Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Raspy Voice... Cool Sound or Vocal Suicide?

                                         Yours truly adding a little rasp sitting in at BB Kings, Nashville

The raspy voice has been a signature sound for some singers with legendary careers. Rod Stewart, Stevie Nicks, Bonny Tyler, Macy Gray and Brian Adams are among the artists that come to mind who have successfully used this sound. In many contemporary music genres, a degree of raspiness can add a cool, communicative factor to vocal performance.

The raspy voice can also be the tell-tale clue to vocal damage. It's one of the signs of vocal nodes, polyps, cancer, spasmodic dysphonia. Yes, there are surgical techniques to remove and repair damage. But watch these vocal surgery videos (especially the first two) and I think you may find yourself freshly dedicated to preventative vocal cord care instead of possible vocal suicide!

So should you sing, or learn to sing, with a raspy voice? It depends on several factors such as:
  • the degree of vocal strain or damage present (vocal health)
I had a professional child singer come in for a vocal lesson. I found her voice to be breathy and raspy, and I could not enable her to speak or sing without those sounds. Recognizing the clues, I sent her to Vanderbilt Voice Clinic in Nashville, where they examined her vocal cords, diagnosed vocal nodules and put her on vocal rest for months. It effectively stopped her career in its tracks. If you have any vocal strain or damage, do not sing or speak with a rasp, vocal fry or gravel. Period. Picture rubbing two wounded emery boards together every time you sing. Wait until the vocal damage and fatigue is completely healed before attempting to create rasp.

 If you have a raspy voice already, it's important to know why it sounds that way. For instance, you could have excessive mucous on your cords from allergies or dehydration. You could have a growth on your vocal cord(s). You could have throat cancer. You could be fatiguing or damaging your voice by the vocal fry you use when you speak.

Contrary to what you may hear, it is not a good idea to ignore it just because you've had vocal raspiness for a long time, and think it's 'natural' for you. Any chronic case of vocal raspiness, hoarseness or discomfort should be investigated by a doctor. It's best to go to a vocal health center where medical voice specialists can scope your cords, rule out anything serious and illuminate you about anything you may be doing or not doing that is causing the sound. 
  • the level of strength of the vocal apparatus (vocal stamina)
Some voices can just get by with more punishment than others. Think of the guy or girl you know who can eat habanero peppers like candy. Some voices are strong enough, or have been exercised long and correctly enough,  to create vocal sounds that would fatigue or damage weaker voices. It is my opinion that such is the case for career raspy singers like those mentioned above. How do you know? If it hurts, your voice is not strong enough... stop!
  • the way the voice creates the raspy sound (vocal technique)
There are techniques to singing with a raspy sound that are healthy; if this is a sound you desire, you should learn how to do it in such a way that protects your cords from vocal strain. For metal screamers, I recommend the Jamie Vendera product "Extreme Scream". For those of you who'd just like some random rasp, I recommend my Power, Path and Performance 'pulling' method of deconstructing technique.

Bottom line:
Don't sing or speak with a raspy sound or vocal fry unless you mean to. And if you do mean to, learn vocal techniques to make those sounds in ways that protect your vocal cords. Raspiness can be cool, or it can be a voice killer.

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  • At August 6, 2012 at 12:29 PM , Anonymous Gary Catona said...

    Great advice in this article. Unfortunately with more aggressive singing styles, such as in some types of rock, damage control is the name of the game.


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