How to Sing using Speech Level Singing: Pros and Cons

How to Sing Using Speech Level Singing: Pros and Cons

I teach how to sing using the Speech Level Singing technique. I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of the technique so you’ll know whether it’s right or not for your voice.

What is Speech Level Singing?

How to sing using Speech Level Singing (SLS) is a way to sing that’s natural and easy…like speaking. Your singing sounds like your voice, without stress or strain, with easy to understand words and beautiful tone quality.

When we speak we don’t worry about pitch or loudness and softness so SLS doesn’t mean we sing exactly like we speak. But it does mean that our singing is as relaxed and easy as our speaking is…or should be.

Seth Riggs

Seth Riggs

Seth Riggs of Los Angeles, CA created Speech Level Singing. As of 1985 Seth’s students had won over 120 Grammys. His students include singing greats Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Natalie Cole, Bette Midler, Josh Groban (first album), Ray Charles, and 100’s more.

In addition to pop stars Seth has had 4 Metropolitan Opera Regional Winners and multiple students performing on Broadway and in film, including Bernadette Peters, Robert Guillaume, Carol Burnett and Ann Margret to name a few.

What are the “Cons” of Speech Level Singing?

  •  After the quick, positive results, progress though steady, slows down
  •  Breath control and diaphragmatic breathing has not been a primary focus
  •  Vocal style coaching is considered separate from the SLS technique and is not a primary focus in lessons
  • Teacher knowledge of Classical/Opera repertoire is inadequate

What are other criticisms of Speech Level Singing?

I’m separating the “Cons” from “Criticisms” because sometimes criticisms are motivated by anger or jealousy, which cause rumors and misunderstandings of SLS.

Criticisms are:

  •  SLS is inadequate for a singer who wants to sing classical music or opera
  •  SLS teachers are too expensive
  •  SLS destroys the voice
  •  SLS is too slow in developing a powerful voice
  •  SLS teachers think it’s the answer to everything
  •  SLS is a cult

I’m sure there are more.

2012 SLS Teachers Conference

2012 SLS Teachers Conference

Answers to “Cons”

All of these “Con’s” and criticisms may have some merit for the following reason: There are literally 100’s if not 1000’s of people who studied with a teacher who studied with another teacher, who studied with another teacher who said they teach the SLS technique.

The result is at best a watered down version of SLS and at worst a technique that is not even close to SLS.

As a singer the negative of Speech Level Singing has been that after my initial rapid and life-changing progress (increasing my range by an octave and getting vibrato), my progress seemed to slow.

This may not be so much the fault of SLS but of my own dedication to my own progress and learning. Frankly, I was so amazed by getting vibrato and increasing my range I didn’t realize there was still much more to develop in my voice.

SLS has not emphasized diaphragmatic breathing and control in the past. Seth recently told me he’s giving this more attention in his teaching now and I’ve begun doing more of this in my teaching as well. However, it’s never going to be front and center as with some techniques. Good breathing is more a result than a cause of good singing.

SLS is not about style. Rather it is about singing correctly. You can have great style, but still not be able to hit the high notes. SLS gives you the singing technique to be able to hit the high notes.

I teach you how to sing not what to sing. If your main objective is to get a knowledge of repertoire I can make recommendations to teachers who can help you with repertoire. I will teach you how to sing opera or any other genre of music.

Answers to Criticism

Because there have been so many world famous pop stars succeed using SLS, it goes largely unnoticed that Seth Riggs came from the classical/opera and Broadway world of performing and teaching. Speech Level Singing had its birth in the opera and classical genre.

Every principle in the SLS technique taught to Seth’s opera singers are also taught to his pop/rock singers. Generally speaking a teacher can’t make a living just teaching opera. So to support a large family, Seth started teaching pop, gospel, rock, jazz, Broadway and other genres in addition to his opera students. The technique applies successfully to each.

I’m probably more expensive than some teachers and less than others. In my experience as a student, I get what I pay for. If I don’t, I change teachers.

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Chuck Gilmore and Seth Riggs

SLS has revolutionized my voice. My students and many others who’ve studied SLS have amazing stories they freely share about the transformation of their voices.

After being very involved in SLS since 1996, I’ve only had one person say that SLS ruined his voice. I couldn’t get a clear understanding of how. At the time we were both in lead singing roles of a Broadway Musical in a local theater in our community.

