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How to Use Consonants to Create Vocal Impact

How to Use Consonants to Create Vocal Impact

A well-placed stop can add drama and emphasis – says Juliet Russell

The word STOP provides a brilliant example of how an unvoiced consonant can create lyrical impact.

Just listen to these for a second:

Stop in the Name of Love – Diana Ross and the Supremes

Stop – Sam Brown

This interruption creates drama. It’s effective, arresting and demanding. Stop! The rest following the vocal stop, caused by the P, adds to its impact.

This effect is caused by a momentary occlusion or blocking in the oral vocal tract.

A “P” sound creates a complete stop in airflow.

There is no vocalization in the sound itself – T and K also have the same effect.

Other songs to reference include Baby, Come Back – The Equals, Help – The Beatles and Jump – Van Halen.

More recently, the chorus of Jessie J’s Burnin’ Up uses these stops in flow to create a powerfully energetic, rhythmic effect. I’m Burnin’ up. Come put me out. Come and put me out. (The chorus starts at 32 seconds).

In addition to these unvoiced stops (P, T and K), there are also voiced stops. These are B, D and G. The reason these are called “voiced” is that although there is occlusion (blocking) in the oral vocal tract, these consonants are the only sound made during the occlusion. (As soon as you move to a vowel, there is no occlusion. With P, T and K, there is a complete stop – no vocalisation at all. The sound is made by the relevant articulators only.

If you move from T, T, T, T (voiceless) to a hard G, G, G, G (voiced), you will immediately hear the difference.

These sounds are also known as “plosives”. This refers to the release of the sound at the end and it is this release that can cause “popping” when you are close to a mic.

This combination of voiced and unvoiced occlusives is used to great effect on the seminal Hip Hop track Rappers Delight by The Sugarhill Gang.


Use the lyrics from the opening lines of Rappers Delight to explore occlusive. This rap is quite slow so not too hard to pick up and and is actually very melodic.

I said a hip hop
Hippie to the hippie
The hip, hip a hop and you don’t stop a rock it
To the bang bang boogie, say, up jump the boogie
To the rhythm of the boogie, the beat

Creative exercise

Write a chorus that uses stops and occlusive consonants (with other elements) to create rhythmic impact. Write lyrics and melody and if you play an instrument or use GarageBand etc., it would be great to hear chords and /or beats.

If you send these in, I’ll pick out some of my favourites next week.

Other occlusives (consonants that interrupt the airflow in the vocal tract) include M and N sounds. We’ll be exploring these next week, alongside fricatives and affricates, with some of the lyrical effects they can help to create.

The Theory Behind the Practice

When practicing, we tend to give a lot of attention to vowel sounds and for good reason; they are fundamental to singing and can create energy, sustain and a beautifully open sound. However, the rhythmic and percussive elements of our voice, often (but not always) come from consonants.

Understanding how specific consonants are made and how we can use them creatively can help to inform:

1Lyric and melody writing
2Improvisation, scatting and free styling
3Rhythmic phrasing
4Stylistic versatility

Specific consonants that create stops include the consonants P, T and K (unvoiced) in English. When thinking about these consonants consider the sound and the way they are pronounced, not the literal spelling of them. (A hard c as in cactus sounds the same as a k, but the c in ceiling sounds like an s). B, D and G are voiced stops or oral occlusives.

These consonants are incredibly useful for beatboxers and rappers, whose musical styles rely on vocal percussion, but it helps all singers to be aware of their voice as a rhythmic, percussive instrument as well as a melodic one.

My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry

Constanza & Matias Toro Constanza & Matias Toro - Wings (Cover)

Constanza, you have a lovely distinctive tone and a unique vibrato, which I very much enjoyed listening to. This song really works as an acoustic track – good choice. I appreciated the staging of the video too. The colours looked great and you chose a very visual setting for this performance. The biggest thing that would improve this performance would be for you to stand. This is a dynamic song and at times I felt you needed a bit more physical support, especially on the more powerful notes. Your intonation was sometimes a little bit flat, which this would help to rectify. Your voice has a lovely tone so it makes sense to support it in every way that you can. I really enjoyed listening to a duo. Make sure you really work together. The first chorus went out a little in terms of the chords following the melody and a capo can alter the tuning so watch out for this in future. I liked the vocal and guitar arrangement so well done on being creative with this song.

November's Vocal Coach in Residence: Juliet Russell

Juliet Russell has coached Grammy award winners and X-Factor finalists and is a vocal coach on BBC1’s The Voice. She has performed and collaborated with Damon Albarn, Imogen Heap, Paloma Faith, Ringo Starr and is in demand as a coach, singer, vocal arranger and choral director. www.julietrussell.com

In spring 2015, Juliet be touring her forthcoming album, Earth Meets Sky, throughout the UK, collaborating with choirs to create a unique performance in each city.

Juliet’s vocal exercise CD, Love Your Voice, will be available late in 2014.