Tag Archives: vocal fry

How to Sound Gruff

Vocal Fringe Techniques: How to Sound Gruff

Singers spend years learning to perfect a crystal clarity that pleases the ear fluidly from low to high. But what happens if you just want to sound like Lady Gaga (in “Poker Face” or “Applause,” not in her Academy Award Sound of Music tribute)? Or if you want to sing folk music without taking it into the Broadway jukebox realm? The truth is, that “trained” vocal sound is something you can turn off and on if you have great control of your voice. Here are some vocal tips on how to sound gruff.

Isn’t Gruffness Something You Just Have or Don’t Have?

Well, if we’re talking about gruffness due to vocal injury, then yes. But I don’t think that’s what you’re after. Lady Gaga is a fantastic example of someone who can turn this sound on and off.

First, listen to this example of her gruff, untrained sound in “Applause.”



Next, listen to her in The Sound of Music tribute. Sounds like a legit singer, right?



Then here she is a year later with the gruffness back.



The reason Gaga’s Sound of Music tribute got so much hype wasn’t because she was the best singer of Golden-Age Broadway to ever hit the stage. It was because her audience was surprised and impressed with her adaptability–one moment she’s hoarsely speak-singing her pop songs, and the next she’s melodiously singing Rodgers and Hammerstein with the clarity of Julie Andrews.

But if she can sound so beautiful, why would she ever choose to sing another way? Well, simply put, her pop songs would sound ridiculous if you sang them like Julie Andrews. Observe:



Luckily, Lady Gaga can sing gruffly when she chooses to and can sing like a legit Broadway diva when she chooses to. And so can you.

What Are the Hallmarks of that “Trained” Sound

To ditch the trained sound, we first need to identify what makes someone sound like a trained singer.

Thyroid Tilt

A real biggie is the thyroid tilt. That little feeling of tilt (like a puppy-dog cry) onto the note that you experience is one of the hallmarks of the trained-singer sound. The thyroid tilt offers sweetness and helps facilitate that shimmering vibrato.

Even-Sounding Mixed Voice

Whether we’re talking about a beautiful trained belt sound like Sara Bareilles’s or a trained head-mix like Sierra Boggess’s, trained singers tend to instinctively thin out their vocal folds as they go higher and higher, lightening their chest voice more and more until it seamlessly becomes head voice.

No Vocal Fry

You know that lazy, rattly sound common with the So Cal surf culture?



(No judgment, by the way. I use it constantly). That’s called vocal fry, and it happens when your vocal folds are slack. You don’t really hear much of that at all in a trained, legit voice.

Sticking the Note

You don’t hear a lot of trained-sounding voices sliding up to notes or sliding off of them. They stick the note and hold it out (typically with at least some vibrato).

Now Remove All Those Elements

Un-Tilt Your Thyroid Cartilage!

You know how when everything is working well with your voice, it feels like you’re tipping onto the note instead of moving into the note head on? Let’s take that little tilt out and just move toward the note horizontally. Listen to these two examples, the first with a thyroid tilt, and the second without.



Singing without the thyroid tilt should feel more like the way you talk (depending on the way you talk!)

Just Go For Chest

Just go for a chesty speech tone instead of an even timbre from low to high. You won’t be able to go too high like this without adjusting some other elements (or injuring your voice), so when you’re doing this, make sure it’s low enough to be comfortable.

Throw in Vocal Fry

Throw some vocal fry into your tone wherever you want it to sound most world-weary.

Don’t Stick the Note

Feel free to slide off the longer notes instead of holding them. Scroll back up to Lady Gaga’s “A Million Reasons,” and listen to about a minute in: “I’ve got a hundred…” Listen to her slide off each note. It wouldn’t have the same effect if she stuck each note like this:



Without the sliding, it’s much cleaner and less gritty.

Mix and Match

You don’t have to use every one of these elements every time you sing. For a folksy feel, you might try to un-tilt your thyroid cartilage but add a little breathiness. For a higher-pitched song, you might want to scrap the chest voice altogether but keep the other elements. For something you want to sound fairly polished but still have a little bit of grit to it, you might just sing the way you normally do but add vocal fry. Play around and see what works for you on a given song. There’s no wrong answer here if you’re getting an aesthetic you want and your throat feels fine.