It’s my belief as an SLS teacher that a strong voice is developed after the coordination of your internal vocal muscles has been established. Other techniques may get loudness using external muscles. It’s not worth it if it causes long-term vocal problems. SLS develops the internal vocal cord strength, which produces vocal power. Sometimes this takes longer.

I don’t think SLS is the answer to everything and I don’t have all the answers. I’m a practitioner. I’m continually learning and hopefully improving…always an apprentice, never a master.

I understand why some people belief SLS is a cult. It’s largely due to the amazing results it’s provided for so many singers and when we’ve experienced such a positive change in our voices, we tend to get rather “fervent”. This sometimes annoys other people. Sorry!

What are the “Pros” of Speech Level Singing?

  •  Proven successful in the world of professional singing
  •  It’s a simple approach to singing
  •  Your voice will be healthy and strong into old age
  •  You can sing any genre of music
  •  The exercises strengthen your voice, increase your range, eliminate breaks, enhance vibrato and beautify your tone
  •  It helps you understand your voice
  •  Your confidence grows
  •  Certified teachers are trained to assess your voice and give exercises that benefit you quickly
  •  There’s no age requirement, the very young to the very old benefit
  •  Students typically experience early and rapid progress

My personal experience with Speech Level Singing as a singer, student and teacher has been tremendously positive and successful. It increased my range over an octave, enabled me to get vibrato, renewed my confidence in my voice and improved the beauty and power of my voice.

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I love it and I’m grateful to Seth Riggs who pioneered this amazing technique. It is a privilege to be one of his certified teachers.

 

 

 

 

 

PS: Seth Riggs book and CD’s, “Singing for the Stars, a Complete Program for Training Your Voice” was first published in 1985 continues to sell on Amazon. Buy it.

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About Chuck R. Gilmore

My personal singing journey from failure to success gives me a unique perspective and special insight into the problems you face as an aspiring singer. Everything from not being able to sing high notes to lack of confidence singing in front of others. Because I've solved them in my own voice, I know how to help you.

Comments

  1. I have been singing for 30 years and studied all styles of singing from Classical to Contemporary, including Opera, to belt,. I have performed in professional musicals, TV, cabaret, etc I am definately more of a modern singer, but do teach crossover to my students.
    For example my students repertoire would consist of: Memory ( Cats), Someone like you (Adel), On my own (les Mis), Love story( Taylor Swift), Poor Wandering One( G&S ) so they sing many styles. A while back I thought I would discover SLS and did some training, and between you and me it was absolute rubbish, I felt it was some kind of scam and singing with a low Laryanx constantly , really hurt my voice. I am so glad I stopped. The person who taught me this for 9 months, was also very inexperienced. trying to belt with a low laryanx nearly killed my voice, very disappointed. I would like some feedback on this, is it a money making scam or what?

    • Hi Jennie: Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I’ve been on vacation. First, thank you very much for sharing your SLS experience with me. I’ve heard about things like this happening. Let me address your question about SLS being a scam. I don’t believe SLS is a scam, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t scammers out there using it. As whether this particular teacher was a scam artist I can’t say. I can say that given your description of what he/she did with your voice he/she didn’t know SLS nor how to teach it.

      Here’s what Seth Riggs says about Low and high larynx vocal exercises. The following quotes are found in his Book “Singing for the Stars” pp:50 and 56 in the 1994 6th Edition.
      “You must quickly abandon these exercises as soon as they serve their purpose…Just remember, if you overuse either the high-larynx or the low-Larynx exercises, there is the danger that you will lock into one or the other of those extreme vocal postures, producing all your pitches off your speech level! So again, once you get yourself through the passage areas with a connected tone, you should discontinue [them].

      Seth teaches that these exercises are used primarily to help the vocal cords stay adducted or connected through the passagio. Once that’s accomplished it’s best to discontinue them.

      The problem I’ve seen is someone will study SLS for a while and get a very incomplete understanding of the technique and how to teach it. But will then start teaching voice lessons and say they teach SLS. I don’t know if that’s what happened in your case, but it’s has in other situations I’ve heard about.

