Vocal Effects: Distortion

Distortion is a vocal effect that can be heard in singing when expressing intensive, sometimes aggressive emotions. Many singers have used distortion in their singing, some of which are Janis Joplin, James Brown, Steven Tyler, Michael Bolton, Tina Turner, etc.

Distortion Is Produced In The False Vocal Folds

Distortion is produced when the false vocal folds that are located right above the vocal folds, vibrate. This “noise” produced by the vibration of the false vocal folds is used as an effect in singing often times together with a pitch that is created by the vibration of the vocal folds.

  • Vibration of the vocal folds creates pitch
  • Vibration of the false vocal folds (ventricular folds) creates distortion (effect)

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Distortion Divides Opinions

Healthy voice technique keeps the voice in tact, endurable and doesn’t make the voice hoarse during singing. There are different opinions on distortion: some think that it can be produced in a healthy way when done correctly, others think it is harmful for the health of the true vocal folds. It is justifiable to ask whether structural differences influence how the true vocal folds react to the production of distortion in different individuals. Additional research is needed, and luckily it is being done.

The fact is, however that different singers use distortion – some successfully, others with less success. Below you can listen to a classic example of distortion being used in singing by Janis Joplin.

References: Complete Vocal Institute