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charstar

The James LaBrie Approach To Singing

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Hey everyone, I'm a newcomer to the forums so I'd greatly appreciate your help and insights! I started singing a year ago. My university offers voice class for non music majors so this semester I enrolled and that has been going well. My favorite genres are opera, prog metal, 70s rock, and legit style musical theater. 

I'm not into the whole voice type thing because voices seem to lie more on a continuous spectrum than the traditional discrete categories (soprano, mezzo, etc.). But when I listen to Dream Theater, it seems that James LaBrie's comfort zone and where he sounds best is higher than most guys. I don't even like the terms chest voice and head voice because there's really only one voice but in terms of describing a sound, I would say JLB uses a chest-dominant sound all the way up to the D5. 

For me personally, there is a resonance transition around C4 and another one near F#4. After F#4 I have a very head-dominant tone. But what if you're going for the James LaBrie sound? I like the way he sings the upper notes--very stable larynx, doesn't sound shrill. Now I'm not a fan of everything he does, like excessive vowel modification and muddied articulation but overall I think there's a lot I could learn from the way he sings open and free. 

So my questions are, what are your observations on James LaBrie's techniques? If you've sung Dream Theater, what were your strategies for tackling those songs? I'm interested in hearing particularly from those who aren't as high-pitched as JLB. And how do you sustain being in the upper 4th octave? He's consistently in the G4-D5 range and sings B4 for days!

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Well, I'm going to talk about his prime and most proficient vocal period, which I consider to be Winter Rose, and from Images and Words to Scenes from a Memory. I don't want to enter into a debate about that really, because it is all personal opinion, and also this is the period which material I've heard the most.

His voice is very strong, very very strong. Its very resonant and has a lot of metal. He uses a lot of open vowels like AH, AA, EH and OH and modifies them to be able to keep a lot of "chest" in the sound, which over time probably developed crazy strength in his voice.

His chest voice is very trained and he's able to carry his chest voice way up. But to do that you also need crazy strength on your headvoice muscles, and I tend to believe his headvoice is even stronger than his chest voice. ( And now, I am using these terms despite you stating that you don't like them, because for me "chestvoice" and "headvoice" has more to do with the groups of muscles that are in charge of those mechanisms. For example, as I visualize it, my "headvoice muscles" are the ones in charge of how my "pure falsetto" will sound, and how high I can go. )
Now, back on topic, I think his CT ( the muscle in charge mostly of stretching the folds and other duties on the high range ) is so strong because the more active the "chest muscles" are, the most work the CT will have to do to carry that weight up, because there is more tension on the folds themselves, with makes stretching harder. I may be talking nonsense, but logically to me, this would make sense ( and not only in his voice, obviously, in every voice )

So to be able to belt like that all the way up to E5 or even F5 you have to train your hooty falsetto to gain crazy strength. At least this is what I believe. There are teachers here with vast knowledge about the voice than can correct me in everything I got wrong haha ( please do )  AND, also train the hell out of your chest voice with resistance training, like The Four Pillars has, in all vowels.

Now, like a side note, I think his voice sounded the most strong and powerful on his high range in Winter Rose and Images and Words. His E5s and F5s are metallic as hell, and he can sustain his notes until he goes purple, lol. Also, he sings in the C5-D5 range like nothing. Asylum City and I'll Never Fall In Love Again are clear examples of that.

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       Another thing is that his voice is very particular, in timbre most of all. I haven't heard any other voice similar to his, its a very "open" voice that just kinds of flies out of him as he sings. Other voices sound more "hold" or "restrained", "round" or "warm"... his voice is very bright. For example if you compare Bruce Dickinson's voice versus JLB I'd say Bruce's voice is more "closed". Darker and warmer, and not as bright. JBL's voice is very metallic (bright), but not small, it's not the typical small metallic voice with not many dark overtones, like Eric Adams from Manowar or Ian Kenny from Karnivool.
       As I visualize it ( I'm very weird for this imagery stuff ), its a big voice, but it's not as 3D as Bruce's or Dio's voices. It's more like a "wall of sound", it's big, but more "two dimensional", flatter and sharper.

