How to Sing with a Distorted Voice

For the most part, I do my best to orientate singers to a healthily sustainable tone that is clean and balanced. But what do you do if you want to add rasp and grit to your voice for those genres requiring heavier vocals? I hope you’ll stick around, because today we’re learning all about the distorted voice.

So, today we’ll be looking at distorted voice, what many people call, raspy voice. The distorted voice is still a relatively under-researched area of vocal production. That’s not to say that no-one has investigated it, it’s just that until recently distorted voice was considered a highly damaging practice and was therefore shunned by many people in the singing teaching community. Now before we dive into an exercise, it’s crucial that we create some safety parameters for today’s topic. Firstly, despite this area of voice which is now gaining acceptance among the voice teaching fraternity, there is no doubt, in my mind at least, that the practice of vocal distortion is a high-cost item on the menu of vocal effects.

The exercise we’ll be doing together in a moment is taken from my friend and colleague, some singers, particularly women, have trouble producing a distorted tone and others get a sore throat when trying If this happens, you should stop, rest your voice and try again later. This is a critical warning because when we try this vocal quality at home, away from the guidance of a singing teacher, we run the ever-present risk of driving the voice too hard, which can result in wear and tear.

Advises us that, singers need to know that much of what is presented on YouTube about this type of singing, Intentional Vocal Distortion, is not only misinformed but also possibly dangerous. This is a warning for me as much is it is for you I certainly, don’t want to add to the plethora of poor instruction on this topic, so let’s both proceed with caution and a humility that allows for the understanding that no one knows everything. And finally, before we look at the exercise together, you’re probably going to hear, when I do the activity, that my voice doesn’t naturally lean towards vocal distortion. As many of you know, my preferred genre is adult contemporary which typically uses a balanced cleaner sound, even in the heavier belted times.

And this is important to note because you too might find that the activity doesn’t sit well with you and your voice, that’s ok. And while I don’t have any research to back this next statement up, anecdotally I have observed that some voices embrace the sensations of vocal distortion quite easily while other voices find it rather physically disturbing to produce. I guess the key take away as we get ready to do vocal distortion together is if it hurts, stop! Don’t try to proceed any further, until you can work alongside someone who is qualified to guide your vocal development. With all of that being said, let’s do a vocal distortion exercise together now.

Requires an energized body, so while I’m sitting down, I encourage you to stand up when attempting the activity for the first time. Firstly, start by placing the tip of your tongue in behind your bottom front teeth and widen your mouth with a smile. Now, raise the sides of the back of your tongue up against your upper canine teeth Once you’ve got the vocal tract position in place, try creating an extended A sound.

I’m producing my note on an A3. For me, this note sits comfortably in the middle of my lower register. You’ll probably find that starting on a different note helps you to get going If you’re able to produce the distorted sound in a relatively balanced manner, try stepping up in semitone steps. It’s important that I stress, even if you’re able to produce the distorted quality, only practice the sound for short periods of time, and always stop if you feel any type of discomfort.

And one final thing, much of what we hear in the heavier genres, especially at the pro-vocal end of town, is simply clever smoke and mirrors. It is industry practice to use digital voice processors to artificially add distortion to the voice much like a guitarist adds distortion to their instrument with a distortion pedal. So, don’t be fooled into thinking that your favorite death metal singer, for example, is producing distorted voice effects entirely with their organic instrument. He or she is almost certainly enhancing their performance digitally.

Curtis is a passionate and in-demand musician and songwriter, working along with popular artists, actors and movie directors. His creations, unique sounds and soundtracks are found in movies, TV shows and documentaries.