You may not know what “vocal fry” is, but guaranteed, you’ve heard it. Actually, you probably hear it all the time. And chances are, you may even use it all the time. (Especially if you’re a young American woman.) Vocal fry is the lowest register for your voice, and it sounds like a low, creaky vibration of sounds. The sound is made by fluttering the vocal cords — essentially, you form a loose, glottal closure that allows air to slowly pass through the vocal cords, causing them to rattle against each other. This produces a very low frequency creaking sound.
While demonstrating what vocal fry sounds like, Sunday Morning’s Faith Salie and others have discussed the problems it can cause. Multiple vocal coaches and speech pathologists have said that vocal fry is fine in moderation, but over time or with a lot of use, it can damage your voice. As the name suggests, excessive use of vocal fry tends to fry your vocal cords. Physiologically it’s like you’re slapping your vocal cords together repeatedly, which ultimately will tire your voice out and give you a sore throat in the process. It’s a no-brainer that you should definitely avoid using vocal fry in speech. But even though it can hurt your voice, when used correctly it can actually be a useful singing tool.
Use in Singing
Personally, I don’t really like it when singers use vocal fry. I think that music generally sounds better WITHOUT harsh, guttural croaking sounds coming out of your throat. But some singers actively use vocal fry as a stylistic choice, and though I think it is way too abused, I admit that sometimes it is stylistically appropriate. Male country singers often use it to add a deep, throaty sound their song. And actually, for many singers, it’s a helpful tool for reaching low pitches or for avoiding a breathy sound (which dries out your vocal cords and isn’t healthy, either).
Using Vocal Fry to Hit Low Notes
Male singers, particularly bass singers, are most likely to need vocal fry. The vocal fry register allows a singer to sing progressively lower and lower pitches, like famous bass singer Tim Storms. Storms holds the Guinness world record for the lowest frequency pitch ever sounded by a human voice (a G-7!). If you’re a male singer struggling to hit certain notes with a clear tone instead of a muddy, breathy half-tone, you can use the vocal fry register to come at the note from underneath. The result will produce a clearer, more audible tone in lower register pitches. However, you have to be careful not to overuse or abuse this technique, because too much vocal fry can indeed damage your vocal cords and can actually cause you to lose the ability to sing some pitches at the top of your modal register. I’ve seen this happen many times.
Using Vocal Fry as a Practice Tool
While I discourage using it in a performance, I know that vocal fry can be a great tool in the practice room. In my private singing lessons, I teach a unique warm-up technique using vocal fry to actually help smooth the bridge between the chest voice and head voice. I first began doing this in my own vocal study years ago and found that it helped tremendously in smoothing my “break” so that it was easier to flip between the two registers. It has also helped to extend the range of my chest voice.
As a practice tool, vocal fry can also help you to create a fully supported sound with vocal cord closure. Many singers struggle with sounding breathy and are unable to add more substance to their voice. By beginning a pitch with vocal fry, as you force the air through the low vibrating waves it leads to a more supported, controlled pitch, free from breathiness. This practice technique can help you learn how to sing with a more supported, clear tone so that eventually you can achieve this without using vocal fry.
Vocal fry CAN be a useful tool for learning to hit pitches with more control or to extend your range. However, it really can be rough on your voice, especially if it’s abused or overused. Take voice lessons to learn how to use vocal fry as a tool to improve your voice and range, and eventually you won’t even need it.