I remember panicking when a girl came in years ago asking to learn how to put a rasp in her voice that wasn’t already there. “How could she want to do that?” I wondered, “That’s the opposite of what she should want! She should take up chain-smoking, not voice lessons, if that’s what she’s after!”
I think I told her that creating a rasp isn’t safe—and certainly not the point of voice lessons. Looking back, I see I was such an ignorant snob! A good portion of the people you hear on the radio have rasps, and what’s more, many of them are well trained, able to turn the rasp on and off at will. These rasp masters, who include Adele, Pink, and Christina Aguilera, have long careers that haven’t been truncated by vocal abuse, and they certainly don’t all smoke!
Recognizing the Rasp
Listen carefully to P!nk sing “Glitter in Air” and pick out the notes where she adds her signature rasp. This can be somewhat challenging since P!nk makes sure not to overuse this subtle technique–she wants to sound emotionally weary, not like she has a severe case of laryngitis! For a clear example of her rasp produced by vocal fry, skip to 1:46 in this video and listen how she sings the word “you’re.”
How to Get a Rasp
Here’s the deal. To add a rasp to your voice and get rid of that perfect Disney-princess clarity, you need to work on vocal fry. First, sing the lowest note you can sing. Now go one lower. Hear that raspy “uuuuuh” sound? It doesn’t quite have a pitch, but you can still hear the pitch eking through. That’s called vocal fry, and it’s the register lower than your modal one (the primary area of your singing voice). Now, to give your voice that tired, edgy, raspy sound, just add a touch of vocal fry before some of the notes in a song. Be very careful to not overdo this during any given tune, because it will make you sound like you have frog in your throat instead of giving you the deeply wounded sound you’re looking for. Once you’ve polished the sound, use it sparingly to bring out the emotion in a lyric. Thanks for reading and happy rasping!