Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Speaking with Vocal Fry: Danger!!

Fry a turkey - not your voice!

Vocal fry in the speaking voice, or what I like to call 'falling on gravel', is one of the sneakiest and pernicious causes of vocal fatigue I find. If you don't talk much, maybe this doesn't turn into that much of a problem, but most people find themselves talking for long stretches.
There was a troubling article in "Science Now" that says vocal fry is creeping into US speech patterns, especially among young women. Oh and it did. It's been here for quite a while. I find it in people who are restaurant servers, salespeople, receptionists, teachers, students, business people, and clergy- really folks from all walks of life. I'm so aware of it and the voice irritation it causes that my throat hurts when I hear someone talk with it.

What is vocal fry?

In the singing voice, it is a style sound, sometimes used to communicate a certain emotion or to help get the voice down to a lower register. Metal singers use it a lot, and train to do it right. If created without excessive breath pressure (a feeling of controlled, pulling power instead of pushing), it can be done in a healthy way.

In the speaking voice, you make this sound when you allow the voice to drop completely, causing the characteristic rusty spring squeak. It happens most often at the ends of phrases. The vocal cords are pushed by air at the bottom, hence the grating sound of vocal cords operating on gravel. It feels like you talk farther than you support and lift your voice with breath, and your open throat tightens down as it drops its ceiling.

Here's an example of Vocal Fry.

When I help people change their speaking voices so that they are still supporting the ends of their phrases with lift, their singing voices are spared as well. 

Here's a wakeup: 

Every time I hear chronic vocal fry in someone's speaking voice, I always find that they are getting vocally fried (pun intended) after speaking a lot. EVERY TIME! They usually think their vocal fatigue is normal... and are shocked to find that even after talking for hours their voices can remain strain-free!

Three vocal training techniques I find very effective in breaking the vocal fry habit are...

     1. Awareness:

Awareness is the first step towards change. Become aware of how much you speak with vocal fry. Try recording your speaking voice and listen for the tell-tale gravel sound when your phrases drop off. Do you do it? How often?

     2. Body and Facial language: 

Use your eyes, hands, keep your spine flexible and your posture communicatively fluid. This helps create balanced breath and free, open throat.

    3. Tongue Tanglers:

Use tongue tanglers as vocal exercises, with the rule that you must not hit the gravel at the end or you have to do it again. My students repeat phrases such as "red leather yellow leather" "eleven benevolent elephants", "good blood bad blood", "you know you need unique New York".
We laugh a lot but my students get better and better and at the end of the practice, they are surprised at how much less vocal fatigue they are experiencing. 

If you drop your voice into this sound from time to time, it shouldn't create issues. Almost all of us do. But don't underestimate the problems a chronic habit of talking with vocal fry can cause. Fatigue the voice long enough with the vocal cords rubbing each other the wrong way and it can indeed lead to loss of high range and even serious vocal damage. I've seen it happen. 

Bottom Line:

Whether or not it is becoming socially acceptable and cool to speak with vocal fry, it is absolutely a habit you need to minimize if you care about your voice. So what do you do? First step: you must become aware of a habit before you can change it. Try recording your speaking voice and listen for the tell-tale gravel sound (fry) when your phrases drop off. Do you do it? How often?

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  • At December 21, 2011 at 11:12 AM , Anonymous Salem Jones said...

    What another brilliant piece of knowledge you've published!!

    Thought I'd share this:
    My grandmother has the worst vocal fry I've ever heard. In fact, my throat constricts just listening to her strain at the end of each and every sentence of more than 5 words.

    In terms of energy in the body- what many call the throat chakra- this "choking off by choice" represents repression, suppression and the fear of expressing one's self. Some people refer to it as a blocked throat chakra. I'm not surprised that its growing amongst women in a world where the constraints are deceptively looser, but are actually tighter due to massive judgements that people lay on each other in so many ways.

    The internet hampers self-expression for many, ironically enough.

  • At December 21, 2011 at 11:14 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Salem I totally and completely agree that this 'choking off by choice' comes from the very repression and guarding behavior you're talking about. Very interesting indeed... 'blocked throat chakra'. I'm allergic to it!!
    My throat also constricts when I hear others speaking with vocal fry... it helps me diagnose this vocal issue (oh what I do for my clients, hehehe)

  • At September 26, 2013 at 8:12 PM , Anonymous Shantell Ogden said...

    Yes- I get fry. When I'm tired I'm especially prone. I appreciate so much you keeping me aware Judy and for your educational leadership in the art of the voice!

  • At September 27, 2013 at 7:38 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Shantell you are an AMAZING artist... glad you are aware of this kind of thing now that can sabotage your voice! Thank you for the comment:)


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