Associate Professor of Voice, Shenandoah Conservatory Artistic Director of the CCM Vocal Pedagogy Institute
When singing classical music, performers primarily use clean onsets and releases. In a clean/simultaneous onset, the vocal folds begin vibrating at the same time as air is released. In a clean release, the airflow and vocal fold vibration stop simultaneously. In commercial and musical theatre styles, clean onsets are only one of several options. Donna Soto-Morettini gives a list of possible onsets and releases in her book Popular Singing and Style. Below I explain a few of the most common onsets and releases; see pages 82-98 of Popular Singing and Style for the complete list.
Aspirate: In an aspirate onset, air begins to flow before the vocal folds come together. This is similar to putting an /h/ in front of the vowel in classical singing. However, for CCM styles, when an aspirate onset is utilized, breathiness is part of the desired quality and one should not rush the /h/. An aspirate release follows the same basic idea. However, in a release the vocal folds stop vibrating as the singer continues to exhale and final consonants are barely noticeable.
Glottal: In a glottal onset, the vocal folds come together before air is released. The resulting sound has a “pop” to it. In a glottal release, the vocal folds close tightly together to stop vibration and airflow simultaneously. This type of release often has a grunt like quality.
Gospel release: This is similar to the glottal release except there is a final /uh/ at the end of phrases. Listen to Elvis Presley’s version of “Hound Dog” for an example of this type of release.
Fry/Creak onset: In a fry onset, the vocal folds vibrate aperiodically before settling into their full vibration mode. This create a creaky quality that appeals to a lot of commercial artists. You can also end a line with fry/creak, but allowing the vocal folds to fall apart as you exhale. The key with fry onsets is to avoid using too much pressure. Think of frying on the thin edge of the folds instead of the full mass of the fold. Excess pressure can quickly lead to fatigue. The type of fry needed for this style should be easy to produce over and over again.
Rumble: This is often associated with false fold vibration; be careful with this one. Some singers can easily produce this sound, others cannot. The size of the false folds can vary amongst singers. Performers with larger false folds will find this quality easier than those with smaller false folds. It is also possible to add rumble through various other constrictions of the vocal tract. Regardless of how it is produced, proceed with caution or seek out Melissa Cross’ DVDs.
As you listen to recordings this week, pay attention to the types of onsets and releases artists use. Then when working with your students, experiment with how mixing up the onsets and releases can add extra character to a song. If you have additional thoughts/comments, please leave them below. If you are not already following the blog, please add your email address in the box on the lower right of this page. As always, thanks for reading!