The term vocal onset (or vocal attack) is used in singing to describe how the breath and vocal folds come together to start a note. Similarly, a vocal offset describes the manner of finishing a note. Every onset can be used as an offset as well. The varying between the two is a vital part of what is referred as styling.
The smooth onset
The vocal folds meet the breath and come together gently and efficiently just before the sound is made.
The tone is clear and energy-efficient, for this attack ensures a steady stream of air passing through the vibrating vocal folds. This type of onset is representative for classical singing, but it can also be used in contemporary songs when a balanced sound is desired. Furthermore, this onset assures easier access to healthy tone production and resonance.
The glottal onset
Closed vocal folds stop the breath before the sound is produced (you can notice it by saying “uh-oh!”).
The glottal attack gives a clean, sudden sound to note and helps you find a strong tone. This type of onset can be used in any contemporary genre, and it is often employed in rock styles. It has a feeling of directness and strength.
The breath onset
The breath is passing through open vocal folds before the sound production (say “hah” and feel how the air flows before the voice sound).
The breath onset has a feeling of intimacy and ease. You can hear this attack in most contemporary genres.
The gasp onset
The gasp onset is a variation of the breath onset. The main difference is that the air goes faster through the open vocal folds before the voice production (similar to panting on the word “huh-huh”).
This onset has a feeling of intense emotions, desperation and pleading, helping to make a feature of gospel and soul styles.
The creak onset
The breath is passing very slowly between the vibrating vocal folds before airflow increases, and stronger tone is employed. You can feel this creak (also called vocal fry) try making the sound your voice makes in the morning or when you are quite tired.
This attack has a feeling of high intimacy or exhaustion. It is prevalent in many pop styles, but you might find it in other contemporary genres as well.
The yodel onset
The breath passes through the vocal folds vibrating in falsetto with very little resistance, then the vocal muscles activate and vibrate vigorously against the breath. Try making a hoody sound on “hoo” and change suddenly into a chesty “ah” sound to get an idea of the vocal mechanism changing its mode of vibration.
The yodel (also called flip) onset is a country singing trait, although its popularity has grown. You can also find this attack in contemporary genres like pop, gospel, and R’n’B for its emotional impact.
Source: This is a voice by Jeremy Fisher and Gillyanne Kayes
Keep in mind these onsets are useful tools for creating the expression you want during a performance. An essential feature for a singer is authenticity, so try exploring each vocal onset and the emotional impact that it carries. Always listen to your body, and if something causes strain or constriction, it means you are not using the appropriate technique in employing the sounds you want. Keep practising and improve your technique to control your voice healthily.