By Camille van Niekerk
Have you heard of vocal fry? Even if you’re not familiar with that term, you’ve most certainly heard people speak and sing using vocal fry. So what is it, and when should you use it? Read on to find out!
What is vocal fry?
Vocal fry is more than a vocal effect or technique. It’s actually a distinct register of the voice, sometimes referred to as the pulse register. It is lower in pitch than the chest voice register (or the “modal” voice).
How is vocal fry produced?
Vocal fry is produced when the vocal folds are very loose and relaxed. The folds are short and thick (similar to chest voice), but the amount of compression (cord closure) is greatly reduced. The resulting vibration of the folds is uneven.
What does it sound like?
Vocal fry has a creaking, rattling, popping sound produced by air unevenly passing through the vocal folds. It can sound deep and/or unpitched.
How can I access vocal fry?
If you’ve ever tried to produce the sound effect of a door slowly creaking open, you may have already found your vocal fry! If you haven’t, try the following:
1. Say the word “umm” as if you’re trying to think of an answer.
2. Now say “umm” in as low of a pitch as you can. If you start to produce a gravelly, growling sound, you’re dropping into fry.
3. Hold the “uh” sound and relax your throat so that air is still passing through, but you’re not sustaining a pitch.
4. Once you’ve found that creaky fry sound, experiment with different vowels!
If you're a Full Access subscriber, you can check out our lesson on Vocal Fry below, as part of the 30 Day Singer beginner course.
When should I use it?
Vocal fry can be used in vocal exercises to help you:
1. Extend your low range: use vocal fry to approximate pitches below your comfortable chest voice range
2. Maintain cord connection in mixed voice or head voice: slide from vocal fry into a higher pitch in mix or head voice to increase strength and volume in that range
3. Relax the vocal folds, if you tend to sing with too much compression
Vocal fry is also used widely in contemporary pop, indie, alternative rock, and folk music. It’s often used to evoke emotion, soften onset of words, and add a unique sound. Try adding some vocal fry at the beginning or end of a phrase.
One of the most iconic vocal fry examples (for my generation) is the first line in “...Baby One More Time” by Britney Spears. Ask anyone to do a Britney impression singing the phrase “oh baby, baby”, and it won’t be complete without heavy use of vocal fry.
Of course, fry isn’t always that noticeable. Many singers use subtle fry to great effect.
Fun fact: some styles of overtone singing (like Mongolian throat singing) use vocal fry to simultaneously produce more than one pitch. Check it out!
What about vocal fry in speech?
Overusing vocal fry has received quite a bad rap over the last decade or so. Although actors, journalists, and other public personalities preceded them with vocal fry use, many people blame the Kardashians for popularizing vocal fry. The overly-relaxed sound can come across as lazy, annoying, and insecure. In fact, a 2014 study found that “voices exhibiting vocal fry are perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable” (Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market, Anderson et al). Yikes!
How can I reduce my vocal fry?
If you find that vocal fry has become a persistent habit in your speech or singing, try the following:
1. Support your speech and singing with low, full breaths.
2. Speak in a slightly higher register (and/or choose higher keys for your songs).
Because the fry register is just below chest register, you more easily slip into fry when you’re singing or speaking at the bottom of your range.
3. Pay attention to the ends of your phrases.
We tend to run out of air and energy at the ends of phrases, and many of us also drop in pitch at the end of a sentence. Be aware of this tendency and try to release your phrases without dropping down in pitch.
Is vocal fry dangerous?
Like any vocal technique, it can be overdone! Make sure you’re not forcing the sound: remember that vocal fry should be totally relaxed, not pressed or squeezed. And finally, be intentional about your use of vocal fry. It should be a choice, not a habit.