American singer and songwriter Bob Dylan has one of the most unique voices in all of recorded music history. When Dylan emerged into the professional music scene in the 1960s, most singers had a smooth, musical quality. Not Dylan, whose voice wavers, sometimes goes off-key and has a conversational quality to it. But even if a Dylan-like voice doesn't come naturally to you, there are some simple things you can do to sound more like him.
Dylan "scoops" a lot of notes, meaning he starts singing on a note that's lower than the correct note, then quickly slides his way up to the note the song calls for. For example, in "I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow," he usually scoops the first word, "I." If you're not used to scooping, choose a note a few steps down from the note you need to sing, then slowly slide your way up to the correct note.
Be Imprecise With Pitch
Dylan never worries about perfect pitch. It's not uncommon for him to sing a little flat or sharp or for him to hit the correct note, then slide a few steps down from it. His singing has a messy quality that matches the messy life he reveals in his lyrics. Sliding around notes, instead of hitting them straight on, is one way to achieve a sound similar to Dylan's.
Mumble and Slur
Dylan barely opens his mouth when singing, which gives his voice a harsher sound and makes his lyrics less distinct. To imitate this, practice in front of a mirror, keeping your mouth in a horizontal position. To sound more like Dylan, you'll also want your words to run together and be somewhat mumbled and slurred. In addition, remember that Dylan often half-sings, half-speaks lyrics -- or outright speaks some words, instead of singing them.
Don't Sing Pretty
Dylan's singing style is not pretty. In fact, he was the first really popular singer to sacrifice pretty for the sake of raw emotion. To sound more like Dylan, you'll need to get down and dirty with the words of a song and be willing to focus on portraying the emotion in it. As writer Stephen H. Webb writes of Dylan for the website First Things in August 2013, "A little bitterness makes the scotch taste sweeter, and wavering off key makes the difference between a good singer and a great performer."
- Internet Movie Database: Bob Dylan -- Awards
- The Diagnosis and Correction of Vocal Faults; James C. McKinney; 2005
- First Things: In Defense of Dylan's Voice
Kristina Seleshanko began adult life as a professional singer and actress, working on both the West and East coasts. She regularly sang jazz in nightclubs, performed in musical theatre, and sang opera and pop. Later, Seleshanko became the author of 18 books, and has written for such publications as "Woman's Day," "Today's Christian Woman," and "True West." Seleshanko has also been a writing coach, a research librarian for "Gourmet" magazine, and a voice teacher.