Singing – Softening a “Hard Glottal Attack”


As a singer, you want control over your voice and to treat it with care. A “hard glottal attack” is a very abusive way of treating your vocal cords, that can cause damage. Here’s how you can find out if you have it and the good news — how you can change it.

What is a “hard glottal attack?”

Without going into a lot of medical definitions, basically it is the slamming together of the vocals, just before you speak or sing. It can also happen when you clear your throat or cough. It’s extremely rough on the vocal cords, and most people who have this habit, in their normal vocal practice, end up with a raspy voice by the time they are forty or fifty years old. However, you can change it at any time, providing no damage has been done. You can have a clear voice again, if you are willing to put in the time and effort.

How do you know if you have it?

When you get together with friends and talk more than usual, do you find yourself hoarse? Do people remark that you have a particularly loud voice? What ethnic background are you? Some nationalities are known for speaking in the throat, and that often seems to go together with a “hard glottal attack.”

I had a problem with my throat, my background is German, and they are throat talkers. Once my poor throat got aggravated, it couldn’t regain a nice balance, because my normal use was so abusive. I didn’t have a clue. But when it got in the way of my singing, I found myself in the office of a specialist who dealt with singers. Lucky for me, no damage was done. But my poor throat was raw. So it was speech therapy for me.

One way that you can determine if you have a “hard glottal attack” in normal speech is to record yourself. My speech therapist recommended this to me. At the time, I was teaching groups of children to play electric guitars. I was hollering over top of all that noise. I recorded my class, and was horrified by the way I used my voice, cleared my throat and coughed. It was all so very, very rough You could just hear how rough it was. I had no idea of what I was doing to my voice.

Record yourself on a telephone call, and find out what you do. Check out when you say “Hi, How are you?” Is there a small explosion on the “Hi” and the “How?” If so that is “hard glottal attack.” If you are beating up your voice, that is something you want to change.

Put an airy “H” in front of vowels

This is a very good exercise to soften the attack. It must be done slowly with a lot of concentration. Think of a breathy, sexy actress, like Marilyn Monroe and practice speaking like that.

Put a silent “H” in front of vowels

Next is to imagine saying an “H” but make it silent. What you are doing is sending a little air through the vocal cords before producing a sound, thereby eliminating the hard attack.

If you’ve been doing it a long time, you must be patient. It is possible to change it, I know. But you must persevere.

Practice single words

After vowels, move on to individual words. Record yourself some more, find out when and where you use the “hard glottal attack” and work those words.

Add small words, small phrases

Begin adding “the” and “to” or even a couple words, until you get to longer and longer phrases. It is a good idea to record yourself all through the process.

Try sentences

After phrases, move on to sentences. It helps to repeat the same sentences, again and again. Choose affirmations or inspirational reading. You’ll reap more benefits, than just the voice therapy.

Volunteer to read aloud

A good thing to do is to read aloud. Once you have attained some success, it is an excellent way to practice. You could even volunteer, go read to some shut ins, and practice your voice therapy at the same time.

Some other things to try

Try putting “m” at the beginning of vowels. It brings the voice forward into a hum, before you produce the vowel, and makes it impossible to explode in a hard attack.

To make a noise that goes into the nose, as a question. “Hmm” is a good way to bring the voice forward. My therapist had me doing that, before every vowel, to bring my voice forward.

If you are abusing your voice in this manner, and have not done any damage, you can change it, if you really want to. As a singer, it was something I wanted. You may want to seek the help of a speech therapist, who has many, more tips to help you.

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