Let’s look at the “grit” of some of our favorite rockers and discuss how they produce it –says Jaime Vendera
I’ve heard a lot of responses from singers on VoiceCouncil Magazine concerned about using grit. I assure you, it CAN be done easily and in a healthy manner, but it takes lots of practice.
Today let’s look at two artists who use a type of grit that is a thinner rasp tone, so I thought it best to talk about that style – we’ll watch a video of each and then discuss the technique.
I’m not a voice scientist and I will not be laying out a step-by-step technique in this article; the best way to produce vocal effects in a healthy way is to work directly with an informed vocal coach – but I will discuss dimensions to producing this sound.
(By the way, I’ve been hearing great things about Alice Cooper on the Motley tour. People say his voice sounds great and his stage show is spectacular. Considering he has been performing since the 70s, that is awesome to hear).
Chester Bennington with Stone Temple Pilots on Sex Type Thing
In this video, Chester tackles “Sex Type Thing” with grace, maintaining his own unique vocal tone without mimicking Scott Weiland’s voice.
He stays true to the phrasing and pitch of the song, but remains vocally himself. As well, he sings very freely in this video.
Some may not agree with that last comment, saying “But how can you say he is singing freely when his veins are bulging!”
FYI-those are not veins. There is a sheet of muscle known as the Platysma muscles and when strengthened over time, give the appearance of a corded neck when moving about and singing. It is almost like an animal reaching out its neck and revealing muscle.
But, all of that is beside the point. Bottom line: it takes lots of physical effort to sing any style while performing on stage, especially rock music with grit and rasp.
Notice that his throaty tone overlays this song like a light coat of paint barely brushed by a little more air behind the tone.
That’s what grit is: a light to heavy covering of sorts. And while I have my students shy away from using excess breath, some rasp is enhanced by it and if done with consistent breath control, will not hurt the voice.
It’s almost as if his grit is lifted out of him with a slight “hhhh” but not so prominent as to sound breathy.
Just so you know, grit is simply a vocal effect that is produced when you have incredible breath support to fuel the vocal cords and then the ability to enhance the overtones produced by the cords.
Grit and the Vocal Folds
I have personally seen video of my cords when screaming (I mean “screaming” in the sense of loud, properly supported, singing) and there were literally two spots vibrating on my cords producing the sound. We did not see any of this “false fold” grit that is so heavily promoted.
Does this mean the false folds don’t produce grit? Well, I am not a vocal scientist, so who am I to say yes or no?
All I can tell you is when I’ve been filmed doing grit along the lines of Chester Bennington and Alice Cooper, the false folds were not slapping together and the vocal cords were literally vibrating at two spots.
Regardless of how it happens, I believe that Chester, who has a naturally lighter sounding voice, simply adds the vocal effect of grit to his pure tone in moderate to heavy amounts, depending on what the song calls for, which sound flat out amazing!
And I am betting he feels the sensation of his grit in the roof of his mouth, sometimes even vibrating up in his noise, sort of a guide to the texture of his tone.
I’ve always told my students that if you breathe, support, and place the tone correctly, always feeling the sensation of your voice in the roof of your mouth, you can never go wrong.
Now, onto Mr. Cooper singing No More Mr. Nice Guy
When I was a kid and everyone was into Kiss, I cannot lie, I was “team Alice Cooper”. “School’s Out” was one of my favorite songs.
Alice has such a distinguishable voice and I don’t think he gets the credit as a singer that he truly deserves. He chooses to stay mostly in his mid-range, which is a feat in and of itself.
Watching Alice perform this song shows me proof that grit can easily be accomplished. Here is yet another singer who shows no strain through his veins.
His grit seems to come naturally and you can hear a nasal quality to it, even the breathy lift at times like Chester, both of which to give rasp a thinner almost feral-like bite. Stephen Pearcy had a bit of this quality as well.
Again, when producing grit, rasp, screaming, regardless of heavy metal, deth metal, even crooner ballads by Rod Stewart or Bryan Adams, I believe all grit is basically produced in the same manner, by precise breath support in combination with the intricate coordination of multiple spots along the cords, and at times, possibly the slapping together of the false folds to add to the sound, much like clapping the hands produces noise.
Hope this helps guide you along your path to screaming freedom. See you next time as we explore rock singing.
See Jaime’s article, Rock Like Axl Rose, Brian Johnson and James Hetfield.
Jaime Vendera is best known for his glass shattering world record (MythBusters/SuperHuman Showdown), his Raise Your Voice book series, and his work with rockers such as, James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Terry Ilous (Great White), and Eric Emery (Concordia). He’s also a contributor to The Ultimate Guide to Singing. Learn more about grit in Jaime’s Extreme Scream and Rock & Metal Singer’s Warm Up programs at jaimevendera.com