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To Creak or Not to Creak?

Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Bjork have used this effect to create powerful vocal moments.

Recently, I was speaking with a magician about vocal training (as you do) and he described the process as smoothing the voice out.

I think this is a common perception if you haven’t experienced voice coaching.

It’s not about perfection; it’s about expression.

The magic of singing is the ability to express human emotions and experiences in a way that others can relate to.

There are sounds we use in speech that may be perceived as “ugly” or “not proper” singing, but they can be a useful part of our expressive toolkit.

The Anatomy of Creak

What is it?
Creak is exactly what it sounds like – a creaky sound that we make when trying to speak while crying, when tired, when moaning etc.

What causes it?
The air flow through the glottis is slow and the vocal cords themselves are slacker, pulsing more slowly than in normal voicing. Although creaky voice can often be associated with lower pitches, it can occur with any pitch. You may hear creak called vocal fry or glottal fry.

Who uses it?
Britney Spears uses creak as a signature vocal sound. In Baby One More Time you hear it almost immediately, and throughout the verses. She uses it in a way that is close to speech and it’s one of the key features that makes her vocally identifiable.

Bjork uses it regularly, often for power and emotion. In the second set of verses in Bachelorette she uses it to build intensity. I’m a path of cinders burning under your feet. You’re the one who walks me. I’m your one way street “

When Should I Use It?

Emotion – Creak is useful when you want to evoke a particular emotion, As a general rule apply it in the way you would naturally use it in speech. Michael Jackson uses it to evoke sadness and regret in She’s out of My Life e.g. in verse one “And I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I don’t know whether to live or die”. He uses it quite subtly and moves away from it quickly, using a range of timbres within only two lines.

Style – Creak can add vocal style and can sound quite sexy for obvious reasons. In the verses of Sex is on Fire by Kings of Leon it has this effect. It can also give your voice a rocky edge and a bit more of a dirty sound, in a good way, when used well.

Change of timbre and dynamics – sometimes we want different sections of a song to have a different vocal identity so you may use creak in some parts of the song, but not in others.

Power – Creak can be a useful starting point into growl or scream in metal singing. Some specialists have concerns about vocal fry being used higher in the vocal register as it can be hard to do this safely. Always seek guidance from an experienced vocal coach for more challenging techniques and remember that there are many other techniques which can help achieve a powerful sound.

Reaching low notes – Creak can be useful in helping people access low notes and can be used therapeutically by voice teachers to achieve this. Again, it’s wise to seek guidance if you have a specific problem in this area.

Is it possible to overdo it?
Definitely! There can be a fine line between vocal style and vocal habit and sometimes singers learn by mimicking other artists, which can sound contrived and unnatural for their particular voice. Try to use it consciously and sparingly.

My Reactions To This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Tony Woollacott – Desperado (Cover)

A nice choice of cover and one that I don’t hear very often.
The song suits your voice, but I’d like to hear you supporting your sound better, in terms of breath control. You lose energy towards the end of some lines and could have more energy and pitch accuracy entering the chorus and higher sections. When you breathe in try not to “collapse” the rib cage too quickly and engage the abdominal muscles when you feel that you’re running out of air. You break some of the phrases when following the guitar pattern e.g. Why don’t you (pause) come to your senses. Try to establish the melodic and lyrical flow vocally, independent of what you’re playing. In addition to support, this will help you to be more expressive and dynamic vocally.

Josh Morales – The Girl (Cover)

You have a lovely distinctive tone and your sound feels effortless and natural for the majority of your performance. I’m glad you put the change in at 2.27 as I had just written I’d like to see and hear you really go for it, as it all feels a bit too easy for you. It definitely makes your interpretation more memorable and changes the dynamic positively. You lose pitch in places when getting louder at the end and you could try using a different technique and timbre here. Experiment with twang and using anchoring techniques rather than squeezing the muscles in the throat. You have more power available to you so try not to tighten up or constrict your sound. Very nice over all, though.

See VoiceCouncil’s Feature Interview with Juliet Russell

Juliet Russell has coached Grammy award winners and X-Factor finalists and is a vocal coach on BBC1’s The Voice. Passionate about developing aspiring artists, she co-founded Sense of Sound She has collaborated with artists and companies including Damon Albarn, Imogen Heap, Paloma Faith, Ringo Starr, BBC, Channel 4, Universal Royal Opera House, Greenpeace and Glastonbury, and has written music for film, television and radio. Juliet holds a Masters degree in Music and is in huge demand as coach, vocal arranger and musical director. Juliet is passionate about developing aspiring artists and supporting individuals and communities to explore their voices and creativity.
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  • Mwhite345

    tony wollacott, your singing posture is holding you back from hittiing the notes. if you striaghten your back a little your voice will open up, and you wont be singing into your chest soo much. great song though, but you have to commit. that one leaves you wide open . if you dont really commit your audience will know and itll break down before you get to the hook.

  • Bodine Kensley

    FIRST line…magician or musician???

  • poppa madison

    In the “proper place”, almost any sound the human voice can create may well have a place in the delivery of a song as can the mood used to arouse it.

    The only sound I would prefer to see eliminated entirely in song is the use of language that is deemed offensive by the majority of folk. I somehow do not think the Rap singers that revel in its use will be singing their chants once they get into a retirement home in their much later years, without facing the wrath of their aged peers and carers.

    I recently had a brief discourse with a female singer who is arrogant in the extreme about her use of the word Fxxx both in conversation and song and literally told me to ” Get Fxxxxxxx” in her manner and words when I asked why she felt the need to use foul language in spite of the appeal her natural beauty and voice gave to her audience.

    Sorry sweetheart, the world may have changed so that we can all do more but one thing that will never change is that interpersonal respect or lack of it demonstrated in either actions or speech will always do nothing more than undermine an individual to disadvantage.
    Needless to say, the conversation between us died never to be rekindled.
    For this “On the face of it….. Beauty” a potential fan was lost to her plus any possible recommendations and future support of any kind whatsoever.
    All because of a having a Foul Mouth!
    Was it worth that?

    My advice? Expletive users ………Go wash your mouth out with soap!

    Poppa M

  • You have made me feel a lot better Juliet.

    When I thought people were complaining about my Creaky voice I used to feel bad, but now thanks to you, I have no need to……

    I’ll simply fob it off to them as

    “Poppa’s special FX ” !

    Creak creak, groan groan, spray spray, “Hey! Hey! ”


    © ♯♪♫