Aug 12 2011

Q&A - Vocal Fry

Had a conversation with another teacher today and she said the following:

“When the folds ‘fry’, they rattle against each other – this is why it is also called glottal scrape – and there is a lack of periodicity in their vibratory pattern. It is harder on the instrument than breathy phonation, which science shows also causes redness and inflammation on the folds after just a short time.”

“It is an unhealthy mode of phonation, as it may cause damage to the vocal folds, especially if used frequently. (Fiberoptic observation shows heavy squeezing of the arytenoid cartilages.) Using this mode of phonation in the chest register can cause a singer to lose some of his or her range, specifically the high notes, in the chest register.”

However, “morning voice” is not an unhealthy place to be I feel since it is natural state. I was explaining to her that I use it “rarely” but I still use it when I feel that I am getting too much breath through even after I have tried everything else.

My gut feeling is that maybe too much of it may be unhealthy but it would have to be a “mammoth” amount of “fry” in order to make any significant impact on the folds. Since even the body itself shuts down in this way as a protective mechanism when one say, has a cold or is ill. Then surely to fry gently to engage the folds can not be wholly unhealthy.

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Thanks for sharing this conversation with me. What she is saying is true, but it is only part of the situation.

Vocal Fry is an “irregular” vibration of the vocal folds. Healthy phonation is “regular”. This relates to her comment about “periodicity”. Regular vibration will produce tone, irregular just makes noise. And irregular vibration is destructive to the voice, where regular will rehabilitate.

What is being overlooked is there are basically two forms of vocal fry. There is the version that she is referring to that is a product of squeezing to a certain degree with the swallowing complex and making a scraping sort of vibration. This sort of sound is like a whining kid. We can hear this in a lot of pop singers. This is undesirable because of the excess pressure on the folds, increasing the irregularity.

Then there is the version I think you are referring to, that is more relaxed and released. This is the “groggy” voice we can experience in the morning when the folds are very relaxed and too loose perhaps because of over-use the previous day.

Any kind of irregular vibration can be harmful if done excessively or habitually. There are people who constantly speak on a fry. This is pathological. But I think we’re talking in terms of using the fry as a pedagogical tool.

William Vennard refers to the “Glottal Scrape” in his book that Allan Lindquest told him about from his study in Sweden. It is a helpful tool to get a feel for the folds touching for a clean phonation. But it is true that getting the correct form of fry can be difficult for many people.

The reason being that many don’t have any familiarity with the released position of the larynx. Most people have a habitual tightness in the larynx complex which correlates to some degree of lift in the position. Like some residual emotional tension that triggers some degree of swallowing gesture. This will almost automatically cause any vocal fry to be the constricted version. And as a result not be very helpful.

Part of the problem with this is the general mis-interpretation of where the larynx is in our sensations. We almost universally conceive of the larynx higher than it naturally is. To make a vocal fry we must think at the larynx. This is part of why it can be a good tool. But if the thought is too high the larynx will squeeze up to the level visualized.

This will then result in the unhealthy version. So just like in normal phonation, the fry needs to be thought of deep enough to accurately represent the proper position of the larynx. Which is generally lower than we think it is.

Another big problem is there are people teaching this incorrect version as a pedagogical technique. Again it is mostly found in non-classical training.

I use the fry as a tool to experience connecting to the larynx. But I emphasize the important point of not squeezing to accomplish the fry. It should fry because it is so relaxed and laying down. The fry is beneficial because, if done in the relaxed manner described, it is one of the most gentle ways of experiencing a connection to the larynx that otherwise can be very elusive.

I think of the fry as being a too slow vibration. If we can find a proper fry we then can just increase the energy to speed it up to the proper rate. There needs to be a feeling of follow-through inwards (not outwards) to make sure the larynx provides an appropriate resistance to the increase in breath pressure to complete the vibration.

It is this aspect that gets missed in much of the training available, both in non-classical and classical training. I emphasize this important point of thinking in rather than out to avoid the major problem of releasing the breath as “air-flow” while “speeding up” to complete phonation.

If the breath flows out it will certainly be an excessive amount that will destroy the balanced phonation we are looking for. What I’m referring to as a balanced phonation is a condition where the larynx and the breath pressure meet in a cooperative relationship that creates a true, pure vibration of the vocal folds causing a maximized acoustic result. This does not necessarilty mean loud, but because of the completeness of the acoustic energy can have the impression of being loud, along with beauty, color, and ring.

So the bottom line is habitual use of the vocal fry is a pathological use of the voice that can cause vocal damage, or at least long-term problems. But as a pedagogical tool that is used for a couple repetitions a day to get a feel for connecting to the larynx, if done in the correct manner described above, it is one of the best.

Please comment below.

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  1. This is actually a very interesting topic here. I haven’t really seen much discussion on vocal fry outside the “contemporary vocal coach” world. I always did wonder if it was indeed a valid way of exercising or conditioning the voice, or at least considered to be one by classical pedagogues. But much of the feedback I’ve heard from classically-oriented people has been negative. I suppose it would make sense if the exercise in question is being performed incorrectly. It could be that the contemporary voice teachers have the right idea, in a sense.
    But then you must take into account that not everyone believes in directly using the larynx, the issue of which could take this discussion in a dozen different directions.

  2. VIDYADHAR PANDIT

    Very informative article.
    I must add that the vocal instrument has a unique potentiality of creating myriad kinds of voices and every voice is unique, its quality is different.Therefore,we must not limit our thinking to a set of possibilities about its techniques or uses.I therefore appreciate the views expressed by Joseph.We should visit various concepts and practices preached by the classically oriented thinker artists and give a serious thought and trial.
    But while doing so we must as suggested by Michael aim to ensure completeness of acoustic energy so as to create an impression of loud but beautiful voice with color and ring

  3. Néstor Gurry

    Thank you Michael, very clear explanation. Vocal fry is a controvertial point in our voice training world.However you put the right words to bring some light on this.

  4. let us assume while it not being the case that a complete novice at what a vocal fry is and how i should do it, not have to re-write your article, how do i do it properly at the larynx which is where it should which goes without say.
    i have heard people speak on radio picked for their deeper vocal qualities. the much i have read on the matter would be more of on pathological level as you would put it. not to state the obvious do i go to the level of mimicing a fry or is a more accurate technical approach to the matter at hand.
    pardon my formality it would best serve in this case seeing as i speak in Kenyan and American street lingo. I’m 29 years old. thanks

  5. oh and by the way muchos thanks seeing as in our region there are no serious singers and by that i mean guys here mostly sing with a production on the thick cord mass. our speaking habits tends to interfere with good singing most guys here just “talk on thick cord mass” not sing. im trying to change the trend.

  6. Hello James. Thanks for your comments and for reading the blog. I will make a video on my YouTube channel soon demonstrating the vocal fry and the way to use it properly. I will also demonstrate how we don’t want to use it. Having said that, it isn’t really a critical tool in developing the voice. It is just one of several tools we can use. So if you don’t understand it well don’t worry about it. There are other ways to work it out.

  7. Thanks for this informative article. Could I have the link to the video on Youtube, if it’s up yet? Thanks!

  8. Everything is very open with a clear explanation of the issues.
    It was truly informative. Your site is very useful. Many thanks for sharing!

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