Are you ready to go from being a bassist to an oktavist?
Well, you’ve come to the right place.
If you’re looking to sing the lowest of low notes, look no further than learning to sing sub-harmonics.
Vocal sub-harmonics occur when your voice hits the fifth above the base note you are singing, and a resonant undertone results exactly one octave beneath the base note.
(If you would like to know why this happens, check out this video that explains how sub-harmonics work in great detail!)
So, pretty much, vocal subharmonics allow you to trick your voice into singing way lower than it thinks it is. (You can also check out this post on how to sing lower for more tips!)
This incredible vocal technique is not only something anyone can learn how to do (with enough practice), but it is also perfectly healthy for your voice!
In order to learn to sing sub-harmonics, you will need to:
- Learn the vocal fry technique
- Choose a comfortable low note in your register
- Apply the vocal fry to that low note in a very specific way
- Practice, practice, practice!
Now, let’s get into how to sing sub-harmonics.
1. Learn the vocal fry technique
If you haven’t heard of vocal fry before, have no fear; I can already guarantee you’ve done this exact technique in your daily life, probably even today!
The vocal fry does not carry a pitch, and it’s the exact noise you make when your alarm goes off way too early.
It’s that gravelly uhh sound – that’s your vocal fry. (It sounds a little like you left the garbage disposal running in the sink.)
When people speak in a very low voice, this vocal fry can even happen naturally without you thinking about it. It’s that crackly effect that makes voices sound husky or rugged.
You can also find it by singing “ah” (or any vowel) in a low note, then going lower and lower and lower until you no longer make an actual pitch with your voice, and it dissolves into that broken up, radio-static sound.
Now that we’ve got vocal fry down, let’s use it to sing some sub-harmonics!
2. Sing a low note
I will stress that I want you to choose a low note that is still comfortable to sing.
So, don’t pick the lowest note you might sing. Pick a note that’s a few notes higher than that. Again–something low, but a note that comes out clean when you sing it in full voice. And make sure you’re staying relaxed. No forcing!
Now, on that note, let’s get to the sub-harmonics.
3. Add vocal fry (gently!)
This is where the magic happens.
Now–if you’ve used vocal fry before, especially if you’ve used it to sing with growl or distortion (like singing death metal, which we have an article about over here!), you’ll remember that you mixed vocal fry with the note you were singing. That gives you a really rough effect to your voice, though in a very healthy way.
When we use vocal fry to sing sub-harmonics, however, we don’t want to mix the fry with the note you’re singing.
All we want to do with the fry is use it just enough to get your voice to naturally fluctuate to the fifth (which it does on its own), so that it creates that subharmonic undertone exactly one octave below the note you originally sang.
Vocal fry sounds so rough and is so good for growling because it takes your voice to different pitches very quickly, similarly to the way vibrato works, but in a more raw and rugged way. It doesn’t sound clean, and that’s the point. When you use vocal fry to growl or sing death metal-type vocals, you don’t want to let your pitch change, you just use it to add a crackle-like filter to the note.
So, the biggest difference here is that for singing subharmonics, you do want your pitch to change.
To sing subharmonics, we want to let that fry take your voice into subharmonic range.
So, try this now: sing that comfortable low note.
Then, slowly and gently, add a vocal fry to it.
When you feel your voice naturally jump down in pitch with the fry, try to let your voice stay on the lowest note it goes to.
This is your subharmonic tone!
4. Practice sustaining that subharmonic note
It’s important to note that you will not be able to sustain this for long in the beginning.
So, if you can only sustain it for a few seconds at most, that is totally normal. Your voice is not used to doing this, so be patient with yourself.
Everything in singing comes down to simply putting in enough practice, and this is no exception.
To practice singing subharmonic tones, keep using the vocal fry technique and try to sustain that subharmonic note as long as you can. Again – for the first few weeks or months, this might just be a few seconds. But that’s okay. It needs to work up its strength, and it will become easier to control.
The important thing to remember is to relax, since vocal fry is nearly the most relaxed position of your vocal chords. Tensing will prevent you from being able to do any of this.
The second most important thing is to practice in extreme moderation. This is a perfectly healthy thing to do with your voice, but only if you do not overdo it. So, practicing, at most, 20-30 minutes per day is all you should be doing to avoid any kind of vocal damage.
Check out this video and see this technique in action! How to Sing Lower: Subharmonic Bass Tutorial
So, the name of this game is patience. But all your time and effort will pay off!
Singing subharmonics is just like any other vocal technique – with enough practice, you can absolutely reach those amazing low notes you hear Pentatonix singing! Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions!