Whenever I say, “Let’s discuss glottal stop management” during a voice lesson, no one ever says, “Okay!” Without fail, they always respond, with some variation of “What kind of management?!” or “Excuse me, what did you say?”
The glottis is the part of the larynx consisting of the vocal cords and the opening between them. And I would like to discuss the four basic ways of using it during singing:
- A hard stop
- A soft stop
- No stop
- Vocal fry
You can read through my discussion here or just skip to my audio demonstration at the end.
What Is a Glottal Stop?
I find it very difficult to get people to notice that they are using glottal stops all the time in their own speaking. Everyone who talks has been using them since they learned how to speak.
Listen to this recording where I demonstrate the sound.
Hard Glottal Stops in Singing
What I would like to talk about is the use of a hard glottal stop in singing. If you can start to notice how you’re using it in your singing, you can fine tune some of your technique and expression.
Hard Glottal Stop Used As Percussion
Michael Jackson used it ALL THE TIME! You can hear it throughout the song Billie Jean as little hiccups in the background. Listen carefully right at second marker :30. It’s very subtle, and you might need to listen to it a few times to hear it, but he does it just before he sings the opening phrase “She was more like a beauty queen.” Many other singers use nonsensical sounds with glottal stops to add percussiveness to their singing.
Hard Glottal Stop for the Sake of Clarity
Sometimes you need that hard glottal stop to make the lyrics clearer. For example, Junior Wells could have used it at the beginning of the song, “Messin’ With the Kid.” I don’t know about you, but the only reason I know he’s singing “What’s this I hear” is because I happen to know the lyrics of the song. I think if he used a glottal stop there, the lyric would be clearer.
Soft Glottal Stop in Singing
I call it a soft glottal stop, but really, pronouncing an “h” is a voiceless glottal transition. But if you can’t even remember “glottal stop,” how are you ever going to remember that?
Sometimes you need an “h,” as in when you are singing a word that begins with an “h.” But a lot of people use it in place of a hard glottal stop because it makes it easier to sing a word beginning with a vowel that starts on a higher pitch. I looked up Linda Ronstadt to see how she handles the “I” at the beginning of the chorus in “Blue Bayou.” Lo and behold! She actually uses a little “h” right there! Check it out. She really sings, “High’m going back someday.”
Personally, it doesn’t bother me there, but sometimes people can overuse it.
When To Purposefully Eliminate the Glottal Stop
It’s a matter of stylistic preference, but if you’re trying to get across a soft, beautiful sound, I much prefer a non-glottal attack on vowels at the beginnings of phrases. It takes a little practice to get it down, but it’s so much more elegant.
Let’s use the opening phrase of Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.” The lyric is “I’ve tried so hard my dear to show.” Listen to my demonstration below of all three ways to manage the glottal stop, and let me know which way you like better.
For extra credit, you can listen to Hank Williams and Norah Jones sing it and see if you can tell what glottal stop management choice they each used.
The New Popular Use of Glottal Stops & Vocal Fry
I’m not sure who started it, but there is a new trend in popular music for singers to make much more use of the glottal stops and vocal fry in their music. (See my post called How Many Vocal Registers Are There to hear more about vocal fry.) I suppose some might argue that it can add more color to a performance, but I really can’t stand it. Unfortunately, one of my favorite songwriters, Lucinda Williams, makes more and more use of it the older she gets, and I have to listen to it if I want to hear her songs. Sigh.
Here is one of her most beautiful songs ever. Let me know what you think of all the glottal business. 🙂