The sound of a singer’s voice being projected with power, grit, and emotion can define performance or recording. Learning how to scream sing takes consistent practice, and certain measures need to be taken to avoid hurting your throat.
Although accomplished vocalists make this technique seem easy, in reality, they have invested in a solid practice routine to develop their style of scream-singing.
After you’ve read this step-by-step guide, you’ll be equipped with all of the vital knowledge on developing your ability to scream sing, whilst protecting your voice, and preserving it over time.
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The Different Styles of Scream Singing
The technique of scream-singing has been used in countless genres and styles. Whether it’s Kurt Cobain’s emotive, gravelly singing tone, John Lennon’s unmistakable screams in later Beatles tracks, or straight-up, metal screaming, they are all based on one of, or a mixture of three techniques.
These singing styles consist of:
- Using False Cords
Within these three categories, you will find the techniques used for popular vocal screams, like the pig squeal, tunnel throat scream, and low-growl. Some use a combination of screaming, growling, or false cords, while others simply use one.
The technique of screaming is the most aggressive form of scream-singing. Unsurprisingly, it’s also considered to be the most dangerous, and potentially harmful to your vocal cords.
Nevertheless, if it is done correctly and the proper measures are taken to prepare your voice, aggressive screaming is relatively safe.
It’s commonly used to reach the highest notes of a vocalist’s register, and also to quickly shift between different pitches whilst retaining the powerful, aggressive tone.
Growling represents the middle ground between straight-up screaming and the less intense, false cords technique. When you use the growling technique, you are much less likely to cause lasting damage to your throat or vocal cords.
Growling is commonly used in genres such as heavy rock and metal because it allows the vocalist to compete with the rest of the band in terms of volume, tone, and aggression.
Finally, using the technique of false cords is a great option for singers who want to scream, but would rather err on the side of caution to protect their voice.
This style of scream-singing is achieved by engaging what is known as the vestibular fold, situated at the bottom of the throat to project your voice with power and control. It is popular in sub-genres of metal music.
In an ideal world, we’d be able to develop the technique of scream-singing instantly, and belt out the highest notes possible in a gravelly tone without any prior practice. Unfortunately, that’s not the case!
As with all singing techniques, the fundamental step you need to take before attempting them is preparation. What we do in the practice room ultimately defines what we do on the stage, or in the recording studio.
The first step you need to take before even attempting to scream-sing is warming up your voice. I simply cannot overstate the importance of establishing a consistent warm-up routine that you perform before you sing.
It is especially important when you are going to be learning how to scream sing. If you don’t warm your voice up correctly beforehand, the results can be disastrous, and you might even end up hurting yourself and having to take a prolonged break from singing altogether.
By all means, construct a vocal warm-up routine that works for you. It doesn’t need to take too long – around 15 minutes is enough time to prepare your vocal cords and throat muscles.
I’ll assume that you already know some vocal warm-up exercises, but if you don’t you can start by simply singing ascending notes using a piano or guitar as a reference.
Begin with lip rolls, where you push the sound out of your mouth while keeping your lips pressed together lightly. Sing a series of notes that are comfortably in your vocal range.
You can repeat this using various sounds, such as “Ah”, “Oh”, “Ee”, and “Mm”. Each different sound you sing will cause different parts of your vocal cords and muscles to engage, preparing your voice for scream-singing.
The Vocal Fry Technique
Vocal fry is considered to be the safest method for learning to scream-sing. It is essentially the low-pitched, slightly croaky tone that occurs when you sing without pushing out excess air from your lungs.
A good way to learn the vocal fry technique is by opening your mouth and slowly making an “ah” sound. Be sure to keep the pitch of your voice as low as possible. The results should sound crackly, and feel like you are singing from your throat.
Although this technique doesn’t allow you to belt out the high notes that are often a staple of scream-singing, it teaches you how to recognize the sensations as you sing in the style.
Your voice should sound very croaky and grainy when you use the vocal fry technique. It will almost feel like you are not exhaling at all while making the sound. There is a tiny amount of air leaving your mouth, but it’s hardly noticeable.
To further prepare yourself for scream-singing, a good method to use is singing one of your favorite songs using the vocal fry technique. Choose a song that you’re very familiar with and one that is at a comfortable tempo.
Start by singing the lyrics using vocal fry, and focusing on maintaining the raspy crackle in your voice. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the technique, attempt the song again, this time increasing your volume slightly.
As you gradually increase the volume of your vocal fry, you’ll likely notice that it develops into a kind of mini-scream. When this happens, it’s a sign that your ability is improving, and you’ve established the foundational techniques to build upon.
The next step is to use the technique you’ve developed using vocal fry, and combine them with more advanced scream-singing techniques.
Breathing properly is vitally important for any style of singing, but it’s particularly important for scream-singing. If you don’t develop the correct breathing technique, you’ll have less power to project your voice.
Not only does breathing properly allows you to access every ounce of your vocal power, but it also prevents injury. Many singers damage their voices by breathing from their chest when they should be breathing from their diaphragm.
Except for singing in falsetto, you should always aim to push the air out from the lower regions of your stomach. The diaphragm is located underneath the lungs, and there is a simple way to check that you are using it correctly.
Whilst singing, place both of your hands underneath your ribcage. While you sing, notice that you should feel those muscles contracting, rather than pushing the sound out from further up your chest.
If you’ve never developed proper breathing techniques before, this may feel unnatural at first. However, once you’ve done it for a few minutes, it will become familiar and you can repeat the vocal fry exercise while engaging your diaphragm throughout.
Layering Your Screams
Your voice should now be fully warmed up, and you’ve established the fundamental breathing techniques along with perfecting the vocal fry. Now you’re ready to attempt scream-singing.
Before you rush off and start screaming down the microphone, there’s one more measure you need to take to prepare yourself. This involves layering your singing voice with the screaming technique.
Scream singing needs to remain in tune, otherwise, it sounds like absolute chaos. It’s important to remember that the end goal is to sing in tune while using the screaming technique to decorate the tone of your voice.
To develop this, you can go back to the familiar song that you used for the vocal fry exercise. This time, try singing it in your normal singing voice, but add light screams to the high notes.
It might help to picture your voice as being two separate layers. There’s your normal singing voice, which is the bottom layer, and your scream-singing voice, which is the top layer.
The goal is to keep singing underneath your screaming voice and pay extra attention to how your vocal cords engage when you add the light screams in.
Once you’ve developed this technique, you can move on scream-singing with no inhibitions. Just be careful not to push too hard, and be sure to stay hydrated to avoid injury to your vocal cords and throat.
Learning to scream sing takes consistent practice and patience. The problem with rushing this technique is that it can potentially cause long-lasting harm to your vocal cords and muscles, so it’s best to develop your ability slowly and enjoy the process.
Although some singers find screaming much easier than others, I believe it’s an ability that every vocalist can develop. It may take longer than expected, but the rewards it provides you with onstage, or in the recording studio make it a worthwhile endeavor.