How To Sing Like A Rockstar
Updated: Aug 4, 2021
by Randall Thomas
As a session vocalist I have often been asked to change the quality (or timbre) of my voice. Producers and writers I work with understand that they can easily get different performances out of me depending on what they are looking for.
I remember specifically working for a studio on music row for "The Demo Queen" Kim Copeland years ago where Kim would ask for "Nice Randall" or jokingly demand more "Angry Randall" - meaning she could have me singing on a spectrum, and depending on what the song called for I would either employ more power, rasp and attitude, or less.
I would say from the reactions of producers and writers over the years, my "rockstar" vocals are impressive enough to share some of my knowledge and techniques here so I will attempt to write out some of the important aspects of being able to start singing like the rockstar you really are.
Before we begin I'm inviting you to hear a vocal reel of my work in order to establish that I am not just talking out of my a$$ about how to do this. Click below to give a quick listen.
One of the number one things a vocal teacher will look for, correct and hound you about is correct posture and stance.
They say a tree can not stand tall without firmly planted roots so we start with feet on the ground, soft knees and strong core.
You should be standing tall with your shoulders rolled back and relaxed. A good exercise is to imagine a string pulling the top of your sternum upwards, this allows for extra space for your diaphragm and lungs to do their job.
You will never get the best sound out of your voice if you are hunched over and constricting your lung capacity and diaphragm. As your chest cavity, lungs and core expand and become unrestricted, it not only allows for more power to sing but also unlocks your whole body as a resonator. You will access more depth and richness by allowing all of your body to open up in a relaxed state. It is important that your neck and shoulders are not tense and that you are relying on your core strength and diaphragm to generate your power.
I find that doing deep belly breathing exercises help in identifying where you can improve your posture. When breathing deep into your lower lungs and expanding your belly, your body will naturally start to pull and expand into a more straight posture.
To be able to hit those high screaming notes with power and be able to sustain long impressive notes is the hallmark of any good rockstar. Obviously this is not possible without good breath control.
My whole life has involved some sort of breath control since I was a child. I was a devout swimmer from about age 2 to 10. Swimming is an amazing way to learn breath control. After that I took up singing and at about the same time started learning how to play instruments like the bagpipe and didgeridoo which take a lot of breath work.
These days I practice deep breathing exercises and various vocal techniques to keep up with my breath work.
When breathing for a high note or long scream, it is best to be in good posture and to fill your lungs no more than 75%. Overfilling your lungs puts unnecessary pressure on your vocals cords and actually makes it harder to hit those high notes.
One thing besides deep breathing that I use to train my breath control is to take a medium sized breath and slowly exhale without engaging your vocal chords or throat muscles. Keep your throat open but use your core muscles and diaphragm to control your breath to release it slowly and at an even pace. This is training your diaphragm to control your breath. Just make sure that if you start to feel light headed- take a break.
Mouth and Jaw Placement
Often overlooked but important to understand that your jaw placement affects your breathing, resonance and tone when you sing.
The general rule is if you place the tip of your finger just under your ear you should be creating a gap by dropping your jaw when you are singing. This makes sure that your mouth and jaw are open enough to activate the various resonating features in your throat and soft pallet. The soft pallet becomes important to be able to utilize because that is where we generate the grit and vocal fry for that strong raspy lead vocal and various types of screaming.
Besides jaw placement, you want your tongue slightly forward in order to keep everything mentioned above clear and open with nice resonance. Of course different styles of rock vocals call for different positioning so you can play with what sounds best for you.
Vocal tip: If you want your vocals to sound alive and energetic, smile. By lifting the corners of your mouth while singing you create a slightly different resonance that adds higher frequencies to your vocals. You can also experiment with various tongue placements. Tuvan throat singers are the perfect example of what tongue, jaw and lip placement can do to your voice.
Squeeze the Right Places
As you can see, the diaphragm wraps around the upper torso, just under the lower ribs and just over the lungs. This is the main source of power in your voice and where I generate my vibrato. When singing it is important to keep your diaphragm doing the work while relaxing your throat. If you are straining your vocal cords to sing you are in danger of developing habits that can lead to vocal nodes and other damaging effects.
Make sure that when you are engaging your diaphragm, you keep your neck and shoulders relaxed. Squeeze the right places- tighten your glutes and your core and compress your lungs using your diaphragm.
To sing like a rockstar you need to generate your power from your core and your diaphragm while keeping your throat and vocal cords as relaxed as possible. That rockstar stance? Wide legs, head back, mouth wide- all contributing to the power of the vocals, not just to look cool. What most people do not realize is what sounds like someone screaming at the top of their lungs, when done right, does not require as much effort as it might sound.
A good rule here is when you take a deep breath, your shoulders do not rise.
Screaming Like A Rockstar
The rockstar scream. The calling card of a good rockstar and the cherry on top of the rock n' roll fudge Sunday.
There are various types of screams and rockstar singing styles depending on which muscles you engage in your soft pallet. Here I will go over the more popular one which is fry screaming. I tend to sing with a little bit of rasp but when I go full tilt and start screaming, I engage those raspy muscles in my soft pallet even more. This kind of scream is adding grit to a high note being sang, not a heavy metal growl or hardcore scream.
The quality and sound of your scream is manipulated through the closing and shaping of your Arytenoids. The Arytenoids are the muscles that give rasp and character to your vocals.
Once you sing over a certain octave you can feel your muscles in the soft pallet begin to lift. The muscles behind and under your nasal passages that connect to your throat move up and backwards as you sing higher. This is the same muscle that when engaged properly will give you the raspiness to your vocals and create a great rockstar scream.
The main focus when screaming is to never strain your vocal cords. Manipulate the subtle muscles in your soft pallet to give that screaming sound instead of full on screaming. When you force a scream with tight vocal cords you are likely to strip your cords and lose your voice or worse.
Vocal tip: There is a way to mix both your chest and head voice while keeping your scream. This is how you can scream in the higher range without killing your voice. It is a spot in between your chest (or normal voice) and your head (or falsetto) where you keep your soft pallet engaged and lifted. I will sometimes practice transitioning from singing normal, to mixed voice, to full falsetto all in one breath to master the transitions into all three.
When you hear 80's hair metal singers and they are screaming impossibly high notes, they are usually using the mixed voice with their soft pallet engaged.
If you liked this post on How to Sing Like a Rockstar, you might be interested in my 10 Tips for Professional Session Vocalists.
Randall Thomas is available for private vocal coaching, session vocals and lyric writing. Feel free to contact him with any questions or inquiries.