Do you need to know how to sing raspy?
A clean, balanced tone isn’t always the sound you want when you are singing contemporary country, rock, or jazz. Sometimes the sound you want is raspy. A raspy voice can sound sexy. It can be just what you need to add to the overall feel of your performance.
If you want to learn how to sing raspy, then read further because we have some super-helpful hints coming right up.
But didn’t my voice teacher tell me singing raspy was a no-no?
Chances are you have been warned about singing in a raspy voice. Your voice teacher or singing training courses have told you about how to “remove” raspy or husky sounds in your voice to replace them with a cleaner and more balanced tone.
Most of the time, a cleaner tone is what you want because “dirty” qualities like hoarseness and raspiness in your sound add to wear and tear of your vocal cords if you don’t use them mindfully.
That’s because a raspy or husky voice is the result of an unbalanced oscillation of the vocal fold. When your vocal folds oscillate unevenly, the leading edges of your vocal folds rub at random points instead of closing together cleanly. This rubbing leads to the formation of vocal fold lesions like nodules — and we’re sure you want to avoid developing nodules on your vocal cords.
But what if the song you are singing will benefit from a raspy, husky, sexy, rough quality? Is it OK to add a raspy or husky or rough sexy edge to your sound occasionally?
Is there some kind of special technique for singing raspy?
The key to achieving the ability to sing in a raspy voice without developing vocal cord nodules and other kinds of vocal cord problems is the ability to turn your raspy sound on and, also, even more importantly, to turn your raspy sound off.
Remember when we used the term “mindfully” to describe the way you need to use your voice to sing raspy?. Raspy voice quality isn’t something you should run on autopilot while you sing. It’s not something you should do without thinking. It should never become second nature to you.
To the contrary, it’s a good idea for every singer to be hypervigilant when using a raspy tone. You have to have the ability to manage and to monitor the sound of your voice while you stay mindful of the physical sensations that come about as you sing with a raspy voice.
Vocal experts discuss singing in a raspy voice in terms of “hyperfunction” A Dictionary for the Modern Singer defines hyperfunction stating (thanks to Dr. Dan’s Voice Essentials for looking this up for us):
“In vocal pedagogy, this term specifically refers to a hyperfunctioning of the vocal cords due to excess tension or forcing within the laryngeal region, ventricular (false) vocal fold phonation, anteroposterior laryngeal ‘squeezing,’ and harsh glottal onsets.”
The dictionary goes on to describe hyperfunction as a negative aspect of vocal function. What this lesson is about is turning that negative into a positive. We are going to apply hyperfunction to achieve the raspy voice quality we have been discussing.
Before you begin, read the following part carefully.
Now, due to the risks associated with this kind of activity we are going to lay out some guidelines:
- Firstly, if your voice sounds like you are in less than in perfect health, don’t do this exercise.
- If you have a cold, or a sore throat, or you are getting over the flu or allergies, or if your voice is currently fatigued, it is likely that your vocal folds are swollen with retained fluid. Swollen vocal folds, when placed under significant load, and this exercise is a significant load, run a heightened risk of damaging wear and tear. Don’t practice singing raspy if you have a cold or the flu or allergies or if you are getting over them.
- Please also avoid doing this exercise if your voice is already habitually raspy, husky, or rough. You don’t need it! It is essential to add raspiness to your voice from a position of healthy phonation as opposed to merely adding some know-how to a habitually unbalanced voice.
We hope that it is clear that what you are about to learn is all about developing aesthetic choice and not all about abandoning normal care for your voice through careless singing. When you sing raspy, stay aware that you are siging raspy.
Now, here’s what you need to practice to sing raspy.
With all those preliminary precautions in mind, sing a single clean note on the word “yeah.”
Choose a pitch that is comfortable for you and vocalize, all in a single syllable and on a single breath “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah.”
Now use the same word and note but make the sound as breathy as you can without whispering. “Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah.”
Next, sing the same word on the same pitch again, but this time lean on the sound with a little extra pressure. This should cause the larynx to brace a little.
This halfway point should activate the raspy sound quality you are searching for.
So, to go through the steps one more time:
- Sing a clean tone.
- Sing a breathy tone.
- Sing a pressed breathy tone to achieve a raspy sound.
Now do these three steps again, but play around with the raspy sound quality until you find a laryngeal setting that doesn’t feel too tense and overly pressed.
The raspy or husky sound that we hear is a disturbance in the air flow as it passes between the vocal folds.
Now try to sing a five-note scale using the same raspy voice quality. (This is part of the exercise we learned from Dr. Dan.)
“Yeah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah.”
Go up a step.
“Yeah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah.”
