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Teaching Rock Singing Part I: Defining Style and Balanced Exercises- Richard Fink IV

Teaching singers rock music can be a sensitive, if not confusing topic. Especially for those who may not personally identify with the style or are uncomfortable encouraging a student to add tension to their performance. This is counterintuitive from a teacher's perspective, is it not?

Here is the truth of the matter: Singing any type of rock music (pop-rock, punk, grunge, metal, alternative, blues, screamo, etc.) is an artform riddled with intentional imbalances. In fact, many forms of art utilise this philosophy to express and evoke emotional satisfaction, such as a painter pressing hard against the canvas to spit acrylic out from under the bristles or a dancer thrusting their body to the floor for a sudden impact.

The same goes for singing rock. However, there is a risk to creating these imbalances within the human instrument. In order to successfully sustain and repeat these moments with minimal vocal fatigue requires a great deal of efficiency and the right mindset to do so. If a singer is afraid to make certain sounds, or that doing so may cause physical harm, the instrument will be unconsciously instructed to defend itself. Fear or lack of genuine curiosity to explore intentional imbalances within a performance will cause far more stress, bad behaviours and potential injury, than singing with poor technique.

Creating an observational, yet judgment-free environment is essential for students to learn and grow on their own. This is especially true of rock singers because they need to reveal and even celebrate their risks with distorted overtones and strenuous vocal textures within their performances. These textures and imbalances include intentional bursts of forced air, repositioning of the larynx, glottal shocks, usage of the vestibular folds, restriction of the laryngeal pharynx, partial separation of the folds, irregular vibration, supraglottic vibrations (growl) and rippling the surface of the vocal folds over the fundamental mucosal wave being produced.

Inside Science. (2017, May 23). Heavy metal singers are just big babies [Video]. YouTube.

Before we introduce singers to imbalanced sounds, we must first start by learning healthy and well-balanced behaviours.

For a balanced practice, rock singers should begin with exercises that are focused on:

1. Flexibility and responsiveness of the vocal folds This helps to keep them healthy and to vibrate freely at high speeds. Flexibility based exercises often consist of glissandos or quick scales at quiet volumes, using lip-trills, Oos and Ees throughout one’s range (multiple registers).

2. Stability and stamina of the intrinsic muscles of the larynx

A slow and steady crescendo and decrescendo on just one note at a time throughout the student’s available range, is a great place to start. Unlike performing a rock song, however, these exercises should have a clear and steady tone with no forced sounds or uncomfortable sensations whatsoever.

Next, we will explore how to train for imbalanced sounds in Teaching Rock Singing: Part II.

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