Student Spotlight: Fen W.

Student Spotlight: Fen W.

In honor of April Fool’s, we took the time this month to interview one of our most successful students–Molly W’s dog, Fen. Some of you who’ve taken lessons at the Orange studio (along with some veteran Glee students) have gotten a chance to meet Fen, but what you may not know is that he’s quite the musician himself.

MM: How did you get started with music, and how long have you been doing it?

FW: I grew up in a very musical pack that, of course, includes Molly. Her students are always out in the studio. Sometimes I get to sit in on the lessons, because I’m a great encourager and love to listen to people sing. Lessons are scary, but I help students if they’re nervous. Really I’m an enormous benefit to the school, but I still don’t even have a bio on the site.

MM: Do you share your musical skills with family, friends, or your community? How?

FW: My other pack member, Liam, sings and plays guitar, but he’s yet to ask me to do a duet. I think he’s afraid I’ll steal the show. I don’t play any instruments (opposable thumbs…sigh), but I have a pretty strong voice that really turns heads when I sing the songs of my ancestors. Have you heard them? There’s one about the mailman, and being let out, and another about being let in. It’s in the folk tradition, so I make up my own verses, not that anyone cares about my songwriting abilities. My whole pack gets jealous of my singing voice and tries to get me to stop the second I start. Like I said, I just don’t get any respect, none at all.

MM: What makes you keep up your practice, and what are your goals?

FW: I don’t even practice for too long, probably five minutes at a time, but at least 6 times a day. Teachers always talk about practice being more about the focus then the length, and boy do I stay focused. I am a good boy after all. I even practice at night while they’re trying to sleep. You’d think my pack would be proud of my commitment, but no. They don’t get my art and tell me to be quiet.

MM: Can you share about a technique, skill, or song you struggled with, and how you are overcoming or have overcome it?

FW: Technique has never been much of a struggle for me. I have excellent breath control and a surprisingly strong head voice. Molly took my dog whimper and now uses it as an exercise with her students. Very few of her singers know that I came up with that one. It’s fantastic for getting rid of breathiness. I yawned once during a lesson, and now teachers use yawns to help students lift their soft palate. They forget to credit me with that one, too. And don’t even get me started on vocal fry! We dogs were accessing our vocal fry growling long before humans could even speak.

MM: What advice would you give to other students just starting out?

FW: Let your voice be heard. Sometimes people will tell you to stop barking, but don’t let them silence you. Someone needs to protect the house and keep the mailman away.

How to Hit Low Notes

Online Singing Lessons: How to Hit Low Notes

One of the questions I get asked the most from students is how to hit high notes. But occasionally, I also have singers questioning how to hit low notes. Let me start by saying that it’s much easier to train yourself to sing higher than it is to learn to sing lower. Typically, singing with a lighter mechanism and doing vocal exercises that help regulate airflow will increase your high range fairly quickly. Your low range is a little more handicapped by your anatomy and the thickness of your vocal cords, but there are things you can do to increase your low range a little bit.

How to Hit Low Notes

Find Your Chest Voice

If you haven’t found your chest voice yet, this is where to start. I don’t mean that you should push harder from your chest voice, just that you should learn to access it. If you tend to only sing (or speak!) in a very light, head-dominant tone, your voice may drop out as you try to access lower notes. To find this area of your voice, try saying in your best Santa voice, “ho, ho, ho!” Do you feel the vibration in your chest? Now trying singing some tones in this area of your voice.

Stop Pushing

To reach the lowest notes in your range, your vocal cords need to stay relaxed and loose, and your larynx needs to tilt downward. The harder you push, the harder a time you’ll have reaching these notes. Try slightly yawning or sighing into the notes, remaining very quiet.

Try Vocal Fry

You know that rattling, popping sound you used to make with your voice as a kid because it was fun and annoyed your parents? That’s called vocal fry, and it happens when your cord closure is extremely loose. Because you need loose glottal closure to hit low notes, try finding your lowest note and then going lower using vocal fry and barely eking out a note. Over time, try adding the tone back in little by little, keeping your voice relaxed.