How to Sing in a Rough Voice

by Matt Gerrard
Gravelly singing adds particular character to blues and jazz.

Gravelly singing adds particular character to blues and jazz.

Hemera Technologies/ Images

Many of rock's great singers have had rough, gravelly voices that add a great deal of character to their songs. The sore, tortured sound implies adds weight and impact, and the degree of "roughness" can provide a wider range of textures. Generally, rock singers achieve this effect through years of hard living. Drinking, smoking and yelling at people for years may work, but ultimately will ruin your voice and leave you unable to sing in other ways. It's better to try some techniques that will help you emulate the sound safely.

Step 1

Warm up properly before you start singing. Placing any sort of pressure on your vocal chords without warming them up can strain them. Along with making you sound weak and damaging your pitch control, this can also be very painful. Warm up by singing some of the songs that you plan to work on, gently at first, gradually increasing volume as you go.

Step 2

Avoid smoking. Despite what you might suspect from listening to Tom Waits or Rod Stewart, smoking does not improve the quality of your voice. Aside from being harmful to your health, cigarette smoke is an expectorant, which dries the lining of the throat and clears mucus, neither of which will help you sing. Singing in a hoarse voice requires you to put more pressure on your larynx, which is harder to do if you smoke.

Step 3

Practice what linguists and vocal coaches refer to as the glottal fry. Very gently passing air through the vocal chords allows the air to "ripple," creating a quickly vibrating sound. To practice the fry, hold a note and sigh gently as you gradually lower the pitch. Your voice will take on a "croaky" quality as it gets lower. Try to retain this roughness as you bring the pitch back up. Make the glottal fry part of your vocal warm-up before each time you sing.

About the Author

Matt Gerrard began writing in 2002, initially contributing articles about college student culture to "The Gateway" magazine, many of which were republished on the now-defunct Plinth blog. Since then, Gerrard has worked as a technician for musicians, educators, chemists and engineers. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in music technology from DeMontfort University.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/ Images