I just read a troubling article in "Science Now" that says vocal fry is creeping into US speech patterns, especially among young women. I've got news for them, 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 this habit are...
- to make people aware of how much they are speaking with vocal fry. 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?
- to get people speaking with active eyes and body language. This helps create balanced breath and open throat.
- to 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".
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.
Here's the 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?