Distortion Done the Right Way
There’s different kinds of techniques singers use to create distortion. Some techniques grind tissue to create noise and as such are harmful to your voice. Other techniques focus on creating the illusion of the same noise without actually grinding tissue. thus, these latter techniques are completely benign when used properly. Here at TVS we make a point to only teach techniques from that second group. For this, keep in mind none of the following techniques will harm you if you perform them correctly.
The types of distortion we’re going to talk about today are overlay distortion and inhale distortion. Overlay distortion receives its name because the distortion is performed on top of an already healthy phonation. This is the technique singers such as Chris Cornell use and it is one of the least harmful techniques for distortion. It is performed in a very heady position so as to prevent throatiness and by increasing the engagement of the twanger. In overlay distortion, we push down and out around our abdominal area and add extra twang to increase the threshold pressure so as to make our ventricular folds flap (false vocal chords). This type of distortion is the most useful distortion technique because it allows more flexibility in terms of what you can do with the sound. For example, you can actually sing intelligible lyrics through overlay distortion. Also, you can add a husk to the distortion by dunking your larynx and placing the tip of your tongue so that it touches your bottom teeth.
On the other hand, we have what we call Extreme Screamo Distortion (ESD). This type of distortion is more limited because you can’t really do much outside of creating this one “scream sound”. Nevertheless, if you get creative you can use it in a similar way to how a guitar lick might be used. Maybe add it at the beginning of a song, at the end of a phrase, or at the end of an instrumental solo. This inhale distortion creates an aggressive sound that might be the one touch of roughness that your song needs to come together. To practice this technique, you want an onset that has a slight wind to it. We recommend an onset that starts with a “whoa” or “mhoa” formant. This will help you start to get a feel for what you need to do and the “h” in the middle will give the necessary wind for the inhale distortion to work.
As the name suggests, this distortion is performed through an inhale and not through an exhale. It also resonates and phonates from a heady position, so even though it might sound aggressive, it shouldn’t harm you at all if done correctly. Keep in mind that you need to maintain that heady position if you want to perform this technique in a safe manner (again, the heady position prevents you from singing throaty, thus preventing you from seriously hurting your voice in the long run). Another key point to remember about this technique is to incorporate vocal fry into the phonation. Refer back to the light mass phonation onsets and sustain some of that fry while distorting. For the inhale distortion technique, practice by phonating lightly three times and then increasing the intensity of the inhale on the fourth time (repeating this exercise for a week or so until you get the hang of the technique). Finally, remember that a good onset leads to good singing. For this, you should always focus on performing the onsets correctly before moving on with the exercise and remember to also use your intrinsic anchoring mechanism to gain stability while phonating.