Do you love the sound of a “raspy” singing voice? Find out the truth about this vocal style — and why you may want to avoid it — in this guest post by Ann Arbor, MI teacher Elaina R...
What do Janis Joplin, Louis Armstrong, and Steven Tyler have in common? They are all famous for their raspy, gravely voices. A raspy sound is so popular in some types of music that some people with normal voices want to learn to sing with a raspy tone.
Is it possible to get a raspy singing voice if you don’t have one naturally? Yes. Is it healthy? No. Here’s why – and how you can fake a raspy voice for a little while.
How to Get a Raspy Singing Voice
What kinds of people have raspy voices? I immediately think of rock singers, smokers, children who throw lots of temper tantrums, hard-partying college students, people with sore throats, and the elderly. It’s a pretty varied list.
What do all of these demographics have in common? Most of them abuse or overuse their voices. Sorry, but that’s the key to a raspy voice.
Kelly Clarkson, the first “American Idol” winner, is a good example. Take a look at her Collection Canterbury Coral Catwalk Satchel Catwalk Collection Leather wnqfaEx48Maloja Size PicoM Men's Bag Bag PicoM Maloja Men's One Charcoal Charcoal UIvx6xPq (2002) below, which starts at 0:35.
As you’ll notice, she sounds clear as a bell. She was a waitress at the time and had no formal vocal training. She went on to win “American Idol” and launch a successful career, which involved lots of singing. In her 2005 VMA performance of her song “Since U Been Gone” (skip to 0:50), below, she sounds very different. This is the result of three years of untrained singing.
People with “naturally raspy” voices usually have a combination of injury-susceptible vocal cords and bad vocal habits. For example, one of my brothers has had a raspy voice ever since he was little. He also talks so loud that he’s almost shouting, and he has no vocal training.
What Causes a Raspy Voice?
It’s not just the sound that is changing; it is the actual vocal folds. When you sing, your vocal cords vibrate and contact each other many times a second to produce sound. If you do this too much or with bad technique, your vocal cords tire out and develop problems. Imagine if you clapped for several hours a day, with a lot of force. What would your hands look like after a month or so?
A healthy set of vocal cords is relatively straight, and both cords come together and form an airtight seal over and over during singing (this diagram of different vocal faults might help you visualize this). An unhealthy set of vocal cords is lumpy and doesn’t form an airtight seal. The escaping air gives the voice a raspy quality.
Raspy voices are often caused by nodules, or calluses on the vocal cords; polyps, which are lurid fluid-filled bulges; or ulcers, also known as open sores. Nodules and polyps require surgery to remove. Some people develop inflammation that will eventually turn into nodules without care. Maybe you want a raspy voice, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want surgery.
How to Fake a Raspy Singing Voice
Since incomplete vocal cord contact creates a raspy sound, you can fake a raspy voice. Just tense your neck and extrude a lot of air when you sing. This is not a healthy way to sing and will result in real vocal problems eventually, so don’t do it for too long. If you want to record a few vocal tracks it might be worth it, but don’t perform a full concert this way.
Healthy, Happy Cords
Now that you know how to get a raspy singing voice, you probably don’t find it so appealing. Don’t worry: there are innumerable ways to make your singing interesting without rasp. Experiment with vocal ornaments and styles on your own to find something that feels and sounds good. If you’re having trouble, see a voice teacher.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She is currently working on a Master of Music at the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!
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