      Currently certified SLS teachers can be found at https://teachers.speechlevelsinging.com/index.php/directory_search. Because of problems like this, Seth Riggs tries to protect the name of SLS, but it’s impossible to know about all the people claiming to be SLS teachers. Even if a teacher has been trained and worked with SLS for a while, if they aren’t currently certified by Seth Riggs or Greg Enriquez, then they aren’t suppose to use the SLS name.

      It’s also possible that your teacher was certified at one time. I compare it to a surgeons’ training. A surgeon may be trained by the number one Medical School in the world. The graduating surgeon may be a genius. Yet also may be marginal with his hands. He did just enough to make it through training, but he’s not that good of a surgeon. After years of being in practice, he struggles along because he’s just never been that good with his hands. I see a strong comparison with teaching voice. Some teachers seem to get it and others struggle. I know from experience that I’ve got to continue to study, sing and teach to keep progressing and to provide my best for my students.

      At one time certified SLS teachers were designated level 1-5, depending on length of time and fulfilling training requirements within SLS. Even these have been discontinued in 2013 because ranking teaching ability beyond tenure is difficult. Seth now says: “We’re all level 1’s!” Meaning we are all learning and relearning and discovering everyday. (The website address I referenced earlier still show levels. It’s a software program issue.)

      Hopefully this has been somewhat helpful. I would be happy to continue to answer any other questions you might have. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

      • Thank you!!! The Girl who taught me was a lovely person, level 2 SLS, but I think she was very inexperienced in vocal styles, or maybe I just didnt get it. I have moved on to the Estill method and it is amazing!! , it has changed my whole singing life and that of my students, so I am happy. Maybe I will return to SLS in the future and learn from someone more qualified

        • I studied sls for a few years and as a baritone I was comfortably reaching high c..no more pain!!
          I haven’t sung for years now and wouldn’t say I could sing but my muscles n lyrinx remember the movements so I can still reach lower g and A on occasion.. So it’s works but it takes time and dedication!!
          Your muscles never forget what you did to them!!

  2. Frankie says:

    I trained with a SLS instructor for a few months and believe I permanently damaged my mylohyoid muscle as a result. He took my baritone voice way beyond my limits doing vocal exercises. Just b/c you can make a mum/neh,or noo sound in the C5 range doesn’t mean you should in order to eventually expand your range. I am still suffering today from the constriction and tightness caused by this training.

    • Hi Frankie: This sounds serious. Did you see your ENT or vocologist? Was this a physician’s diagnosis? If not something this serious really should be seen by a physician.

      I’ve only had one student who thought he dislocated something. He saw a physician and found out it wasn’t a dislocation. His doctor said practicing exasperated a preexisting laryngeal reflux.

      Here’s a quote from Seth Rigg’s book, “Singing for the Stars”. …any exercise can be overworked or misused to where it will do you more harm than good. You don’t develop your voice by pushing it to its limit. You develop it by gradually conditioning it to work efficiently with a balanced coordination…You must stop doing any exercise whenever you …feel any strain or effort in production…” (pp.40 latest edition)

      Unfortunately, like training to be a surgeon, plumber, lawyer or any other trade and profession, there are some great practitioners and there are some hacks! Just because they have a “diploma” doesn’t mean they’re good at it.

      Also, how my students practice can influence their outcome. In my own case, early with my vocal studies with Dean Kaelin I was feeling like my voice was tight and muscled up after doing the exercises. I told him about it and he said,”don’t do it so hard!” That fixed it. I was over doing it!

      Whatever the cause for the pain and discomfort you are experiencing, I highly recommend you go see your physician…an ENT who specializes in the voice. This way you can get the rehab you need to get your voice back on track.

      I’m sorry you had such a negative experience. Happily, that hasn’t been my experience with my own voice nor my students. I find the closer I conform to Seth’s actual teachings and the SLS principles, the better the outcome for my voice and my students.

      Best of luck to you.

