We aren’t one of those musicians who gets to put our instrument away to protect it from the elements. There’s no OttorBox Case made for our larynx; no humidity controlled soft side for our head and neck. (Rest assured, if there were, I would have purchased both by now.)
And you already know that~ It’s why we have 17 scarves, and travel mugs of tea, and why we may mark during sitzprobe. It’s why we use straws, baby!
What is vocal fry, exactly? It is the lowest of the four vocal registers (fry, modal, falsetto, and whistle). It’s the super low cracky-pop sound that comes on some speech, usually at the end of a sentence. Usually lower than 90 Hz, which is E2/F2 on the keyboard.
It happens with the arytenoid cartilages squeeze super tight, allowing the vocal folds themselves to flop around. When air goes through, they vibrate weird-o and pop and rattle. Fry is *usually* associated with pitch, but I dare say the “pop and rattle” can be heard at higher pitches as well.
Here’s a nifty vid of Vocal Fry, so you can see what it looks like in the folds. If you’re curious to what is sounds like, just think of a Keanu Reeves or Katy Perry.
Long term, if we are an unamplified singer, vocal fry may not be doing you any favors.
That air through floppy cords can cause them to slap together, rather than rubbing or vibrating smoothly. When this happens with a large amount of pressure, this causes fatigue. A tired voice is a voice we have little control over. It’s inconsistent. It lacks stamina. It can’t keep up with our character driven choices, because it’s inflexible.
NOW WAIT. Before we get all high and mighty about fry:
Sometimes, we WANT vocal fry.
Especially in Pop, Rock, Jazz, and Metal singing. It is a very effective tool, to be used when needed. Fry communicates grit and emotion. It’s an instant intimacy builder.
It is a tool to be used with other tools, like microphones.
Done very gently, it can relax the muscles and allow freedom. It can even be used as a training technique for air-wasting dysphonia.
Doing fry/creak exercises paired with normal phonation can help us coordinate air and add tools to our vocal tool-kit.
Where I find the Pop singers that I work with getting into trouble is when there is fry ALL the time, on every phrase.
You don’t hang a picture by hammering the nail into the wall then hammering holes all over the rest of the house too. So you don’t fry all the time either. Plus, it’s just boring.
Here are some interesting links to check out, about vocal fry and it’s place in our culture:
What is Vocal Fry? by Dr. Reena Gupta
I could go on and on about it, but it’s been a long couple of weeks, and I’m…uh… fried.