Vocal Fry

Weekly Teaching Tip – Jan. 12, 2015
by Dr. Hubert Noe

Teaching tip on the significance of vocal fry for teaching voice.

Vocal fry is a creaky sound with a frequency under the lowest limit of normal phonation (20-80 Hz). The expression fry refers to the crackling noise of water dripping into hot fat. The German “Strohbass” means that the sound reminds of breaking straw.

Properties which make vocal fry valuable for voice teachers: the closure is long, over 50%, the contact area is large which means a good closure in time and area. The intrinsic larynx muscles are slack. During the inhalation before phonation the vocal folds and the abdomen (it goes in because it is allowed to and not because we do it) are completely relaxed.

And this is why it is such a good exercise if it is understood and done correctly: A long (in time) and broad (in area) closure in a relaxed larynx is a perfect precondition for stress-free power training.

A short vocal fry set before any little scale exercise helps for more metal, stronger high harmonics and a carrying voice at relatively low breath pressures.

But caution, the following preconditions must be fulfilled:

1. Vocal fry is always below the voice range and not a part of the following scale which is in chest mix or head.

Comment: If we make a creaky sound in our normal range (modal or head) it is not vocal fry and the constriction is elsewhere, not at the closed glottis. In many videos out there on the net you can hear the instructor make this noise on pitch of the (following) exercise scale or arpeggio. This becomes a different exercise and has nothing to do with vocal fry anymore. Then we do not only approximate the vocal folds but also contract muscles outside of the larynx and eventually the false vocal folds. That is, we contract the constrictores pharyngis (no more free “pharyngeal voice” possible on high mix later) and the muscles raising the larynx as an answer to the pushing abs. Then it may become a different exercise e.g. for willful distortions above the glottis or others which should be produced with as much flow as pressure (exhalation oriented and “don’t forget the open phase of the vocal folds to prevent pressed phonation” as I always say in my teacher trainings. But this is another part of my talks soon to be given.)

  1. Vocal fry must not be actively pushed by the abs (in accordance with above).
  2. The exercise should be done not before the singer is able to close the glottis without the help of outer squeezing neck muscles (outside the closing muscles of the larynx) and pushing abs. And he must be able to produce any degree of closure between breathy and connected at least in his low range.

The singer also learns to isolate the respective functions of the CT and TA muscles.

Exercises for Vocal fry: You can combine the true vocal fry with any exercise, especially short scales like fry 5,4,3,2,1 or slow to fast shakes like 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,2,1 ending in easy vibrato. Males could start with 5 at G3, females from C4 and higher in half tone steps. So the exercise goes on about an octave above the fry (for me as tenor e.g. “D2” if we want to indicate a pitch at all for fry, then A3,B3,A3,B3,A3,B3,A3,B3,A3 shake…). The larynx stays easily down and relaxed and the singer can create a good contact of the vocal folds in a very easy way at relatively high pitches. The balance of muscles (vocal folds) and airflow can be experienced at very low pressure levels without using outer neck muscles. The messa di voce of the accomplished singer is easier to learn starting from a low pressure level by increasing pressure gradually and yet keeping the flow in the 1,2,1,2,1,2,….. shake. There are two ways of messa di voce one starting in head going to full chest (mix) and back again (Garcia); and one starting already in piano with a metallic soft sound preceding without changing registers to forte and back to an edgy piano (Lamperti).


Related Articles