  3. I was using the singing success and mastering mix CDs for a few months and I felt like everything was directed towards keeping the voice connected all the way through ones range. So I decided to just practice staying connected instead of doing the exercises. I do this by singing very quietly all the way through my range. Ive been somewhat successful because I can sometimes sing in a mixed voice and it feels and sounds amazing.
    But I feel like I have no control over my voice. Some days I can sing any song and maintain a decent level of volume. Other days, no matter how hard I try I can’t find my mixed voice and can only sing in my chest voice or head voice which means I have a huge range of notes I can’t even touch. Its very frustrating because Id love to sing more in public but my voice may cut out and I can’t get it back. Also in order to “find” my mix I have to begin by singing really quietly which is also not ideal. Maybe the way forward is to stick to the exercises? But how do you measure your progress? Is there any time frame for how long a typical person takes to develop their mixed voice? As a beginner is your mixed voice very quiet and gets stronger with practice? Im sorry for all the questions but all this has plagued me for years and I can’t find any concrete answers searching online.
    Any information you have would be greatly appreciated. I don’t expect you to answer every part of my question because its obnoxiously long 😛

    • Hi Shane: These are great questions. I’d go back to the exercises again and give it about 8 weeks or so and see if you feel any improvement.

      My first question is what does you voice tend to do when you sing higher. If as you are going higher your voice cut’s out, is it going into falsetto? If so your vocal type may be Flip/Falsetto. This is usually caused by the Larynx rising higher as you sing and as it does, the vocal cords break or crack into falsetto.

      By singing quietly you probably are able to get through the break in your voice without the cords coming apart…which is what you want. But you’ve got to start working it so you can sing louder without the larynx rising so you are able to keep the vocal cords together into your head voice.

      You measure your progress by how well you can get through the break (bridge) in as normal voice and volume as possible. You should see steady progress over a period of weeks if you are working at it daily.

      It is possible to get into mix right away especially on closed vowels like e or oo (as in “few”). It takes some weeks or months to be able to stay in mix as you sing more open vowels like “ah” or even “oh”. Once you are able to do this, you want to start working to stay in mix as you sing songs in full voice.

      Yes, when beginning it is not uncommon to have to sing quieter. But it should get stronger as you practice…and you should be able to transition into songs soon.

      You may benefit by looking at my online site, PowerToSing.com. You can take a singing test and email it to me and I can give you more specific feedback. Don’t give up. It’s worth it.

    • Giancarlo Morrocco says:

      Shane – I read your post and it was like I wrote it.
      Word for word my experience.
      My voice is totally bi-polar!
      Sometimes, and no way often enough, my voice feels warm and strong. With little effort I can really explore melodies and play with vowels. I can go anywhere I like, within my range, and my higher range has the same volume and resonance as my lower and mids.
      I can only say it feels connected.
      Like it’s being projected in front of my face.
      It’s my voice! Working naturally as it should.

      Sometimes it lasts a few minutes and sometimes a few days.
      When I’m in that zone – It’s like it’s so obvious – It physically feels right and I think “This is it – here it is.”
      I have no idea why I can’t go there at least most of the time.
      Most of the time my voice is a shadow.
      You described it just how it is for me.
      I can remember the sensation of being connected, but no matter where I go, what I try, it’s not there – I can feel it’s not there.
      It’s been the curse of my adult life.
      I’ve spent years in and out of record contracts and projects.
      I’ve had numerous “breaks” from singing to avoid the torment.
      Then I pick up the guitar on a Tuesday afternoon – and bang! It’s back.

      This is posted a year after yours – Any methods or techniques that you’ve found that helped?

      • G.E. Miller says:

        The times I sing the best is after I’ve been singing for 2 hours in rehearsal followed by a 90 minute performance. After that, my voice is amazing. The range is huge (for me) and there is a lot of emotional depth. That sweet spot lasts through the next day, and a little into the next. Then it’s gone. I realized that when I’m speaking during the week, I’m inhibiting my voice and it’s expression. I’m tightening up muscles in my throat and head, and forcing my voice to be literally monotonous. By the weekend I have a strangle hold on my voice, and I haven’t used the singing muscles for 5 days. I do sing at home every day, but rarely for 2 hours at a time. When I do, I hit my sweet spot again. For me – use it or lose it – happens in 2 days. I heard Celine Dion on TV – she rehearses and performs seemingly continuously – but she said she does vocal exercises EVERY DAY in addition to everything else.

