How bad is “vocal fry,” anyway? As a singer, should you be concerned about this new vocal trend, heard in artists such as Britney Spears? In this guest post by Ann Arbor, MI voice teacher Elaina R., listen to a vocal fry example and learn the truth behind the fuss…
I was recently listening to This American Life (a popular radio show and podcast), and the hosts started talking about vocal fry. As a voice professional, I immediately started paying rapt attention. Within a few minutes, I could tell that there is a serious societal problem surrounding this tiny vocal fault.
As it turns out, the media has been complaining about the glottal fry “epidemic” for years, claiming that young women use too much of it in their speech (check out this ridiculous article). Is vocal fry really a speech trend? Is it really limited to young women? What is vocal fry, anyway? Get the truth – and throw out the lies – here.
What Is Vocal Fry?
Vocal fry happens when someone doesn’t use enough breath to speak. The lack of breath causes a creaky sound as the vocal cords come into close contact. It usually happens at the ends of phrases, as the pitch of the sentence goes down and tapers off. Listen to some of the reporters for a vocal fry example on the aforementioned This American Life segment.
Vocal Fry Misconceptions
There is an astonishing amount of misinformation in the media about vocal fry. Here are the misconceptions I find most alarming:
Myth: Vocal fry happens because “that’s the way your voice is.”
Truth: Vocal fry happens because you’re using a very small amount of air to speak. That’s why lots of people talk with vocal fry in the morning, as their bodies are still getting warmed up.
Myth: Only young women speak with vocal fry.
Truth: Anyone can speak with vocal fry, and almost everyone speaks with vocal fry occasionally. In the segment, Ira Glass correctly points out that he, in fact, speaks with vocal fry. In this video examining vocal fry, the vocal coach exhibits a vocal fry example at the end of his very first sentence, probably by accident:
Myth: Vocal fry is a new trend.
Truth: Vocal fry is not new. It has been happening for as long as humans have been phonating.
Myth: You can’t get rid of vocal fry.
Truth: Vocal fry is very easy to get rid of.
Is Vocal Fry Bad?
Vocal fry is not an efficient way to speak. Not using adequate air to speak puts unnecessary stress on your vocal cords. It is also impossible to project when using vocal fry, so unless you are speaking to someone right next to you, it won’t serve you well.
From a societal perspective, there is evidence that the older generations (people 40 and up) have negative attitudes toward vocal fry in young women. As the earlier podcast and article attest, middle-aged to older folks perceive young women who speak with vocal fry as unintelligent and insecure. This is just plain sexist, since the same views don’t seem to apply to men. However, if you are a young woman who speaks with vocal fry, it’s important to know what others may think when you speak. (Here’s an interesting take on the issue from NPR.)
How to Speak Without Vocal Fry
To speak without vocal fry, simply speak with breath support. Try this:
- Take the time to breathe before you speak.
- As you speak, think about projecting your sound to someone across the room.
- Do not allow the end of your sentence to nosedive into vocal fry.
If you have a voice teacher, she or he will be happy to help you master this. The more you work supported speaking into your daily life, the easier it will get.
No Epidemic Here
It isn’t fair that some people have such strong preconceived notions about vocal fry. However, the truth remains that those notions exist (and that vocal fry is not healthy in the first place). I also find that learning to speak well positively affects your singing. Speak well, sing well, and spread the word: vocal fry is no epidemic. It’s just part of life.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ann Arbor, MI, as well as through online lessons. She is currently working on a Master of Music at the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!
Photo by hnkkk