Okay, where are we now? We’ve learned how to start our sounds properly, by breathing and being relaxed while doing it. The moment has come! We are about to make a sound with our mouth!

This is called “vocal onset”. The movement of the vocal folds coming together, stopping the air flow and turning it into sound.

This is one of those “golden nuggets”. Once I learned it, I improved massively. But, somehow, barely anyone teaches this.

  • If you have a good onset, the rest of the note will follow with (relative) ease.
  • If you have a bad onset, the rest of the note will suffer.

What is good? What is bad? Well, it all comes down to tension again. Many bring their vocal folds together too forcefully. This results in a chopped air flow, and usually a (soft) guttural sound (“ggh”) before every new phrase.

Others take too long to bring their vocal folds together, sounding “breathy” at the start of each note. (And losing confidence in their voice.)

A good onset means you …

  • Immediately hit the right note
  • Without extra noises or tension
  • Which makes it sound loud and clean


Like with all exercises, now that you know the term (or what to look for), you can search for other tips or videos.

The confident shout

When we shout, usually in panic, we automatically have good onset. Because we have to be fast, loud and clear.

You can emulate this by, well, pretending that you’re about to tell somebody off (who’s being a pain in your ass). Loudly say “hey!” or “ho!” or “wait!” or “ouch!” or whatever.

The idea is that there is no build-up. No holding back. No overthinking this. A loud, immediate shout.

The Kazoo (a fun one)

First, buy a Kazoo. (They’re quite cheap and in general a fun tiny instrument to have.)

Place your lips around the big opening, pushing the Kazoo against your teeth. Now make an “ooeh” sound through it. If you want, sing a melody (on that “oeh”, with the Kazoo).

This will reveal how good your vocal onset is:

  • If your vocal folds close nicely, the tone will be loud and pure
  • If less so, the tone will be soft and more crunchy
  • If it’s really bad (hoarse throat, terrible technique, …), there will be no sound

This is a good test. It’s also a good training. As you try to make sounds with the Kazoo, your vocal folds will learn how to coordinate better (to get that pure sound).

Conversely, if I just can’t get a good sound out of it, I know I just have to stop trying for the day. Today is a “bad voice day” and forcing my voice would just make that worose.

Those are loud exercises!

I understand these first two exercises are hard. I struggle with this still, because I’m always surrounded by people and I don’t want to be a loud annoying housemate.

What else can you do?

Vocal fry

This one is hard to explain, but most people can do it.

Try to make a sound by connecting your vocal folds as little as possible. This will likely create a thin, raspy sound. Like you just woke up, or you’re a little sick.

Really aim for making a sound with the least effort possible. It can help to lay on your back, looking up at the ceiling. (This interferes with your normal “habits” of speaking using too much effort.)

This is called “vocal fry”. Practice this. Try to control it and easily reach this state.

Why? Because that means you can feel and control how tight your vocal folds connect. You train the coordination needed to have a balanced onset.

The best and hardest exercise

This exercise actually taught me how this feels and what a difference it makes.

Pick an easy open sound, like “ah” or “oh”. Repeat this, over and over, but faster and faster.

  • So the first one is just “aaaaaaaaah” until your breath runs out.
  • Then “aaaaaah aaaaaah”
  • Then “aaaaah aaaah aaaaah”
  • And so forth until you’re making this sound “rapid fire”.

What should you notice? When you go faster, your vocal onset has less time and must be more relaxed. Otherwise you can’t repeat notes that quickly!

But by sliding into that, by starting slow, this happens automatically for most people.

When you come to the fast repetitions (“ah ah ah ah ah”), your sound will probably be clear and clean.

This one can be hard at first. But that’s a sign that your vocal onset just isn’t great … yet. Keep at it. If it’s too hard, stop before the repetitions get really fast.

Try different vowels. Start with the one easiest for you, move towards the hardest.

I recommend doing this before singing anything. When your onset is right, easy notes will follow. It doesn’t need to take long: just 30–60 seconds.

But by the time you’re done, your onset is fast and snappy, instead of slow and muddy.

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