A Killer Growl

No one subject fills my email inbox more then questions about growling. The irony is that these singers are genuinely concerned about the welfare of their voices and would like to avoid any problems down the road. In other words, they have no business growling. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about singers taking good care of their voices and investigating when something feels wrong. Growling, though, is an intentional departure from balanced vocal behavior and needs to come from a fearless heart. Otherwise the effect backfires and makes the vocalist sound weaker.

Fearless doesn’t mean reckless. If you’ve decided that growling is something that fits your personality (notice I didn’t write, “Would get a reaction from the crowd.”) there are a couple of things to keep in mind in order to reduce the amount of wreckage left in the wake of singing many songs in a row. Remember this: Growling is a sound, not a physical sacrifice. It’s the noise and distortion projecting from you that stirs the listener not the amount of force you apply to your larynx. The other tidbit of wisdom is that your reflexes will do a much better job if you don’t micro-manage them.

For instance, there’s a bit of a debate regarding the use of the false folds when growling. The question is: Should a singer engage the false folds in order to growl? Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to this question because no two singers get their sound exactly the same way. Genetics, physical condition, personality and desire all play equal roles when it comes to calling up a roar. The different techniques people use are more to survive the growls then to create them. Even under the best circumstances growling, rasp and screaming are somewhat irritating to the tissues within the larynx. So the best rule is to use the minimum amount of force to get your sound.

The false folds, also known as the vestibule folds, are above the true folds (the ones you sing with) and are much thicker. Their role in the body is to close off the windpipe in order to create pressure within the torso. They are what allow us leverage, by locking the air in the lungs, when lifting a heavy weight. Because of their strength, it would seem a good idea to utilize them when growling. The problem is that they rarely act alone. So when most singers think they’re using their false folds they’re also locking up the tongue, jaw and palate. All those rigid muscles make it difficult to maintain and control your sound.

Instead of micro-managing which muscles you’ll use to growl, stay focused on the sound you want. Just think of your eye. There are tiny muscles within the eye that stretch the lens so we can see at various distances. If you have trouble focusing on something, the muscles which surround the eye will join in and start squishing the shape of the eye until your target clears up. You certainly don’t need to think about using the orbicularis oculi instead of the ciliary muscle in order to see what you want. The same goes for calling up the growl from hell. That is, if your voice can handle it in the first place.

What most would-be growlers are missing is a foundation of strength and flexibility. Voice lessons from a qualified teacher can help you build an instrument that you can lean on. If you’re going the untrained route, check on your growl often by asking for the sound you want while keeping as many muscles as you can turned off. Let the lyrics dictate what gets pushed – not the inability to reach a pitch. The less you spend for your growl the more you’ll be able to access a killer growl without it killing your voice.