The Glottis. It’s actually the name of the space between the vocal folds; it’s almost more of a placeholder, like the number 0. Take a deep breath and hold it. You feel that? You’re closing your glottis to do that, bringing your vocal folds together in order to hold the air in your lungs. [You can release the breath now.] If you close your glottis as you create suction, almost like you’re trying to create a cartoony “gulp” sound, you are clearing mucus from your vocal folds in the safest way possible [side note: do this instead of throat clearing whenever possible]. You may or may not have had a voice teacher target hard glottal attacks when you’re going over your music, having you sing something like, “HAND IIIIIIIIIIIII WILL ALWAYS LOOOVE YOUUUUUU...” The point is to ease into vowels at the beginning of words by inserting a little ‘h’ sound. The practice of minimizing hard glottal attacks plays a role in both voice and stuttering therapies because their presence is an indication of increased tension; the vocal folds are being brought together before the presence of breath. It’s a harmful behavior, and there’s research to prove it.
Back in 2000, Andrade, Heuer, Hockstein, Castro, Spiegel, and Sataloff completed a study and were able to identify a correlation between HGAs and voice disorders, especially bilateral vocal nodules. Singers who had vocal nodules had statistically significant higher rates of HGAs than those without voice disorders. So take your voice teacher’s notes to heart in two ways:
Connect your words when possible; don’t stop voicing between words if you don’t have to. Place a hand on your throat and feel for vibrations as you talk. Say the phrase “You want to be sure that your voice continues to vibrate.” Sure, you could turn voicing off when you say “want to”; /t/s are not voiced consonants. Of course, you could always shift it slightly to “wanna” and no one will really notice the difference.
Practice easy onsets. These don’t need to be full-on /h/ sounds, but play with a hard glottal “I” versus now “I” with an almost unnoticeable /h/ sound in front of it. Ease into the word like you’re sitting down on a really delicate chair. Go back and forth and feel the difference, and find ways to be aware of your vowel onsets throughout your day.
HGAs seem small but they do make a difference, especially over time. By noticing them and reducing their use when you can, you are building a stronger, more resilient voice.
Andrade, D.F., Heuer, R., Hockstein, N.E., Castro, E., Spiegel, J.R., Sataloff, R.T (2000). The frequency of hard glottal attacks in patients with muscle tension dysphonia, unilateral benign masses and bilateral benign masses. Journal of Voice 14(2): 240-6.