      So definitely you will be able to sing DT songs with training, but not everyone will have a voice quality like JLB, I think that's just anatomy. My voice will never sound like his because I have an inherently more "theatrical" sound, hahah, it's not a "wall" like JLB's, it's more 3D and rounder, no matter how much weight or metal I can gain or add, I'll never sound as "waily" and "shouty". My voice is more "closed". I'm closer to Daniel Gildenlow, Dio, or Geoff Tate than JLB by far. Jens here, also has a more "closed" voice than other people, and more "closed" than me, similar to Jorn Lande's in terms of "hold" and darkness. 
I've heard examples of people here carrying crazy amount of chest into their C5 area, with full shouty "overdrive" quality, but it doesn't sound similar to JBL's voice, that's why I think it's really a matter of anatomy, and that he's just that way. 

    And this is something I always liked about James, he sings like if we was "letting words go at full speed", singing in a constant AH vowel, lol. Again, I'll Never Fall In Love Again is a very good example ( by the end btw there is an awesome "shout", sustained D5 with a cool jump to E5 )

       Also, bare in mind that he is currently singing a lot lighter in mass than when he was young, and it doesn't sound as good. His "waily" timbre changes a lot when decreasing mass and metal, it's a lot more pleasant to hear when he is at full intensity like in Winter Rose and I&W. At least it'show I perceive it. I don't like much how his interpretation of those old high songs sound in his voice now.

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Hey Xamedhi thanks for the in-depth analysis! On second thought I feel like I should have named this thread the James LaBrie fan club. LOL

90s era JLB was incredible...even in 1995 after his injury (Awake in Japan) he would just go for it. Man what a beast! Maybe that's why, like you, I prefer the earlier DT.

Haha that's all fine the stuff about chest voice head voice. Mainly I don't like regarding my voice as two separate entities; rather the muscles all have to work together. But anyway did training your hooty falsetto help you stabilize your upper notes? I rarely use falsetto--didn't see it going anywhere, as it seemed very small and I was leaking way too much air. But it could certainly benefit from some training. My upper range is extremely bright and piercing so I'm trying to get it darker for a more balanced sound.

lol yes his sustained C5s are insane. Very good breath efficiency. Oh man, I'll Never Fall In Love again, I couldn't finish listening. Too cheesy for me. However I'm sure there are great notes in there.

Huh the 3D quality of the voice--interesting idea! And Bruce Dickinson is amazing; he has a very epic voice. I like Steve Walsh (from Kansas) a lot too. I wonder if anyone has started an analysis page for him yet...

Makes sense what you said about decreasing mass and metal. I recently listened to a 2012 live performance of Another Day (which is my favorite from I&W). I feel like JLB was doing the minimum possible to sing that. Also sounded a little quacky. But given that it's an extremely difficult song, I'd say he did a great job. I can't even attempt the second half of that one lol

 

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Oh, Another Day.... :'(  hahah That song, I have never heard anyone sing it better than JLB on his prime haha I've attempted it but I go short on a couple of high notes lol

Falsetto has definitely helped me. It's given a lot more stability and control over my A4-D5 range, and also the whole voice benefits from it, as the voice is always a mix, really... my F-G4 area is stronger than ever, and due to working the hell out of the C5-D5 zone in pure falsetto on OO and EE, now the EE on my middle range feels awesome and very stable. 

A lot of guys advocate heavy training of falsetto, Jens is one of those people, Bob (Videohere) too I think. And I totally agree, it makes the whole voice stronger.

