Singing Metal Safely

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Lzzy Hale - Photo by Jack Lue

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 9 – Autumn 2019 – Ladies of Metal

Many professional voice teachers will tell you in no uncertain terms that the screaming, growling, and rasping sounds of heavy metal singing will damage the voice.

This is partly true, in so far as any style of extreme singing can damage the voice. Dramatic opera, belting in musical theatre, or even prolonged use of the speaking voice, such as acting, professional speaking, or working in a profession such as teaching or even administrative work answering phones all day can damage the voice. The reality is that singing technique and safely knowing how to make a whole range of sounds is what can prevent damage, in every style of singing or using the voice.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say that extra caution should be used in singing metal styles because it is easier to use damaging techniques while aiming to make the unique sounds desired. Just because the body can do certain things, such as play professional sports, it must be acknowledged that any extreme form of using the body (especially the intricate and delicate vocal apparatus) leaves it more susceptible to damage.

That said, how can you safely sing metal?

  1. Proper warm-up and general vocal health and hygiene skills. An underlying knowledge of how the voice works, proper warm-up and vocalization skills are needed. This topic has been covered in other articles here in Guitar Girl. You also will need an understanding of vocal anatomy, in particular how to engage the “false vocal folds” to make some sounds safely. This article describes in more detail the techniques you’ll need to learn. For example, how instead of screaming like when you are in pain or scared, when singing metal, you are really making adjustments in the vocal track that simply achieve a similar sound effect to screaming. Heavy metal singing is harsh in particular if you have no foundation in vocal technique and do not care for your voice properly when you are not singing, so make sure you start with good daily habits.
  2. Have fun experimenting with strange sounds. You also need to learn to experiment with different sounds. I always suggest to students and sometimes it is most successful if you dissociate from making “singing” or human sounds to imitating sounds like animals make, or nonsense sounds with no prior emotional attachment to them. While this might sound funny, and not at all like some of the serious subject matter of metal music, it can help you be more free vocally, for example, to think of the scream as a really high-pitched sound of a monkey. Try it, and you’ll see. If you try to scream an agonizing scream of someone in pain, you may be much more tense. Same with the growling or other harsh sounds of metal. Find ways to make them freely, without undue tension.
  3. Work with a teacher familiar with the genre. Melissa Cross is one of the more notable teachers of metal singing. She has self-study materials called the “Zen of Screaming” available in two parts and are considered a good introduction to the techniques for making a variety of metal sounds.  I also suggest working with a teacher who actually performs in this genre. It is so specific that it requires first-hand knowledge that is not transferable from someone who only sings or teaches classical or even pop/rock styles. Complete Vocal Technique or CVT is another program whose aim is to help singers of all genres achieve the sound and style they want in a healthy and sustainable way.
  4. If you feel pain, stop. Pain is your body’s natural way of telling you something is wrong. Singing until your voice hurts is never appropriate in any genre. If you do experience pain or fatigue, rest your voice, work on proper warm-up and cool-down techniques, and ensure you recover fully before trying to sing again.
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