  4. I’m not really sure but the SLS technique regarding resonance somewhat makes my voice nasal. Like after doing exercises particularly the mah mah, then everytime i try to sing a song my voice somewhat partially nasal even though im not singing nasal consonants. Regarding with resonance, is there supposed to be some air coming out from nose (aside from nasal consonants such (m/n/ng). Is it what you called nasal resonance?, or is it even considered as nasal resonance? Because everytime i try to sing or sustain HA sounds (like in a word HAppy) and pinch my noise, i’ve noticed that it sounds nasal. And last thing do you always need to maintain an open resonance to your nasal cavity? It seems that there are some confusion about it. I’d greatly appreciated if you could answer my questions to clarify about this topic. Thank you!

    • Hi Paul: Great questions. The resonance is created by sound waves started by the vocal cords. The sound waves activate air and surrounding tissue, like bone, cartilage, etc and it generates vibration and resonance in these spaces…chest, larynx, mouth and nasopharynx…spaces above the roof of the mouth, head cavities etc.

      The sound waves, resonance, and vibrations in head voice are all around the nose, but shouldn’t be in the nose. You are right. You can tell if it’s in your nose by pinching your nose. If the tone quality changes, it’s because the resonance is in your nose.

      Most often resonance jammed into the nose is caused by a rising or high larynx. Often the tongue is also rising in the back of the throat and sending air and resonance into the nose.

      In my experience, it doesn’t seem to be SLS that causes this. Rather the singer trying to help the sound or pitch manipulates the tongue or the larynx and it results in resonance in the nose.

      Here’s a couple of ideas. Please note, none of these are SLS standard tips (except lowering the Larynx) Basically they are other things I’ve picked up along the way as a teacher.

      1. Drop or open the jaw a little more. 2. Speak the words and check to make sure it’s not nasally. Then be certain to sing the work the same way you spoke it. Often when I ask a student to do that it helps. If it goes nasal when they sing it, it’s because the are forming the word differently than when they speak the word. 3. Imagine a small fist-size hole in the wall in front of you and project the sound through the wall into the next room or outdoors. This simple act, often helps get the sound up and out, instead of into the nose. 4. Use a dopey or hootie sound with the exercise. Try mum (vowel as in “mud”) with a little hootie or dopey sound. This often gets the sound out of the nose. 5. Finally, as a last resort, you can try this: Say “caw”. Now while inhaling air say the same word, “caw”. You won’t make any sound, but you can feel the soft palate elevate and the throat open in the back. With that same open throat feeling sing and see it the resonance stays out of your nose.

      Perhaps one or more of these will be helpful to you.

      Thanks.

  5. Manoj vinayak says:

    Hi chuck Gilmore I’m Manoj vinayak from India & I’m interested in doing SLS teacher certification i want to know what are the requirements i should meet to do this singing course or should i know any levels of singing lessons before i take up this certification..
    kindly do share some knowledge..
    Thank you. .

    Regards
    Manoj vinayak

    • Hi Manoj: To the best of my knowledge Seth is not currently taking on new teachers at this time. They are in process of redoing their website and some of the information there is not current. However, you should check with Speech Level Singing International to get the official word. Try this email address: support@speechlevelsinging.com

      Sorry I can’t be more specific. The teacher training program that used to be in place was discontinued and Seth has been focusing on a core group of teachers to make sure their training is exactly as he wants it. As a result, he has not opened it up for new teachers. But this may change sometime in the future.

      This is the latest information I have. Best of luck to you! Until that time you may want to find an SLS certified instructor and train with them. You can find teachers on the website at speechlevelsinging.com under the Tab: Find a Teacher. That would give you you best preparation for entering a teacher training program.

      Chuck

  6. Hi Chuck,
    I have been singing all my life and my voice is heavily chest voice, very strong and powerful. I wanted to move to the next level and so I used SLS to train some years ago. One day during practise ( I suppose I pushed it…), my voice felt like it broke. I stopped practising fir a long time. Recently I decided to train again. I now noticed that I sing mostly with my head voice ( it was very weak before SLS). I sm thankful for the strength in my head voice now but I NEED to find my strong chest voice again! Cant I have both?! If I had to choose I would prefer to keep my chest voice cos it was very strong and powerful and I could manoeuvre it as I wished. Yr response will be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • Hi Sussan: Yes you can have both and both can be strong. Overtime, it becomes one strong voice whether singing in head or chest registers. I have many training videos in my online Site: PowerToSing.com. Look in the Knowledge Center for lots of videos that may help. Thanks for your question!

