What Is Vocal Fry and What Does It Sound Like?
A lot of people have opinions about vocal fry. There are also a lot of facts and misconceptions about this manner of speaking.
We wanted to investigate the origins of vocal fry and whether it can have any long-term effects on a person’s voice, so we did a quick survey on Facebook by posting the following:
Vocal Fry: is there a place for it? Why or why not? In what circumstances is vocal fry desirable and when is it particularly undesirable? Looking forward to hearing the good, the bad, and the ugly on this subject. I’m writing an article and am happy to include you as a source. Thanks in advance!
The following article features the responses we received from a variety of people involved in voice acting and coaching.
What is Vocal Fry?
Physically speaking, vocal fry is the shortening of vocal folds so that they close completely and pop back open to produce a frying or sizzling sound.
Vocal fry is also commonly known as laryngealization, glottal fry, glottal scrape, or Strohbass. It’s a technique that singers used to use to land a lower pitch, but isn’t typically encouraged by classically trained professionals.
Vocal Fry Example:
Culturally speaking, vocal fry is a linguistic fad that has taken North America by storm. Essentially, vocal fry has become the latest ‘Valley Girl’ talk or ‘uptalk’ speaking style.
Below are some responses I received on Facebook about what vocal fry is:
It’s a bad speaking technique, which can become chronic and lead to vocal dysfunction and damage. It could hopefully be healed by vocal rest and retraining, sort of like physiotherapy for the voice. In extreme cases if it causes scarring of the vocal tissue it might require surgery to repair.Jocelyn Rasmussen
Schools of singing vary but vocal fry is damaging to the vocal and physical health of a singer. I would go as far as saying it is not really singing but, as its title suggests, frying or scraping of the cords. I think the current trend in the Popular Genre, however, has moved away from appreciating beautiful singing. The vocal fry sound and it’s trend is very present in just about every commercial jingle that is out there. I think there are singers that choose the effect in order to copy the trend, rather than finding and developing their own true and unique sound. The Classical genres and the current Popular Genres are, what I would categorize as, polar opposites in styles. It is sad to see that the trained or legit voices are not as appreciated as they once were in commercials and cinema. I hope the gimmick of vocal fry is just a trend and will disappear as quickly as the singers have disappeared due to vocal injury.Irena Welhasch Baerg
I’m often asked by a few clients how can I get rid of my hoarse tone as people have mentioned it to them? If there is no medical cause, then it requires some vocal exercises on pitch range to discover a medium best tone rather than a forced gravelly tone which is often called vocal fry. It is harsh on the vocal folds and can cause further damage. It’s an annoying sound but some think it a sexy sound. It’s a distraction from their message.Brenda Smith
When Is Vocal Fry Desirable?
Vocal fry is desirable when you’d like to communicate in a relatable way with those who use and/or gravitate towards those who speak with vocal fry.
Below are the comments I received about when vocal fry should be used:
If you can control it and weave it into your read as texture it can be a very powerful tool.Pete Gustin
I know it’s not great for my throat, but I think it puts some younger job candidates/employees at ease when I throw in a little fry rather than speaking in the Polished Professional HR Voice. Here’s an interesting article about how criticism of vocal fry seems to be disproportionately aimed at younger women, even though they aren’t the only people who use it.Laura Di Labio
What Does Vocal Fry Indicate?
For Johns Hopkins Medicine, speech-language pathologist Kristine Pietsch, M.A. explains that “having a little vocal fry in the voice can sometimes give off the impression of the person being relaxed. It’s become more common for radio personalities to use vocal fry in an attempt to sound more natural and accessible to their audience.”
Fortunately, vocal fry will not physically damage a speaker’s vocal health. However, it’s worth noting that constantly speaking in vocal fry can lead to it becoming a vocal habit. If a speaker finds that they are unhappy with the way they speak and the sound of their voice, then they are encouraged to work with a speech-language pathologist.
What Does Vocal Fry Sound Like?
Vocal fry drops the voice to its lowest natural register, which creates a creaky, deep voice.
But in more blunt terms, it’s a social speaking trend that’s coined as ‘the way a Kardashian speaks’.
Here are the comments we gathered about what the voice acting community thinks vocal fry sounds like to them:
Generally, I find that it makes the voice harder to understand, and that it multiplied when there is competing background sound. It also comes across to me as unenthusiastic or even bored. It could work well for a beaten-down-but-still-surviving kind of text.Jeff Culbert
Every single sound has its place in the media world – whether or not the sound is desirable is entirely based on context, especially with the human voice – often the most sensitive sound category in all media production. The fry register could be used to characterize a bored state of a character, as Jeff mentioned. I’ve cut out the percussive freq space of some actors’ fry ranges to lessen the ‘bored’ element of speech, and also boosted that range to embellish the ‘bored’ state of a character. I’ve also extracted the fry range of certain actors and manipulated it with software to create really interesting spaceship impacts, vehicle-by layers, drum hits, etc, as it contains very unique harmonics/formants. If used as a direct narrative (straight-up script dialogue) to supply an audience with the characters’ state-of-being or emotional inflection, most people will have an opinion and react to that fry register through associated response. If used as a sound design layer or derivative layer (the very same one used in direct narrative), most people would have no idea it is from the fry register and their bias toward that sound is diminished. Because it is percussive and emits a pitch value, it is more susceptible to being lost in a sound mix with other percussive/pitch layered sounds. We often maintain dialogue intelligibility by removing competing frequency space in other sounds (Foley, sfx, music) due to the importance of the human voice in storytelling. Vocal fry definitely has its place, especially nowadays.Mark Vogelsang
I find it difficult to listen to a vocal fry. It irritates me.Donna Papacosta
Vocal fry is the way a particular generation talks. It’s almost like a code or a password. Like, if a parent started to use vocal fry it would elicit an eye-roll. But then they assimilate it, and becomes a part of who they (are). It just has no place in a grown-up, professional environment.Dan Laxer
While some voice acting professionals aren’t so fond of vocal fry, it remains a quality that some clients continue to hire for. Many are wondering whether this trend will gradually disappear or continue to rise in popularity, but due to the demand, it looks like vocal fry is here to stay for now.
Although sparse use of vocal fry may not permanently damage your voice, it’s still wise to avoid vocal fry in general in keeping with good vocal technique. If you find you’re falling into the trap of vocal fry, consider reaching out to a voice coach or speech language pathologist who can assess your vocal delivery and provide guidance for speaking on the breath.
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