What It Is, How To Do It, How To Use It
Vocal fry often gets a bad rap.
Vocal fry has a lot of names: creaky voice, glottal fry, glottal scrape, popcorning, and more. It refers to the lowest register of the voice, and is used in both speech and singing.
Not long ago, vocal fry in speech was all up in the media, and in a pretty misogynistic way. Young women were targeted in for using vocal fry in their speech. The reports would claim that using vocal fry was bad for your voice, and an indication of lack: lack of confidence, lack of strength of ideas, lack of physical energy. Luckily, some female broadcast journalists began to successfully point out that their male colleagues were using vocal fry quite liberally as well, so it (apparently) became less interesting at that point.
These days, vocal fry in speech has been observed to be related more to age and culture than gender, and vocal fry in singing is generally related to the genre in which one is singing.
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It’s been shown that use of vocal fry does not damage the vocal folds. To produce vocal fry, the vocal folds are short and loose, and the air pressure beneath them is less than when you phonate in other registers. Only slightly greater than when you simply breathe. It’s a quiet sound, only about 70 hertz on average. In fact, it’s the low volume of vocal fry that may account for some of its bad rap in singing.
For acoustic singing, such as opera or other classical styles, that 70 hertz is simply not loud enough to be heard. So even if Puccini had thought, “You know, Mimi is dying here...she should be using some vocal fry,” he wouldn't have written it in, because no one in the audience would have been able to hear it.
In microphone music, however, where the electronic amplification is doing all the heavy lifting, vocal fry abounds.
As long as singers have had microphones, they have been using vocal fry. Bessie Smith in the 1920’s, Billie Holiday in the 30’s, Elvis in the 1950’s and Barry White in the 70’s, for example.
Mackenzie Parrott, a researcher from University of Texas San Antonio did an interesting experiment. She played four versions of the Star Spangled Banner to students; a female singer with and without vocal fry, and a male singer with and without vocal fry. Students rated the female singer using vocal fry as “more expressive,” and the male who did not use vocal fry as being “more expressive.” (Parrott says she plans to run that test again with more closely matched performances and more test subjects.)
In microphone singing, all vocal frys are not created equal. Unlike speech, where fry tends to occur at the end of a sentence, in singing, the fry is typically used as a type of onset, or, at the beginning of a word or phrase. Usually with a vowel or an “r” sound. It can be used when a singer wants to sound sexy, intimate, angry or a little tortured.
One type of vocal fry is the more relaxed and open sound that you’ll typically hear from country artists or singer songwriters. You’ll access this sound most easily using an “ah” vowel, and it’s often used on “ah” vowels (such as the word “I”) and in the lower end of a singer’s range.
Another type of vocal fry is different in that the vocal folds are slightly more compressed. Singers tend to use this in shorter bits, with brighter vowels, and at higher pitches. You’ll find this more easily on an “eh” vowel. (Think of Britney Spears singing “Oh baby, baby..)
If a voice teacher or coach is going to use vocal fry in either exercises or styling, they should be able to help the student access an easy, open vocal fry that the teacher can hear is relaxed. Remember that:
fry is the lowest register
there is very little air pressure beneath the vocal folds
the vocal folds are loose.
Using an “H” sound in front of the fry can help the student keep it more relaxed. It also helps to be aware of both pitch and volume. The student should be lower than their perception of their own singing range, and they should not try to get significant volume. This is a quiet exercise.
Noises typically work best. Tell your student or client to make the sound of a haunted house door, or something else that it reminds you of. The result should be relaxed, easy, and free of aesthetic value.
Step 1: Access the fry
Think of a sound, like a creaky door. DO NOT imagine that you’re singing!
Drop your jaw so your mouth is pretty far open.
Make your creaky-door (or whatever) sound on a “hah”.
If that feels relaxed to you, hold it out for a while. Then do it a few more times to get the feel for it.
Step 1A: Troubleshoot
If Step 1 does NOT feel relaxed to you, stop. You’re probably trying to make it too loud, or inadvertently thinking that you’re making a pitch. Make some other sound, like a siren, and try again. This time, take a generous breath and make a quieter sound. Make sure:
You’re thinking of a noise, not a note
Your head is aligned on your shoulders, not reaching out
You have your mouth open
You’re starting with an “h” so you’re saying “Hah.”
Step 2: Fry into pitch
Make your fry sound.
Think of, or play, a pitch that is very near the bottom of your range.
Think of getting louder while you move from the fry to the pitch. Take your time! Let it be “wrong” and give yourself a chance to get the feel for it.
Do that a few times: fry - hold - get louder into pitch - hold.
Step 3: Fry into phrase
Think of a line in a song that starts on an “ah” vowel. (The word “I” is the usual suspect.)
Do it acapella so that you can pick a low or low-ish note to start on.
Do Step 2 but with the phrase in mind. Sing all, or just the beginning, of the phrase.
Repeat it to get comfortable. When you know what to expect and what it feels like, you can make the vocal fry shorter or longer.
Try this on higher pitches and on faster tempos as you get the feel for it.
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