  7. Hi my name is ben I am going through the first cd of sls. After a month or so I have noticed improvement but feel I need a teacher to explain how to go through it
    I’m wondering how do you know when to proceed to the next excersise? I have just been going through the first 8 excersise s and haven’t moved on yet.
    Should I start skipping the first 6 excersise s and starting on 7 and go through to 12 for a while?
    Or ..?

    • Hi Ben: Without hearing what you are doing, if I were you and working through Singing for the Stars, I would definitely move on if I were able to do the exercises as Seth and the demonstration singer is doing it. If you are disconnecting into falsetto then I would stay with the first exercises until you are able to do them without disconnecting. AS it says on pp 47 discontinue exercises 5-11 once you get through the passage areas without disconnecting.

  8. Hi Chuck,

    I’m really interested in Seth’s Singing for the Stars book. I’m unsure if I need a SLS certified teacher hear me do the exercises in the book to be able to track my progress… I don’t know if there are SLS certified teachers in my country (Philippines), I think the chances are low to zero.
    Would straining be tackled in the book as well? And how to do it properly?

    Your response would be highly appreciated.

    • No you don’t need a teacher to hear you…although I think it would help. The book contains a cd with demonstrations on how to do each exercise correctly. There are many references to some form of straining throughout the book. I definitely recommend you do it. Also you can always schedule a skype lesson with a teacher in any country.

  9. For “me” and what “I” need from listening to singers, I think that a good voice has nothing to do with vocal range and volume. People who sing loudly, and go into really high notes make me wince (be it opera or heavy metal or anything else). I use one criteria regarding voices ……. the sound of the voice must impart the meaning and emotion of the melody/lyrics. Some singers with soft, gentle voices that rarely go beyond one and a half octaves are some of the best singers around.

    Singing need not always be about alpha male (or female) stereotypes trying to sing like it’s some type of sporting competition where you must always come first, first, first.

  10. Hi. dear Mr Gilmore
    I Watch your film about sing . you are amazing man with positive energy. nice too meet you and thanks god for this. sing is my life. I saw your sort film more 1000 but it is not enough
    Mr Gilmore your book and your Cd isn’t in my country. and I don’t know to do about this. Its my big problem and I very sad about this. because my country is boycott and I can not send money for buy your products.best wishes . regard

  11. First of all, thank you for providing resources for those of us out there struggling with “being one with our voice” lol.

    I have been studying “singing with the stars” and “Brett mannings’ “Singing Success” I find the exercises to be very easy to complete in a speech level tone.

    Though I can pass through my passagio to high C very easily in this technique I am finding it very impractical when it comes to singing with power.. I find the sound to be fake sounding and prefer more chest resonance in it I.e., I feel a slight pressure on the roof of my mouth right behind my top teeth when doing sirens. However with this placement I find my range (though more powerful, is limited to a high G4 and sometimes A before it breaks into a thinner sound again..

    How can I keep speech level singing and still have power in the voice? It seems like one or the other?

    Thanks so much for any help 🙂

  12. Hossein says:

    Hello.
    Thank you for this information.
    I used SLS in past year but you know …. there was some problems.
    i could connect my voice with light tone but that was not what i was looking for.
    every time i practiced i felt pulling up chest voice and too much compression and using too much diaphragm support .
    the biggest problem was vocal fry quality in my upper range when i sang loudly which killed me an still i can not understand what was it .
    my teacher said its o.k you are trying to keep your cords together and. because your voice is weak ، your cords make that sound .
    it was like my voice was tired on those notes.
    after reading this topic i encouraged to start again .
    but i have same problems again .
    i am really tired with this.
    just as our friend mahmoud ، i have same problems.country problems you know!
    i just have two question that i hope you may answer it?
    what is that vocal fry quality in my upper register when i try to mix with head?is it usual?
    and how can i get rid of too much compression ?
    thank you so much.

    • Hi Hossein: It is the larynx coming up as you sing higher. I imagine if you did a very dopy gee or goo sound and went hootie as you sing higher, the fry sound would be gone. To get rid of too much compression, relax the vocal cords somewhat. Allow your voice to be a little breathier.

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