm rather than expansion or contraction of the ribs. The first step to developing Appoggio singing technique is to set up your posture correctly and learn how to breathe from the diaphragm. Healthy posture for singing looks like this:
- Head Up
- Shoulders back
- Chin Parallel with the floor
- Sternum up
Raising your sternum without breathing in as the last step of your posture ensures that your ribs are set in a ‘wide’ position so that you breathe entirely from engagement of the diaphragm rather than contracting your ribs like we often do in speech. This wide rib position ensures that the intercostal muscles won’t tighten and contract your ribs as you ascend – known as Appoggio singing technique, or simply SUPPORT in singing terminology.
#4 – Develop Twang
Not to be confused with a Tennesse drawl or a Nashville Twang, the art of narrowing your epiglottis to amplify your frequencies along your vocal tract is a special skill that Layne Staley perfected in his singing technique. This simple but effective approach to amplification and ‘bite’, known as TWANG in a singing voice is what gave Layne Staley’s voice that sharp bite and allowed him to create the resonant distortion that we all known and love from Alice in Chains.
#5 – Tune your resonance
That bright, powerful, but relaxed sound you often hear Layne Staley singing with is due to his ability to tune his resonance as he ascended through his range. Each voice has a unique set of resonators that occur at various points through the vocal range, and require a different vocal tract width to ensure the easiest and most efficient resonance occurs with the least effort.
Resonance tuning is an extension of the basic concept of vowel modification, which requires you to alter the character of your five vowel sounds as you ascend in range to activate and ‘ping’ off each of these resonators through your vocal range. A better way to do this is by developing control over each of the muscles that allow vowel modification to work so that you can fine tune your resonance to each resonator without having to mangle your vowel sound or lose the more narrow vowel sounds of EE and OO.
The key to singing like Layne Staley
Singing like Layne Staley is easy when you have an approach designed to develop the different techniques and aspects of his powerful vocals for your individual and unique voice. Often when I see a singer trying to sing like Layne Staley, they’re copying his voice, tone or vocal character rather than developing these aspects in their own voices. A great example is where people sing nasally to copy Layne Staley’s bright and sharp sounding voice rather than developing proper twang technique for that powerfully resonant buzz in the high range in a healthy way. Another is the rolled grungey “R” sound I often hear in singers trying to learn how to sing like Layne Staley, which in his voice, was actually a result of vowel shaping and proper, albiet overly theatrical articulation of these sounds.
The key to singing like Layne Staley isn’t to copy his sound, it’s to develop his singing technique – Layne Staley vocal technique includes resonance placement, diaphragmatic breathing, vowel tuning and shaping, proper consonant articulation and of course singing with a balanced onset. Building each of these important singing techniques is the only real way you can sing like Layne Staley – singing Layne Staley songs takes practice, perseverance and a whole helluva lot of twang.
Learning how to sing like Layne Staley requires you to master The Four Vocal Fundamentals;
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- “All In One Flow”
- Mixed Tonality
- Forward Placement