Go up another step.
“Yeah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah.”
You may have noticed that the single-note exercise and, to a greater extent, the five-note scale used a lot more air than you need for singing cleaner tones. That’s because your raspy voice is allowing more air to escape between the vocal folds and therefore it is less efficient when it comes to breath.
We can’t stress too much just how crucial it is to only do these exercises for limited periods of time. Similarly, you should seek to only employ a raspy aesthetic in measured amounts when performing. Learn to add rasp and husk for color and contrast rather than singing every song with a raspy effect.
Try other singing methods such as tuvan or mongolian throat singing to really expand your vocal capabilities. You’d be surprised but trying different vocal sounds is what’s really going to give you better overall vocal control.
Raspy Singing Rules
That isn’t too hard, is it? Just so you don’t run into any problems with your newly found sexy raspiness, please keep these rules in mind:
If you don’t have a naturally raspy voice, always try to sing raspy in a healthy way.
You want to keep your ability to sing clean and crystal clear when it’s appropriate, and you want to control your ability to sing raspy when it makes the song sound better.
Don’t overdo the raspy effect.
You’ll get hoarse very quickly if you do. Then you won’t be able to sing the rest of the day, or the next day, and maybe the next day or even the next week. Overdoing raspiness for even one set can send you to the sidelines while your voice recovers.
Remember that the key to doing rapsy right is by using vocal fry.
Vocal fry is something you use on the bottom. Basses can use it really well, but you can also use it on high notes. Vocal fry is when the glottis slowly opens up but doesn’t open all the way. Try holding the breath and keeping your glottis almost closed, and open your glottis just the tiniest bit. Imagine holding your breath but letting just a small stream of breath escape. Only the tiniest bit of air comes out.
And remember it’s OK to vary how much air comes out and how much voice comes out.
You can do vocal fry with hardly any voice, or you can do it with a little more voice so you hear more than just raspiness. You can keep opening your glottis until your whole voice is there.
Raspiness feels almost like holding your breath. The degree of raspiness is something you can adjust. Don’t sing in a raspy voice through the whole song. Raspiness puts a strain on your vocal cords, and if you sing in a raspy voice (assuming you don’t have a natural voice) through an entire song or, worse, an entire set, it’s not going to be good for your vocal cords.
Keep in mind some singers that sing raspy all the time can’t help singing raspy all the time.
Their vocal cords wont work any way because they are strained, and they have been strained for many years, and that’s just the way they sing. Punk singers or scream singers really struggle with this, too.
Janis Jopline was a singer who had no choice about using a raspy voice. She could hardly sing at all at the end of her career. Hoarseness and roughness was her style, but her style put a huge strain on her vocal cords.
You shouldn’t want to be like singers who have damaged vocal cords! You want to be able to still sing clean and clear notes because strained vocal cords also affect the way you speak. When you speak, chances are that you don’t usually want to use a raspy voice. Learn more about singing without straining to be on the safe side!
Do raspy singing in moderation.
When you’re singing AC-DC songs, OK, a raspy voice is called for. But even if you are singing high notes in a raspy voice keep in mind that the strain may “kill” your ability to sing lower in your range. This technique plus working on increasing your overall vocal range can counteract some negative effects.
When you feel scratchiness in your throat, you are overdoing your raspy voice.
And if you regularly have to cough after you sing in a raspy voice, you are definitely damaging your vocal cords.
Think narrow when you sing high notes raspy.
Do a clear sound on the top, opening up the back of your throat, and sing raspy on lower notes. Sing raspy notes with your mouth a little more closed than when you are singing with a clear tone.
Let’s say you sing a lot rock-y stuff, and then as a closing song you sing The Rose (“Some say love, is is a river, That drowns the tender reed”) to say goodbye. In order to do that, you have to save your voice. If you overdo raspiness in the first part of your performance, you aren’t going to be able to sing a song like The Rose for your close. “Some say love it is a river” just doesn’t sound right in a raspy voice. You won’t be able to stop the rasping if you overdo raspiness earlier in your act.
In order to stop unwanted raspiness, you have to do raspiness technically.
We hope that makes sense to you. Practice that vocal fry, just holding your breath, and then adding just a little bit of voice, a little bit of tone, a little bit of pitch. Try vocal fry in your lower register and work yourself up into your middle register and then try a raspy voice on high notes. Singing raspy feels different at different pitches. It’s a lot harder on high notes and in the middle. With your lowest notes, it’s a little easier. If you want to sing rough on your high notes, then you have to make your mouth narrower .
We hope these tips help you. Maybe you want to sing more rock repertoire, maybe you want to sing a little raspy here and there over time, these tips should help.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.