The rise in use of Vocal Fry is a cultural phenomenon, but it also has health implications for your voice.
If you don’t know what vocal fry sounds like you can listen to examples from two different NPR shows here and here. Both are compilations of words, one from a female host and one from a male.
Culturally, vocal fry has been appropriated by millenial women. It is hard to pay attention to any pop culture and not hear it (Kardashian sisters and Katy Perry, for example). But, as this use has arisen, it has become another way in which women are judged for their voices.
There is at least one study that found “relative to a normal speaking voice, young adult female voices exhibiting vocal fry are perceived as less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable.” The same did not hold true for men and the use of glottal fry. If you aren’t sure of the other ways women are judged for their voices you can read this piece, called Talking While Female elaborates on the top ways women are judged for the voices or simply google Hilary Clinton Voice – the top hit is “Why Do People Hate Her Voice.” Our culture has yet to embrace women’s voices in the workplace.
Clearly, we’ve got a ways to go before women can use their authentic, authoritative voices and not be judged for it and I want to lead the charge on getting there.
I want to banish vocal fry because I know you can’t use your voice effectively all day long if you are speaking that way. You can’t produce a sound that is engaging to others when you use it.
You aren’t speaking with your authentic voice that emanates from the core of your being.
And, when we add in the cultural issue that you won’t be taken seriously or will be considered less competent, well that’s just more fuel on my fire.
Infrequent use of vocal fry – for example at the end of a sentence, especially when you are physically tired – won’t produce problems. Habitual use of glottal fry is considered by the medical community to be a ‘misuse’ of the voice that will produce problems.
So, what’s happening? Ideally when we make sound our vocal cords close with just the right amount of muscular tension and are vibrated by just the right amount of air blowing them open. You can watch a quick video here to see how vocal folds vibrate in a healthy manner.
When we speak with vocal fry, the cords are brought together with a lot of force (muscular tension) and then the flow of air that should blow them open is both too low and irregular. Interestingly I couldn’t find any videos of vocal cords in action while using vocal fry.
So, what happens when you speak constantly in vocal fry?
- The combination of excessive muscular effort and low air flow is a recipe for vocal fatigue.
- Let’s say you are speaking in glottal fry and you need to get louder. You can’t do that very easily and so to try and speak louder you up the tension level in the throat/neck/shoulders.
- Because the cords are closed with excessive force they are less flexible. That means you don’t get variety in pitch and color in the voice and you sound kind of monotone.
Let’s get rid of vocal fry and take a small step towards removing the reasons why women are criticized for their voices. Your natural, authentic voice is clear, it has a pleasant pitch, is produced effortlessly, full of color and texture. It is healthy. It makes people want to stop and listen to you because what you have to say is valuable.