 

The thing is you have yo cut on the air first. I used to leak a lot of air in falsetto too, but when I started training high intensity OOs on the D4-G4 range all of the closed vowels gained a lot of strength, and my falsetto started to hold on better. To isolate a sealed pure falsetto I do a full voice, high intensity OO on F4 for example, and then Yodel up to a C5 or D5. That way the interarytenoids I think they are, keep activation but only TA relaxes, so you get a coordination with mostly CT and IA working, so its great for resistance training on "pure falsetto"

That's what I've been doing for the past 3 months. Also, my voice started to hold on and get tighter when I started training high intensity. My voice was very weak, so my highest intensity was not as high as another voice, but it still required a lot of energy from me. That has been changing, and my intensity sounds higher, requiring the same effort. It's cool how the voice gets used.

Also, I'm doing some exercises some people would find weird, but they've helped me a lot engaging more of my core and support. I swear that by doing this my falsetto gets tighter and louder, although it takes a ton of extra energy, one to hold the position, and two, because the back and stabilizing core muscles activate like crazy.
 



What is cool about this exercise for me is that it releases all tension from my neck, because all energy and focus is concentrated on keeping the good form and pushing from my core. My voice feels so released I was like "what is this sorcery? O.o"  This way I can lean more and use more intensity on my falsetto and on my "mix", like G4-B4 area, although the latter is not demonstrated here. 

I use this only as a temporary exercise though. When I feel my core more and that it's engaging well I just keep on vocalizing and singing normally. And every vocal exercise I do, be it full voice low or high range, or pure falsetto I do in high intensity.

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Well you're not the only one who thinks that about Another Day :D even 90s JLB was definitely flat in some places 

I guess it's time for me to stop neglecting falsetto. I thought for the longest time I would never get it under control. Especially with the leaky breath, larynx shooting up into the chin thing. Yes those closed vowels are good for resistance, though in some ways I feel that I have better control over them than the open vowels. 

Cool exercise! My core is non-existent so I'm sure it could help, seeing that I'm currently managing the breath quite poorly in my mid-voice and above.

 

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"I like Steve Walsh (from Kansas) a lot too. I wonder if anyone has started an analysis page for him yet"

I am a huge Steve Walsh fan......Go ahead and start a page Charstar!

I have spent a lot of time on his voice. He's such an underrated singer..but like JLB, he's had his vocal problems too.

Walsh in his early years was a beast...Talk about one solid, connected voice!  He sang with a tremendous amount of energy and narrow vowel perfection.  His "ee" and "oo" ring like hell.  He really sang his ass off live.

He has a soulful Rock voice.

 

 

 

 

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If you are just starting JLB is a terribly difficult voice to emulate.  He is one of my favourite singers.  You may want to start with some of his easier material like "The spirit goes on"(relatively speaking) before you get on to more difficult stuff!  But Xamedhi is right, there is a certain quality to JLB which is a factor of his physiology.  If you have a heavier set voice, like mine for e.g. it is quite difficult to get the JLB tone.. 

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More than "heavy" or "light" it's a thing about "size" and "shape" I think, and the formants that your tract has more tendency to accentuate. That's why he sounds so "waily" and "shouty" on his high range. Other singers that carry that much chest, or even more, don't sound like that. Examples are, Leo Jimenez, Jorn Lande, Tony Kakko, Kyo, Fabio Lione. I think even if they went full splatty and waily they still would not sound as "waily" or "annoying" ( because some people find him REALLY annoying, not me haha ) as LaBrie.

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Ah I see what you guys mean about the anatomy thing. My voice is brighter than JLB's for sure, but it's also very pointy and doesn't spread like his. Would you say his metallic tone is due to his choice of vowels, his anatomy/physiology, or both?

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I'd say both. Because If Robert, for example, used the same vowels as JLB it would not sound the same. It could be a fun thing to do when imitating a singer as a "cartoon image". But it will probably not sound convincing in a song.
At least that's what I think, maybe Robert can do a spot on impersonation, lol

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1 hour ago, Xamedhi said:

More than "heavy" or "light" it's a thing about "size" and "shape" I think, and the formants that your tract has more tendency to accentuate. That's why he sounds so "waily" and "shouty" on his high range. Other singers that carry that much chest, or even more, don't sound like that. Examples are, Leo Jimenez, Jorn Lande, Tony Kakko, Kyo, Fabio Lione. I think even if they went full splatty and waily they still would not sound as "waily" or "annoying" ( because some people find him REALLY annoying, not me haha ) as LaBrie.

