An overview

A scream is a sudden, often ferocious, loud and high-pitched note. Screams are effects that can contain several different expressions and are usually used for powerful emotional outbursts, such as horror, enthusiasm, or powerlessness. Screams are used in many styles of music from Soul to Heavy Rock. There are many types of screams; clear as well as distorted. 

Screams are produced in a combination of levels from 1-6. The vocal cords produce a note and the vocal tract gives it a mode and a light sound colour (see ’Various levels of the vocal tract’).

In fact, screams are no different from other notes. A scream is actually just a high-pitched note in a given mode. So if you can control the modes, you can make a scream.

The sound colour of screams, like other notes, can be altered by changing the shape of the vocal tract, normally by twanging the epiglottic funnel. You can make screams in various modes depending on which sound or volume you want.

Screams in Neutral

Screams in Neutral without air is often sung on the vowel ‘AH’ (as in ‘far’) or ‘EE’ (as in ‘see’) and with a very light sound colour. The tongue is often broaden and pulled backwards behind the molars in the upper part of the mouth and there is a lot of twang of the epiglottic funnel. The note will be sharp and light and the pitch is around the High C or higher (C6 for women and C5 for men). The note is pointed but without the metal – it is Neutral – and may be called a twanged, metal-like Neutral. When a note/scream like this is sung in the high part of the voice, it can be loud. The flatter and smaller the vocal tract are made, and the more the epiglottic funnel is twanged, the lighter and sharper the sound will become.

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The Neutral scream is often used in combination with a slow vibrato in the high part of the voice, like the screams of Ian Gillan in Deep Purple’s “Child in Time”.


Singers who use or used screams in Neutral

James Brown, Ray Charles, Terence Trent D’Arby, Ian Gillan, Nina Hagen, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Bobby Kimball (Toto), BB King, George Michael, Paul McCartney, Prince, Little Richard, David Lee Roth, and Stevie Wonder.


Screams in Curbing

Instead of choosing Neutral, some add more metal to the sound by making the scream in Curbing.

A scream in Curbing is sung on the vowels ‘I’ (as in ‘sit’), ‘O’ (as in ‘woman’), or ‘UH’ (as in ‘hungry’), often with a lot of twang  of the epiglottic funnel and with a high raised larynx. The sound may sound a little more classical/rounder or restrained (at least compared to Edge). The note is relatively powerful and pointed and has a half-metallic sound and a medium to high volume.

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Singers who use or used screams in Curbing

Eva Cassidy


Finding screams in Edge

Instead of choosing Curbing, some add even more metal to the sound by making the scream in Edge.

A scream in Edge is sung on the vowels  ‘I’ (as in ‘sit’), ‘EH’ (as in ‘stay’), or ‘A’ (as in ‘and’), often with a lot of twang of the epiglottic funnel, and raised larynx and with a broaden tongue so that the vocal tract is small and the sound colour light. The note is very sharp, metallic and pointed with a distinctly full-metallic sound and a very high volume (ff). The more twang of the epiglottic funnel, the sharper and more full-metallic the sound becomes.

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Singers who use or used screams in Edge

James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, Bobby Kimball (Toto), Prince, and Tina Turner.


Screams in several modes

The sound of a scream is often changed during its course. In these screams, the vowels often determine the mode.

For example, starting on ‘OO’ (as in ‘you’) in Neutral and is changed to ‘A’ (as in ‘and’) for Edge. Or made the opposite way: Starting in Edge on an ‘A’ (as in ‘and’) and then letting go of the metallic sound while altering the vowel to ‘OO’ (as in ‘you’).

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Some make a scream by starting in Neutral on the vowel ‘A’ and changing it to a metallic note (for example in Overdrive) while altering the vowel to ‘OH’ (as in ‘so’).

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James Brown, for example, often used to start his screams in a high pitch in Edge and then gradually alter them. He made the sound colour darker, dropped the pitch and ended up in Neutral.


Singers who use or used combined screams

James Brown, Nina Hagen, Michael Jackson, Annie Lennox, Prince, Bruce Springsteen and Sly Stone.


Screams with effects

Often distortion is added to screams. The distortion can be produced with more or less tone. It is possible to vary how much effects is added to the scream.

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So singers can choose any mix of noise and note, from a slight distortion to a full distortion, or perhaps even adding rattle. The more distorted the scream, the more ‘noise’ and the less tone is the results. Consequently, a full distortion scream is only ‘noise’ and no tone. This is often used by Joe Cocker. James Brown often used distorted screams.

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Certain singers, for example Prince, use the vocal flageolet to create the distortion. These are known as flageolet screams.

Singers who use or used distorted screams

James Brown, Joe Cocker, Roger Daltrey, Terence Trent D’Arby, Ian Gillan, Buddy Guy, Michael Jackson, Janis Joplin, Bobby Kimball (Toto), Wilson Pickett, Prince and Tina Turner.