Steven Tyler has the quintessential rock 'n' roll singing sound. His voice is raspy, gravelly, "screamy" -- and one of a kind. And while it's highly unlikely anyone can sound exactly like Tyler, there is definitely a lot rock singers can learn from his style.
Start With Solid Technique
In 2006, Steven Tyler underwent surgery to repair damage caused by overworking or incorrectly using his voice. To avoid damage that could be permanent, singers must learn solid vocal technique. The best way to achieve this is to take in-person lessons with a qualified voice teacher. These lessons should focus on the best way to breathe, which is deeply, with the diaphragm rising with inhalation and slowly dropping as the singing phrase nears its end; and vocalizing without noticeable tension in the throat.
Tyler is known for hitting high notes. Not everyone can imitate this because some people have naturally lower voices. However, learning good singing technique helps. When singing -- especially higher notes -- the throat and mouth should feel relaxed and not tight. Drop the jaw down, loosely; don't force it down. The diaphragm should tighten and rise when inhaling, and gradually drop and relax while singing a phrase. By using good technique and not forcing the sound, high notes are easier to hit.
Vocal fry -- a technique that causes a gravel sound in the lowest notes in the vocal range -- is something Tyler makes good use of. Think of cartoon character Elmer Fudd's voice; this is vocal fry. To create vocal fry while singing, use as little air as possible; this causes very small vibrations in the vocal cords. By using vocal fry, singers may reach lower notes than they would otherwise, all while obtaining that gravelly Tyler-like sound.
To do a rock scream like Tyler, it's vital to keep the throat free of tension. The force of the scream comes from using your diaphragm correctly. When first attempting a rock scream, try to sing more than you scream. As you practice, adjust the sound until it's less melodic. For a violent scream, starting in your "head voice" -- higher pitches -- then sliding down to your "chest voice" -- lower pitches in your normal speaking range -- is one way to get a rock sound without damaging the vocal cords.
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.