From breathy voice to falsetto, vocal fry to belting and vibrato, vocal effects can be used to add variety and spice to your songs. But, be careful not to overuse them — there should always be a reason you’re singing with a specific vocal effect.
In “Falsetto, vibrato, and other natural vocal effects you should master,” I talked about the most popular natural vocal effects you can use in your singing. You can also find videos providing exercises for singing these vocal effects in that post.
From breathy voice to falsetto, vocal fry to belting and vibrato, vocal effects can be used to add variety and spice to your songs. But you’re reading this to learn to sing songs better, not just do vocal exercises.
So how do you apply these vocal effects to your songs?
Let’s talk about how artists use these different vocal effects in their songs. I’ve included several different listening examples, and along the way, you’ll see how gifted artists like Adele use multiple vocal effects in just one song!
Before we get started, here’s a brief recap on the different vocal effects covered in the first post.
Breathy Voice. Breathy voice is a vocal effect where a singer leaves the vocal cords slightly open, leading to breathiness in the vocal tone. Artists like Elliott Smith and Iron and Wine are examples of breathy voice being used to great effect.
Falsetto. Similar to the breathy voice, falsetto is a vocal effect where the vocal cords are in a stretched position to hit high notes, but the cords are slightly open, leading to a hooty or hollow sound. Listen to Radiohead and the Bee Gees for great examples of falsetto voice.
Belting. In contrast to falsetto, belting is a vocal effect where the singer uses the power of his/her chest voice register to sing higher notes. This results in very firm closure of the vocal cords and gives the singing a powerful, “yelly” sound on high notes. Check out songs by Adele and the Foo Fighters for examples of this.
As a side note, be careful when you’re first learning to belt. It can be easy to strain your voice if you do it incorrectly. Here are several exercises to belt safely.
Vibrato. Vibrato is a vocal effect where the singing voice shimmers or shakes when holding a note. The origins of vibrato are mysterious, but modern research suggests that vibrato is similar to a muscle tremor in the singing voice. Luckily, there are many different exercises to help you learn to sing vibrato, and you can hear vibrato in nearly every popular singer’s voice. Listen to Lady Gaga and Sam Smith for excellent examples of vibrato.
Vocal Fry. Vocal fry is a creaky or froggy-sounding vocal effect that comes from the vocal folds being very thick and loose. The looseness of the cords combines with low breath pressure to create a trademark “croaky” sound. Listen to Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen for examples of vocal fry.
How to use these vocal effects
Now that you’re familiar with each of these natural vocal effects, it’s time to learn to sing them in songs.
There are tons of examples in popular music where several of these vocal effects are used within the same song. That’s because all great singers use vocal effects to add emotion and variety to their performances.
But, be careful not to overuse these vocal effects. There should always be a reason you’re using a specific vocal effect, and usually, the reason comes directly from the song or lyrics.
Just think of the drummer who’s always playing fills. If the drummer overplays, he overpowers the message of the music. The same is true in singing.
Vocal effects should be used artfully and with a purpose
To get an idea of how to use these vocal effects to make your song better, let’s take a look at a popular song and see how the artist used some of these vocal effects. “Hello” by Adele checks off a lot of these boxes.
1. Breathy Voice in “Hello”
To get started, listen to the first minute of the song (starts in the video at the 1:15 mark).
Notice how much breath is in the vocal tone. Adele is using breathy voice for the entire first verse to create a vulnerable and intimate sound.
2. Vibrato in “Hello”
To make the lyrics even more dramatic, Adele uses vibrato on the last word of just about every phrase she sings. You can hear it very clearly on the “oh” vowel in “over” as well as “thing” in “everything” (around the 1:30 mark).
But just listen closely and you’ll find Adele uses vibrato throughout the entire song to make certain notes more exciting.
3. Belting in “Hello”
The chorus is where things start to get really exciting (the first starts at 2:22). Do you hear how strong her notes are on the first line: “Hello from the other side?” That’s because Adele is belting the high notes in the chorus to make us feel the power of the emotions.
No more breathy voice for Adele! She’s full-on belting now.
4. Falsetto in “Hello”
Now that you’ve heard Adele belting the chorus in “Hello,” take a listen to the rest of the chorus. What’s really cool is that in the third line of the chorus “to tell you, I’m sorry…” Adele switches to her falsetto voice.
You can hear it throughout those next lines, “to tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done, but when I call you never seem to be home.”
Do you hear how breathy and hooty those notes sound? It’s almost like Adele is sighing as she sings the words. This really makes you feel how desperate the emotions in the chorus are.
5. Vocal Fry in songs
Although there’s no vocal fry in “Hello,” it’s amazing just how common this vocal effect is. Here’s an example of vocal fry in Leonard Cohen’s song, “Bird on the Wire.”
Do you hear how he croaks out those lowest notes? That’s vocal fry!
The last word on vocal effects
Now that you’ve seen how great artists like Adele use these different vocal effects to make their songs better, let me give you a bit of advice:
Don’t use vocal effects to cover up issues with your voice.
Remember, it’s important to learn to sing well before adding vocal effects to your voice.
We all know those singers who have too much vibrato or just go to falsetto when they can’t reach a note. Instead, use great singing techniques that will develop your voice and then start to play around with vocal effects to make your singing sound even better. You’ll be amazed at how much better the vocal effects sound when you do.
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By now you should be able to add vocal effects like breathy, falsetto, belting, vibrato and vocal fry into your songs to make them sound amazing!
But, if you’re having a tough time finding some of them at first, don’t give up! Remember, these vocal effects sound better when you’re working on your whole voice. So consider doing some voice training while learning how to use these natural vocal effects and you’ll be amazed at how great you can make your songs sound!
Matt Ramsey founded Ramsey Voice Studio in Austin, TX in 2012. Matt is an Institute for Vocal Advancement-certified voice teacher, a songwriter, and a blogger. Matt has helped develop singers in nearly every genre of music, from rock to pop, jazz to musical theater, and offers lots of great videos on his Ramsey Voice Studio YouTube channel.