Musical tastes have evolved over the millennia starting with caveman growls ascending to the exquisite classical music of the nineteenth century and back around to screams and growls at the end of the twentieth century. This pretty much puts scream music groups at the top of the de-evolution musical food chain.
And there’s a lot more screaming going on out there than you might imagine. Even Nashville has its scream heroes like Hank Williams III, who somehow manages to turn mandolins, fiddles, and steel guitars and into punk metal music.
While it’s true that all singers must learn to guard against damage to the delicate vocal apparatus, those who sing scream music — heavy metal, hardcore punk, death metal and thrash — certainly have to expect that there is bound to be damage somewhere down the road. It’s like sending out a group of second graders to sing a Wagner opera. Somebody’s gonna’ get hurt.
Scream music sounds dangerous because it is dangerous. It sounds like it’s ripping up your throat because it is. So, why put your voice through all that? I’m not sure, but one thought is that scream music projects a certain raw seductive quality of imminent danger, perhaps by creating the impression that the singer’s voice could go out of control at any time.
The best help a vocal coach can give to these singers is to stress the importance of support, to work on how to support, and to demand they use support. I have only one printed message on the walls of my studio, and it reads, “It’s the support, stupid!” The sign is not only there to remind my students, but also serves as a reminder to me that good support is absolutely crucial.
And good support for the voice starts with the way a singer breathes. Wherever you direct the air in your body is where you will apply pressure to blow it back out when you perform.
Like a furniture mover, the scream music singer should draw on support from the strong parts of the body: lower abdominals, legs, glutes and lower back muscles. It’s like tucking your hips under as you imagine that you are sitting down on your tailbone. In fact, the way a furniture mover prepares his body to move something heavy is reminiscent of the extra boost needed to produce a good scream.
Whether it be thrash metal, death metal, hardcore punk, or just plain heavy metal, the ultimate goal here is to protect the voice so that it lives to scream another day.