When it comes to learning how to sing rock music, what do you need to know? Find out in this article by Saint Augustine, FL teacher Heather L...
Rock singers are not exactly known for having impeccable technique or healthy vocal habits. So it might seem strange that a classically trained singer and professional voice teacher has anything to say about singing rock music, but I do.
First, I believe that it’s wrong to dismiss rock singers as undisciplined slackers with little interest in honing their treasured craft. Not all, but many acclaimed rock singers, like 1980s star Pat Benatar, were classically trained, but later decided to change genres. Second, I know that solid technique and healthy habits are not consistently used by classical and opera singers. In fact, a dirty little secret of the classical world is that vocal pathologies and voice disorders are quite common among even the best trained singers. No matter which genre you sing, the instrument has a performance “shelf life” of 20 to 30 years.
Having stated all of this, I have to emphasize my undying campaign to the encouragement of singers’ dedication to solid vocal technique and healthy habits. Voice is the instrument without replacement.
Perhaps the easiest way to learn how to sing rock while maintaining healthy vocal technique is to listen to rock operas, sometimes also called rock musicals. Rock operas or musicals have been criticized much in the past for being pretentious and overly dramatic, but they’re defended with the assertion that rock music defies all that in its simplicity. Some consider The Story of Simon Simopath by the 1960s British psychadelic band Nirvana to be the first rock opera, while others give the honor to S.F. Sorrow by The Pretty Things, released in 1968. Here’s the video of the entirety of S.F. Sorrow.
A more recent example is the 1990s hit Rent. Some of the singers of Rent, the film, which you can watch in the following clip, often use great technical prowess, some do not. It’s important to develop an ear for both.
So, if both classical and rock music require solid technique for voice reliability and longevity, then what’s the difference? How do we learn how to sing rock music authentically? My mentor and voice teacher, Thomas Faracco, once told me that the only difference between the two is that in classical music, the music is more important than the words, and in rock music, the words are more important than the music. There’s a beautiful aria by George Frederic Handel that’s so highly admired that it’s used in weddings, and it about TREES, because the music is more important than the story. Bob Dylan has written songs that have quite simple melodies, but the words are captivating and moving, because the words are more important than the music.
Singing rock music, then, has to be about raw, emotional power. It’s about being completely unafraid, with your heart on your sleeve. It’s about the story that you tell and the people or person to whom you’re telling it. When you sing rock music, get yourself into a really grounded position (one that I call the “rock power stance”) with your feet hip-width apart (maybe wider) and your weight evenly distributed between the two legs. Stay well-supported in your breath, breathing deeply into your pelvic floor, and then let go. Don’t overanalyze as you sing, and don’t tense up, no matter what you think you see your favorite rock singer doing.
Think about who you are as a character in the story of the song and the world that the song creates. Whether you consider yourself an actor or not, the best singers are. And that doesn’t mean you have to take acting lessons. It means tapping into your own experiences and being willing to tell everyone about them through songs and your interpretation of them.
Ultimately, rock music, more so than any other genre, is about being yourself. “Be yourself” is a phrase that’s often overused in Western society, but it’s an important lesson nonetheless. For rock singers, it means that if you have a naturally big range, then use it. If you have a lot of vibrato, then use it. If you have a short range and a husky voice, then so be it. Your voice is your schtick, so to speak. The voice that you were born with is a voice that the rock world has never heard, until now.
Want more? Check out these additional examples for how to sing rock!
Photo by Libertinus