How to do Scream Vocals without hurting yourself.
The Question From John H. Buffalo NY……….is……..
I was trained with a classical background. My teachers always taught me to sing with a clean tone, and stressed that singing with a throaty or growly tone would cause permanent damage to my throat. However I find this limiting when I try to sing certain styles of music that seem to require a more guttural feel. Can I get the gravelly/throaty/screamy tone that some singers get without damaging my voice?
The stock answer to the growly or throaty tone question is that it’s only achievable if the singer is born with a speaking voice that has the same growly or throaty quality. I however do not subscribe to this stock theory. I refer to this throaty tone as throat resonance and seeing this tone as resonance is the key to safely learning how to add this color to your palette.
There are gillions of examples of singers out there that have successfully navigated the “Edgy tone” and had long and fruitful careers. The key is as with all singing that it must be accomplished without excess pressure on the vocal cords. It is not screaming!! In fact if you pay attention to singers that use the edgier tones correctly you’ll hear that most of them are not excessively loud. The throat tone projects very well as does Nasal resonance, but that is not synonymous with screaming. It is the projection of this resonance (and the illusion of screaming) that makes it so appealing for more aggressive music. It carries well over other instruments.
Placement is the key to this as with all resonance. The first focus of placement as with all healthy and good sounding singing is to “anchor” your tone. This refers to the age old voice term “singing over the throat.” What this means is that the beginning of all resonance is at the top back of your mouth where your uvula hangs down. Once the vocal cords produce the initial pitch and tone then the sound must initially vibrate at this spot in your body before being magnified and colored by additional resonance from your nasal passage, mouth, chest and throat. When you’re good at anchoring your tone and can produce a non-airy clean tone without strain and harshness then you are in a position to re-direct your resonance back into your throat and attach the growly throat resonance to your tone. Direction of resonance is a multi step learning process that cannot be covered in a single magazine article. There are many techniques I use to teach singers to direct their resonance from their brightest nasal resonance down to their deepest chest resonance and all points in between. Once a singer is good at going from one direction in resonance to the next then they must learn to work in both directions at the same time. Meaning attaching the bright resonance to the deep resonance so we can hear them both at the same time. That is the same thing that must be done with attaching some throat resonance to a solid well-anchored clean tone. It’s a bit of walking and chewing gum but if you’re patient with the steps then you’ll be able to put them together in time.
Practice in your middle lower range first, feeling what it feels like to direct the resonance up and down from your chest to your nasal passage. Doing this can best be described as going from a yawny low larynx sound “umb” for the chest sound up to a buzzy eeee sound for the bright nasal tone. Be as gentle and quiet as you can and really work on doing all of these placements with a non-airy tone. When you are good at this and have spent enough time to understand how to blend these resonance’s well and move them at will, then you are ready to begin gently trying to direct resonance into your soft palate and throat area. There is a mild compression (slight constriction in the throat that goes against everything we first teach a singer) involved in this maneuver but it must not create excess pressure in the throat. Finesse. This is the safest type of throat resonance but it is not to be used until there is an effortless quality to it. That comes with careful practice. You must also be well warmed up before you even begin playing with it.
The other type of throat resonance often heard is of the glottal fry nature. These are the edges of the vocal cords creating the buzzy resonance. This is often used by singers to get that smoky kind of rasp. This one is more associated with a slightly airy tone. You should allow this one come more or less on it’s own to you when experimenting with resonance. This can be successful for some but dangerous when a singer using this tone tries to amplify it too much. They end up pushing through the throat and invariable cause vocal health problems. The earlier mentioned non-airy type of throat resonance is far more desirable for high projection instances. In conclusion, growly/throaty/screamy tone is a learnable technique, but takes a lot of skill and patience. If it hurts, you are doing it wrong.