For me, it really depends on the era.

90's LaBrie in the Images and Words and Awake era was outstanding, I couldn't understand how people could hate his voice. He was a powerhouse and is one of my influences. He still sounds very good on the albums even to this day.

However, by listening to live concert footage from the 2000's, I could understand where they were coming from. It sounded shouty and kind of splatty, which took me some time to get used to. Some concerts are good, some are not so good.

Overall though, I do like his voice and he definitely has a very unique timbre.

Regarding singing within G4-D5, the "closed" sound that Xamedhi refers to was important for me. This "covered" sound is what allowed me to go higher in pitch while not flipping into falsetto. Not just the covering, but the breath support needed to be correct to. Just a firmness in the intercostal muscle area. I wasn't "taking a poop", that is too much effort. Also, no gripping or strain is in the neck or throat i.e. no veins popping out. It's a balance between the bright and dark sounds. For me, a lot of it is trial and error.

The A#4/B4 is my nemesis right now. No issue singing up to A4 and from C5 up to D5, but for some reason that B4 is a challenge.

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20 hours ago, Jabroni said:

The A#4/B4 is my nemesis right now. No issue singing up to A4 and from C5 up to D5, but for some reason that B4 is a challenge.

Interesting you say that because I've noticed that pitch being trouble for both men and women(B5) who have it in their range. It's an octave above the lower passaggio for men and an octave above the CCM break for women. It must be a resonance issue. 

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And guys like Steve Walsh eat B4's for breakfast......go figure....lol!!!  Great vocals here guys...a bunch of power B's, some A5 stuff towards the end. Vocals begin around 3:17

 

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On 3/15/2016 at 9:53 PM, Jabroni said:

For me, it really depends on the era.

90's LaBrie in the Images and Words and Awake era was outstanding, I couldn't understand how people could hate his voice. He was a powerhouse and is one of my influences. He still sounds very good on the albums even to this day.

However, by listening to live concert footage from the 2000's, I could understand where they were coming from. It sounded shouty and kind of splatty, which took me some time to get used to. Some concerts are good, some are not so good.

Overall though, I do like his voice and he definitely has a very unique timbre.

Regarding singing within G4-D5, the "closed" sound that Xamedhi refers to was important for me. This "covered" sound is what allowed me to go higher in pitch while not flipping into falsetto. Not just the covering, but the breath support needed to be correct to. Just a firmness in the intercostal muscle area. I wasn't "taking a poop", that is too much effort. Also, no gripping or strain is in the neck or throat i.e. no veins popping out. It's a balance between the bright and dark sounds. For me, a lot of it is trial and error.

The A#4/B4 is my nemesis right now. No issue singing up to A4 and from C5 up to D5, but for some reason that B4 is a challenge.

I was watching the 1995 live performance of DT and even though that was a disastrous year for LaBrie due to his vocal injury, he still went all out. Like in Another Day, he didn't change any of the melodies. What a trooper! Nowadays he seems to be a lot more restrained, though that may actually be a smart thing to do given that he's not the 90s version anymore. 

Heh VideoHere I think B4 is one of Steve Walsh's favorite notes. And he sounds really good there!

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What I know and see is that James LaBrie has studied with and received lessons from Jaime Vendera in the last few years and I think it has been to good effect. Like any training, it has led to more stability and reliability. JLB may not sing high all the time like he did as a young man not knowing as much, but he sings better now with better technique and control in a way that will ensure his abilities as long as he has wind to sing. So, how about we quit crapping on JLB. Really, I mean seriously does it have to be a forever meme about him having a problem one time?

