The Glottal Attack Epidemic

The Glottal Attack EpidemicI love gravely, half heard consonants from time to time, but today’s singers are often missing a true emotional connection to their songs –says Janine Le Clair.

There is never a danger of singers deepening their emotional connection to their songs. After all, great singing moves us emotionally.‘Emotive singing’: a half cry, a quivering tone, gravely half-heard consonants which appears to be the holy grail of many singers today

There is a danger, however, with ‘emotive singing’: a half cry, a quivering tone, gravely half-heard consonants which appears to be the holy grail of many singers today.

In the industry we call this approach the glottal attack – this terms describes the percussive pulse from vocal cords as in a slight grunt, found most notoriously at the onset of a word.

The issue is that an ‘emotive sound’ does not mean your singing is conveying emotion to your audience, especially if you’re delivering it in that fashion simply because you think it’s the way you have to, or its the way you heard it demonstrated.

It’s absolutely critical that you form your own emotional connection to your music – I’ll explore some ways how.

Artists Who Get Away with Glottal

There are some very popular artists who have developed an emotive style of singing – and it works for them.

However, when you are working on covers, I encourage you to find the way you would deliver the phrase or song.

Adele singing (Source: Adele, Facebook)

Adele is one of the few artists who has developed an emotive singing style – and it works for her (Source: Adele, Facebook)

It shouldn’t be any less ‘connected’ to the lyric, but in fact, more so, because it is from within your own experience that I ask you to pull.

Andra Day, Ariana Grande or Adele approach their songs with a fair bit of glottal fry.

If they sing a line in a particular way, as beautiful as their delivery may be, I suggest you not go for the glottal approach.

Instead, as an exercise, speak that same sentence several times in a row out loud, imagining you’re saying it to a stranger or perhaps a long time friend.

Note the different ways you choose to start and finish that sentence. I am betting hardly any of them have a glottal beginning.

You have to remember to be open to your own inflictions and bounce and phrasing. And surprise, surprise, that may mean you actually do not have a glottal attack at the beginning of the word or sentence.

A Secret Behind Emotion

Think back to the musical era of the 1950s: emotion was never questioned. It just was.

The radio stars were singing how they sang because they were young and carefree, lacking auto tune, full of fun or emotion or innocence, whichever was appropriate for their song.

They simply sang how they sang, and quite frankly in my opinion, the emotion was there

They didn’t have YouTube or Streaming or thousands of other vocal examples at literally the tip of their finger.

They weren’t ‘learning’ to sing with a specific type of glottal attack because ten of their friends saw 20 YouTube videos on ‘how to sing with emotion’.

They simply sang how they sang, and quite frankly in my opinion, the emotion was there.

But guess what was almost always also there? ARTICULATION. Consonants that could be heard and even breathy sounds behind vowels.

A Plea for Your Own Emotional Approach

In my work with singers in Australia, Canada and, now, on Nashville’s Music Row, I’m convinced that many young singers are not aware of how strongly consonants and good diction can help support their cause for ‘emotive’ singing.

Think about yelling at someone in anger or hurt or despair. In that moment, you are stronger in your articulation than ever – as you absolutely must get your point across.

Woman yelling with anger or despair

In that moment of anger, hurt or despair, you are stronger in your articulation than ever

Singing a song can have the same level or urgency. And actually hearing the ‘c’ when singing the word ‘cry’ sometimes is a good thing.

Perhaps having a substantial ‘s’ in the word ‘same’ wouldn’t be a bad thing either.

I love the gravely, half heard consonants (from time to time) and I myself am a fan of this popular sound, so don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the trends of modern commercial music.

However, I am not a fan of over use.

I’ve witnessed first hand the elation my students feel when they discover the emotional power, for example of articulating a word with a slight breath in front of it (their pitch is corrected as a result as well).

They suddenly are opened up to a world full of options, a universe where we can understand what they’re actually singing, and a sonic galaxy all of their own, where they are free to utilize a glottal fry beginning if they ‘feel’ it, or free to attack the sentence in a totally different fashion.

They have access to consonants and articulators on their face and in their mouth for a reason: to assist their vocals.

We have lips, teeth, a tongue, and cheeks; why not choose to use them?

Examples to Inspire You

Here are some examples of less glottal deliveries, and more articulated, consonant strong vocals.

1) India Arie – I Am Light

Have a listen to India Arie’s delivery of “I Am Light”. It’s a gorgeous example of connected, legato singing and subtle uses of the less articulated words. I doubt you will find a single word in this song that is not emotive. In fact, I feel this vocal is so strong that it could be described with its own catch phrase – ‘Goddess’.

2) Briana Tyson – Left My Heart With You

Briana Tyson uses simple and delicate glottal choices. But they’re more like the grace notes of a concert piece-very tasteful. And she actually sings the ‘s’ in soul, and the ‘h’ in ‘heaven’ for an example of clear articulation.

