From the croaky cadence of a Kardashian to the monotone delivery of a millennial on a murder podcast, vocal fry has been commended, mocked, and everything in between. But what exactly is this polarizing vocal style, and how does it impact performers hoping to make it in the biz?
Although it feels like vocal fry reared its sizzling head in the early aughts, it has musical roots stemming from nearly a century ago and a spoken history stemming from the 1960s. Some linguists believe that vocal fry is a result of women trying to convey a sense of authority by speaking in a lower register; others feel it’s a sign of being relaxed, since it takes place when the vocal cords are at ease.
Vocal fry happens when too little air is being moved through the vocal cords. Normally, vocal cords rub together and create sound when you speak. However, if you speak without enough breath, the cords cannot rub together properly and instead create the creaky, rattling noise of vocal fry.
Vocal fry doesn’t cause any harm (perhaps, though, only to those with misophonia). According to Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist Lee Akst, M.D., “The vocal anatomy is not damaged by speaking in vocal fry. However, like any behavior, vocal or otherwise, it can become a habit.”
These celebrities are known for their use of vocal fry in performances and interviews:
Megan Thee Stallion
“Schitt's Creek” Courtesy Pop TV
People (particularly women) who speak with vocal fry are sometimes perceived as being bored or lazy—an outdated notion that researchers say is rooted in sexism and limits women’s communicative autonomy. The pervasive stereotype can sometimes prevent landing gigs or otherwise furthering a career as a performer.
However, vocal fry can be a helpful tool to add texture to a song or to play certain roles, such as with Annie Murphy’s performance as socialite Alexis on “Schitt’s Creek.” Learning how to perform vocal fry, and how to turn it off, can help diversify your vocal performances.
If you want to do vocal fry for a speaking or singing performance, simply say “ahhhh” or “uhhhh” with as little air and in as low a voice as possible. Hold the sound, not allowing any tone, pitch, or breath to enter: That’s your vocal fry.
The best way to get rid of vocal fry is to add more breath to your voice.
- Take a deep breath in before speaking and infuse your vocal cords with air.
- Add support to the end of your sentences by pausing to take a breath in the middle so it isn't gone by the end of the sentence.
- Finally, try raising the pitch of your voice to take it out of the low vocal fry range.
If you take these steps and still have vocal fry, you can try voice therapy to learn how to coordinate your breath and vocal cord vibrations.
As a vocal coach, I get a lot of questions about vocal fry. There’s a certain fascination around the phenomenon—in addition to some misconceptions—and actors often have concerns about its use. So, what’s the scoop on fry?
- Can vocal fry impact performance? Even though speaking in fry might not carry physiological risk, it can become a habit that’s a danger to specificity of artistic expression. When speaking in vocal fry leaves the realm of awareness and becomes one’s consistent way of talking, the leeway for creative vocal choices narrows. The voice has less room for shading, nuance, and overall range when speaking in vocal fry, so talking in this register should probably be a conscious choice on the part of most actors, rather than a default.
- How can I manage vocal fry? As with any potential habit that might enter the realm of unconsciousness, it’s important to remain aware of the consistent use of vocal fry. If one speaks in this register consistently in everyday life, it’ll be very hard to make its use a choice when onstage or on set. Throughout your day, experiment with making vocal fry a choice as opposed to a default setting; then, you might find it all the more useful as a textural tool in specific moments of acting, too.
- Where can I learn more? There are many great resources for learning more about fry (and other vocal registers), but I’d suggest starting with the Voice Foundation, the Pan American Vocology Association, or the Voice and Speech Trainers Association.
As with most parameters of the voice, lots of opinions and preferences surround the use and perception of vocal fry. Just don’t let this abundance fry your brain—it’s all simpler than it sounds.