A bit of true trivia. A former member of the forum who can't visit any more because his band's album is taking off is friends with JLB and invited him to join our forum. Just so happens that weekend, another "let's all crap on JLB and make our selves feel superior" thread was going, which was actually perfect timing. Lost a chance to have a great and current singer that everyone in the world, not just people in this forum, knows. 

But no, someone had to be childish and throw up, I mean vomit, I mean regurgitate one little problem and blow it up into this thing that simply will not die because one would have to actually mature into adulthood for it to die.

Am I being harsh? Yes, harsh misbehavior requires harsh punishment.

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You are misinterpreting what this thread is about, ronws. I love JLB and I would defend him in front of anyone. I'm just saying that his voice has changed, and it doesn't sound as good in some songs as when whe was younger. Objectivity inside the subjectivity that is singing, really. I love his technique and I wish I could do half the stuff he has done in his life. He's an inspiration.
I also have suffered from vocal injury and I know the frustration it means, and I imagine his would have been a hundred times superior because he made money off of that and had a family to feed too.

We're not crapping on JLB, it's completely the opposite. We are acknowledging that the voice changes in time and that he has evolved with the passing of time very well on top of the health problems he's had along the way. I could listen to his music all day, from Winter Rose to Dream Theater ( I haven't heard yet the last thing they got out )

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I don't recall an instance where we were crapping on JLB. We mentioned things we like, things not so much. Never in a condescending way. I think the balance was pretty fair, and I'm definitely biased in favor of JLB, being a huge fan of his!

I couldn't care less if JLB doesn't sing as high anymore. Singing high is not the most important thing. I think it will always be about tone quality. 

As for JLB's voice over the years, it would be pretty neat to discuss what he does differently now compared to the 90s version of himself. 

 

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It was not you, specifically, Charstar, but often in the past threads, it gets tiring for me to continue hearing about JLBs one vocal injury or how he doesn't sound anymore like he did on "Pull me Under" or other stuff from that era. I am just being a grumpy old man wondering why he is not allowed to progress or change.

Kind of like how people now don't like Jon bon Jovi's sound even though he is singing better and stronger than he used to sing, after getting lessons. Like people want him to go back to the untrained and detrimental sound and lack of technique he had before. I don't get it. Probably something wrong with me.

 

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1 hour ago, Xamedhi said:

You are misinterpreting what this thread is about, ronws. I love JLB and I would defend him in front of anyone. I'm just saying that his voice has changed, and it doesn't sound as good in some songs as when whe was younger. Objectivity inside the subjectivity that is singing, really. I love his technique and I wish I could do half the stuff he has done in his life. He's an inspiration.
I also have suffered from vocal injury and I know the frustration it means, and I imagine his would have been a hundred times superior because he made money off of that and had a family to feed too.

We're not crapping on JLB, it's completely the opposite. We are acknowledging that the voice changes in time and that he has evolved with the passing of time very well on top of the health problems he's had along the way. I could listen to his music all day, from Winter Rose to Dream Theater ( I haven't heard yet the last thing they got out )

You should give a listen to the Astonishing. Labrie sounds really good and acts out a bunch of different characters with his voice. Petrucci said that no one else besides James would be able to portray the characters like he did. 

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ronws I see what you're saying. To be honest it's pretty exciting to see how JLB is changing over time. If it's true that voices darken with age, I would love to hear that version of LaBrie. We all know he's proficient with the bright metallic sound so if he starts going in the opposite direction, I'm very curious to see how that would sound!

Jabroni, I heard hardcore DT fans are loving the Astonishing. I'm hoping to get it on vinyl!

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ronws, that's a really good interview. I would like to see more vocalists have these one-on-ones to discuss their technique and training, it's very insightful.

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I'm glad to hear that he straight up says he studied with different teachers. It seems to me that a lot of singers want to be viewed as untrained or possessing natural talent, but I think formal training really helps. Also it looks like JLB takes his voice very seriously. The preparation and mindset is similar to training for a sport.

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