3) John Farnham – You’re The Voice

I don’t think anyone would challenge John Farnham’s nickname as ‘The Voice’ (long before the TV show), and here is a clear example why. He evokes heaps of emotion, but still with well supported articulation.

4) Celine Dion – The Power of Love

Of course I have to mention the vocal powerhouse Celine Dion. Even though she has embraced her French Canadian accent which lends to a specific diction in itself, she doesn’t lose articulation and attacks on the beginnings of her word – not for a beat.

I implore you to not be scared of your own interpretations. Close your eyes and sing the same sentence several times in a row, each with a different approach and make sure at least one of those has very clear consonants. Don’t be scared to move your lips and get a bit dramatic, to see what you create. Try singing it with great volume or very softly. You have the power to create your own emotion, and that power lies within your body, your feelings, your experiences – and these are unique to you. So embrace them.


Janine-Le-Clair-Bio1

Janine Le Clair is a soulful Country recording artist, an international award winning vocalist and renowned vocal coach. A published writer with SSM Nashville since 2009, she has had many cuts with American Country Artists and several Top 15 hits in Australia including Natalie Howard’s ‘The Girlfriend’, 3rd Wheel’s ‘Gettin’ Hitched’ and her own single, ‘Bulletproof’. Le Clair is a dual citizen of Canada and Australia.

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Email: lessons@musicrowvoice.com, or phone Janine direct: +1 (615) 596 0391


  • This article has some good points, but there certainly is no “glottal attack epidemic “. You call it an epidemic to make your point, but that is a misnomer because it seems you are not clear on what a glottal attack really is and isn’t.

    A glottal attack has nothing to do with vocal fry, or pulse register. It has nothing to do with singing in sob mode or any other of the emotive sound colors your referring to. A glottal attack is an onset characterized by a chaotic crash of the vocal folds, following a vowel.

    In the TVS training program, The Four Pillars of Singing, we go into glottal attacks with demonstrations and unique training routines with great detail. There is no other program or method that covers glottal attacks more extensively. The reason we spend so much time on glottal attacks is because they are actually great vocal health and more then anything else you can do, they build your belt muscles and help singers to sing with high modal voice or chest voice color, beyond and above the vocal break. Glottal attacks also produce great stability and strength with help you to articulate better in the head voice.

    The topic of glottal attacks is a great idea, but your article really says little to nothing about glottal attacks. Sound colors produced by different ways to manipulate the glottis such as vocal fry is a different discussion. BTW, you refer to SOB vocal mode above as “cry”. There are two ways to cry in singing or get the cry sound color;

    1. Vocal Fry
    &
    2. Move the voice to Sob vocal mode, which you did not address.

    Anyways, I like the content of your article and the points about emotive are interesting, but the title seems to be a bit out of context.

    https://youtu.be/qHklZhPC_zk

  • Music Row Voice

    Thanks to The Vocalist Studio – We appreciate your feedback. I’m glad
    you liked
    the content of the article – and sorry that you found the title out of
    context – I admit the title could have been better aptly reflected. And
    yes, your description of glottal attack
    (being a chaotic crash of the vocal folds) is spot on. This article
    didn’t focus as much on the difference between glottal attack and vocal
    fry, but more so on that of articulation and its benefits when wishing
    to lessen these types of inadvertent excessive use. Your additional
    points are very helpful to vocalists, so thanks for highlighting them.
    I’m sure you join us in our encouragement for the vocalist to be
    individual in their choices. We always want to find the techniques that
    keep the ‘energy’ behind the word and keep us connected to its intent. Cheers!

  • Jamie Becker

    Loved this article! The trend is so real! There is a rising amount of vocalists who don’t work enough on articulation because they want to come off as legato or soulful. I’ve totally been guilty of this myself. It’s great to hear examples of how articulation can be used positively to convey emotion, and when used with some light sprinkles of half heard consonants can be highly effective if genuine! The emotion is so vital to a great performance which a lot of vocal instructors forget.

  • Penelope Jean Hayes

    Fabulous article! Very informative

  • Kathy Coneys Alexander

    Hi Robert, One of your criticisms of the article relates to the title. It is most often the VoiceCouncil editing team that creates the title, and not always the expert contributor. Therefore, any criticism of the article titles should generally be directed to Voicecouncil and not to the article’s author. Furthermore, the contributing authors you find on VC generously and freely share their hard-earned insights and teachings so that singers can learn and grow. If VC falls short in any way in conveying their excellent ideas and tips effectively and accurately, then please criticize VC and not the contributor. All contributors on VC graciously place their writings in the hands VC’s editors and formatters, trusting that VC will represent them as authentically as possible. -Kathy Alexander and Gregory A. Barker

  • Nice post Music Row… Cheers… here is a video I did that is relevant to your post.

    https://youtu.be/lgxLWwx9Zio