How to Make Your Voice Sound Raspy

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Do you crave the husky intonation of Scarlett Johansson or gravelly inflection of Will Arnett? Even if you don’t have a naturally gruff voice, it’s possible to make your voice raspier using the tricks of the trade.

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What causes a raspy voice?

BeetlejuiceCredit: Matthew Murphy

The human voice is generated when the vocal cords—which lie parallel to each other—meet and vibrate. While a clear tone is produced when airtight contact is made between the cords, a slight relaxing of the cords can allow a small amount of air to be released, creating that seductive, desirable rasp. Voiceover actor James Urbaniak, alluding to some of the natural causes that can result in gruffness, has dubbed this quality “Damaged Voice,” describing it as “a throaty, cool, strained lower register” that has increased in popularity with the advent of close-range microphone technology. 

A husky voice might be caused by:

Overuse: If you speak too loudly, for too long, or at an unnatural pitch, it can make your voice hoarse.

Illness: A cold, flu, sinus infection, or tonsillitis can cause your voice to become raspy.

Heartburn: Acid reflux can damage the vocal cords and create a rougher sound.

Harmful habits: Similarly, people who drink or smoke heavily might have a raspy voice due to ongoing irritation.

RELATED: The Best Breath Control Exercises 

Nodules: Vocal cord nodules—benign growths on the vocal folds—can cause a raspy voice. Many high profile vocalists who have developed vocal nodules, including Mariah Carey and Rod Stewart, have opted to have them surgically removed to prevent further damage.

Too little air: When too little air moves through the vocal cords, the gruff rattle of vocal fry emerges (and a Kardashian gets her wings).

Natural intonation: Some people have a naturally raspy voice. Since they often have to speak louder to get their voices heard, leading to overuse, raspiness can be a vicious vocal cycle.

Training: Actors such as Alex Brightman, who developed Broadway’s iconic Beetlejuice voice with a team that included a throat doctor (ENT) and a vocal pathologist, spend months or years training their voice muscles to safely create a gruff or even grating effect.

Why make your voice raspy?

Learning how to make your voice raspy can diversify your singing and speaking range and add texture to any vocal performance. You might be asked to make your voice raspier:

To perform a gruff, gritty character: You may be asked to speak in a raspy voice to imply a sense of rugged grittiness. Stephanie Beatriz used a raspier intonation when portraying the gruff Detective Rosa Diaz in “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”—a notably different voice than her normal speaking voice, as well as the one used in her vocal performance as quirky, hopeful Mirabel Madrigal in “Encanto.” 

Andrew Lincoln took on a raspier voice and American English dialect for his role as zombie-fighting survivor Rick Grimes in “The Walking Dead.”  

For historical accuracy: When Austin Butler was cast as Elvis Presley in the biopic, he studied archives to properly mimic the singer’s uniquely low, oft-raspy voice as it evolved throughout the years.

Because it’s funny: You might be asked to take on a raspy voice to add a hyperbolic sense of gravitas, as Alec Baldwin did to great comedic effect playing Jack Donaghy in “30 Rock.” When Jack's rival Devon Banks (Will Arnett) shows up, their dual raspiness inspires Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) to mimic Jack’s voice and say that the two could settle their rivalry with a “talking-like-this contest.” 

How to make your voice raspy

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If learning how to make your voice raspier is at the top of your vocal to-do list, these techniques can help.

Go breathless and low: Say “ahhhh” or “uhhhh” in as low a voice and with as little air as you can muster. Hold the note to achieve full vocal fry raspiness. For added effect, practice early in the morning, before your voice has had a chance to warm up.

Whisper loudly: Yes, a raspy voice can be created through the art of the paradox. Try speaking in a whisper while simultaneously projecting for a seductive hoarseness. 

Scream it out: Screaming high, loud, and long can help make your voice temporarily raspy. Just be careful not to get too Senses Fail with it, or you risk causing permanent damage to your vocal cords. 

Cough, growl, and gurgle: These low, guttural intonations can irritate your vocal cords and make your voice raspier.

How to protect your vocal cords

HumidifierDimaBerlin/Shutterstock

If you’re regularly irritating your vocal cords in search of the rasp, it’s important to make sure that you keep them from becoming overly damaged. While it’s always best to work with a vocal coach to ensure that you don’t cause irreparable damage to your vocal cords in the pursuit of raspiness, you can protect your vocal cords in the following ways:

Hydrate: Hydration is key to keeping your vocal cords lubricated and functioning. Experts recommend one ounce of water per day for every two pounds you weigh—for example, 75 ounces for a person who weighs 150 pounds. Drink lemon water or hot tea for a particularly soothing hydration experience. 

Humidify: Use a warm water vaporizer overnight with the humidity set at 30% to 50%. The humidifier adds moisture to the air, and the droplets are small enough to be able to bypass the epiglottis and hydrate the vocal cords. 

Steam: Breathe in steam. There are personal steamers on the market that are created specifically for vocal care, but you can also breathe in steam from a hot shower or bath, or simply by holding a hot, wet washcloth over your nose and mouth and breathing in deeply. 

Rest: When performing a role that requires a raspy voice, avoid singing and speaking as much as possible between performances to avoid unnecessary strain.

Actors with raspy voices

Many actors have developed tonal depth and gruffness so notable that it comes to define their craft. Some of the biggest names include: 

Lindsay Lohan: While the actor’s accent seems to constantly evolve, its raspy quality has been a constant even since her “Parent Trap” days. 

Scarlett Johansson: Johansson’s trademark husky voice made her the perfect choice to voice a lovable AI in “Her.” 

Will Arnett: Grumbly and deep, Arnett’s voice makes him highly recognizable as Gob Bluth and the voice behind the self-loathing, existentially tormented, hilarious BoJack Horseman.

Al Pacino: Who can forget Pacino’s iconic casting as Michael Corleone? The actor’s rumbling voice added a sense of gravity to the role.

Medical advice disclaimer: Content in this article is provided for informational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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