The Ultimate Guide To Singing Heavy Metal Vocals
I grew up listening to my fair share of Metallica, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, Skid Row and Soundgarden as a kid – and I remember thinking “WOW! These guys must have vocal chords (balls?) of steel to sing like that!”.
I tried desperately to push, growl, yell, bellow, belt and blow my voice out in search of that coveted heavy metal high range that Chris Cornell and Dio achieve so easily – with terrible results and as many breaks and cracks in my voice as there are Iron Maiden albums.
My resounding conclusion was that I must just be a bad singer.
Fast forward through many years of professional vocal training, years of hard work, hours and hours of practice and perseverance and more singing teachers than I can count on all my fingers – I finally cracked the code for singing powerful Heavy Metal and Rock vocals with ease.
It’s not compression, a specific vocal course, or that Hollywood vocal coach charging $500 an hour, or even breath support or resonance – the true secret to great singing in ANY style, yes, even Heavy Metal and Hard Rock is excellent technique in every facet of the voice.
With a decade of experience as a professional voice coach myself now, I’ve boiled down all the hard vocal lessons I personally learned in my own journey as a fledgling singer learning the ropes of heavy metal vocals along with all the professional insider techniques, tricks and tips that most vocal teachers wouldn’t dare share with you like I’m about to do right now into just FOUR simple steps:
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- Forward Placement
- “All In One Flow”
- Mixed Tonality
That is absolutely IT. The only four things you actually need to master to become a total BOSS at singing heavy metal while retaining a healthy and powerful voice at all cost.
I’ve now coined these four vocal basics “The Four Vocal Fundamentals” – and they make up the basis of my teaching approach and also my own technique and approach as a singer too.
Want to see these four simple fundamentals at work? Check out the latest single from my band Dead Spirit Communion and see how you can employ these four basic vocal fundamentals to build the voice of your dreams – just like I dreamt of so many years ago!
This kind of range, power, distortion and effortless control were absolutely just a pipe dream to me when I first started singing. I pushed, yelled and screamed until I was hoarse and sore even after just a few minutes of singing – I really didn’t believe that there was an easier way, so I just kept pushing and pushing and pushing and searching high and low for some “magic secret” that the next vocal teacher or singing course was going to share with me – does this sound familiar to you?
I recently detailed how I personally spent over $15,000 trying to learn how to sing this way – by trawling through YouTube videos, buying books and DVDs and paying a crazy amount of money to just about any new singing teacher that I could get my hands on.
Do you want to know what all those lessons, all those courses and all that money didn’t work for me in the end? The truth is, I knew all the terms and technique, I tried every single exercise, trill, bubble, and trick in the book to build a great voice – but ultimately, I wasn’t developing The Four Vocal Fundamentals in a practical way, so no matter how many vocal exercises I practised, I still wasn’t actually singing with:
- Height In The Vocal Tract
- Forward Placement
- “All in One Flow”
- Mixed Tonality
It really IS that simple, and I absolutely got it SO wrong for so many years by thinking things like;
- Belting was the answer to my weak voice
- Dragging Chest Voice higher was the key to fixing my limited range
- There MUST be a secret technique that I haven’t found…. yet!
- My voice just wasn’t any good
- Support is just pushing – but in a good way
- My voice is naturally low – so, my tone should be dark and low
- You should sing the same way that you speak
- That good singers are just “naturals” and you can’t really learn how to sing like Chris Cornell – I mean, he’s a God, right?
Surely it can’t be that easy?
Honestly? It’s not going to be a cakewalk – noone is going to “hand you” the voice of your dreams; you’re going to have to life, sweat, eat, breathe and sleep these four fundamentals until they’re second nature and you can summon them at will to create the killer Heavy Metal voice you’ve always dreamed of, but lacked the foundation to achieve.
I’ll even do one better than just sharing with you these four simple but powerful vocal fundamentals – I’m going to actually show you how to achieve them in this exclusive mixed voice singing lesson.
Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day – but it WAS built on a rock solid foundation.
How To Sing Heavy Metal
If I could go back and share with myself one little tip or secret to make the journey towards building the voice of my dreams a much smoother, quicker (and less expensive!) one – it would be that truly great Heavy Metal and Hard Rock vocals requires truly great technique. There’s no way to push, shout or yell your way to greatness and you absolutely MUST take care of your voice.
Being honest, I really didn’t care about vocal technique when I first started – I just wanted to sound as cool as Chris Cornell in Soundgarden and as viscious as James Hetfield in early Metallica and have the crazy range of Rob Halford; without realising that varying levels of technique really was the thing that I loved about all of my favourite singer’s voices. You can’t just bark and shout to sound like 1990 James Hetfield in the same way you can’t just push your voice up into the stratosphere to enjoy the range of Soundgarden or Judas Priest – you absolutely MUST have rock solid technique as a singer to find, maintain and develop this kind of range and power as a singer.
Learning proper technique as a singer has absolutely changed my life as a singer – and while I once thought that technique wasn’t cool and that terms like Support and Mixed Voice were just for stuffy Opera singers and lame pop singers, the number one thing that I would love to go back 20 years and tell my younger self is;
Your Favourite Singers Have Mastered The Four Vocal Fundamentals.
Chris Cornell sings with Height in the vocal tract, an incredibly powerful Forward Placement, Mixed Tonality and “All In One Flow”, in the same way that Rob Halford also employs these same four basic fundamentals to screech Painkiller night after night well into his 60’s without the slightest hint of slowing down (or lowering the key!). But what about rough singers like James that just step up to the mic with a guitar strapped on and belt it out like they just don’t give a crap? Guess what – his voice is forward, the vocals are formed high in the vocal tract, his tonality is mixed and yes, he even sings “in one flow” for the most part. So it’s not just the guys with crazy range and technique like Sebastian Bach and Halford who employ these important fundamentals, it’s also every other great singer who sounds cool and has kept their voice over many years touring night after night and show after show.
To my younger self – learn The Four Vocal Fundamentals and thank me later.
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.