There is never a danger of singers deepening their emotional connection to their songs. After all, great singing moves us emotionally.
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.
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 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.
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.