What’s Up With Vocal Fry?

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on February 6, 2013

CosmoAs a professional broadcast voice specialist, imagine my surprise last month when I found my name mentioned in Cosmopolitan magazine on the same page as Beyonce!  Not a place I ever thought I’d be.

So why have voice issues gone Hollywood?  Because of one vocal trait that is being heard more and more from young stars to average teens and college students.  (Not, incidentally, by Beyonce but certainly by stars like Kim Kardashian and Zooey Deschanel.)  I hear this problem often in clients who have just finished journalism schools and bring the sound into their first on-air jobs.  Let me explain.

The problem is a learned pattern of speech called vocal or glottal fry.  BaconFrying How does it get its name?  The glottis is the opening between the vocal folds, which is where this sound originates.  This condition may be called “fry” because it sounds like bacon frying with its popping sound.  In the past, it might have been called a raspy or gravely voice.  It’s caused by a syncopated mode or double-vibration of the vocal folds.

The popping sound of a glottal fry is usually heard toward the ends of sentences. At the end of sentences it usually indicates that breath supply is low, and the pitch is near the bottom of the pitch range.  Some speakers have glottal fry elements throughout their speech.  Normally, however, a glottal fry will begin a few words before the end of a sentence.

The pervasiveness of glottal fry with young women may be an adapted style that helps them fit in and connects them to stars that are using this style of speech.  The characteristics most associated with glottal fry speech are tiredness, disinterest, and boredom.  Can you relate those to teens???

Increased air supply and a slight rise in pitch will usually eliminate a glottal fry as long as it’s a functional problem and not caused from a pathological issue such a contact ulcer on the vocal folds or a thyroid problem.  To correct a glottal fry I have clients work on breath support in ways that I explain on this video.  I also encourage them to make the last word of a sentence as strong as the first word like I talk about in this post.

If you want to hear some examples of vocal or glottal fry, ck out this video from the Today Show:

And if you’re really interested, read Melissa Dahl’s article that explains a study done in 2011 that focused on this issue.

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