Are you wanting to give your vocals a harder edge, or a more emotive effect? There are many advanced singing techniques you can learn including vocal fry.
But what is vocal fry in singing, you may wonder? This throaty, gravelly sound lends itself well to many genres. It’s heard in pop, rock, country and metal. From love ballads to rap. However, done incorrectly, it can be grating and hurt your throat.
Read on to find out more about this technique and which singers have made a music successful career using it.
What is vocal fry in singing?
There are several music genres that use vocal fry. Some country music male singers produce the croaking sound at the start of phrases and various styles of folk singing use the fry in female voices. In some choirs or choral groups where not enough basses are available, they rely on singers who can fry the very low tones. Perhaps two of the most recognisable examples are in hard rock and metal music, creating a growl or scream to achieve an aggressive or harsh sound.
How did vocal fry start?
In the early 1970s, there were discussions within the field of speech therapy, and the vocal fry register has only been recognised within the past few decades. Studies were carried out looking into the physiological processes in the body, while singers were phonating in the vocal fry register. This showed evidence that it should be considered a vocal register from a music perspective. The register has a unique vibratory pattern of the vocal folds and a certain series of pitches.
What does vocal fry sound like?
Many singers use vocal fry as a technique. Using the lowest register of tone, singers produce a deep, breathy and creaky sound. It is also referred to as pulse phonation or glottal fry.
It adds thickness and intensity to the voice and can extend the range upwards. Some people compare it to a popcorning sound due to the crackling or popping. The chief use is to obtain pitches of very low frequency.
Is vocal fry bad for singing?
While not dangerous or harmful to the health of the voice, it can become a habit. So overuse and pushing too hard could cause damage. Misusing the voice in any way, such as belting, poor technique, screaming and smoking can cause problems such as vocal cord injuries or polyps. Protecting the voice and learning good techniques while maintaining vocal health will help to avoid future issues.
Vocal fry causes the back part of the vocal folds to be tightly squeezed, so instead of the usual fluid motion, they are vibrating chaotically. They aren’t really designed to do this for long periods of time, so overuse should be avoided to prevent nodules, scars and laryngitis. Working with a knowledgeable vocal coach will help with safe technique.
How to vocal fry
When you speak or sing your vocal cords create vibrations when air passes through them. For vocal fry, the vibration frequency and vocal cord closure are so slow that the fry can be clearly noticeable. Also known as pulse register, glottal rattle and a big word “laryngealiation”. When you send a little air to your vocal cords they pulsate gently but not much air is required to execute vocal fry register singing.
Vocal fry singing exercises
It’s always best to work with a vocal coach at the beginning to make sure you don’t cause any stress to your voice. Start by singing a very low note, then lowering it as much as you can. When you reach a point where you can’t sustain a smooth or full tone your voice will go into vocal fry. Try saying “Ahhh” using as little air as possible and this should start to give that effect. Do it in small doses, 5 to 10 seconds is enough, and practice until it feels comfortable before you use it in songs.
How to stop vocal fry
Perhaps you feel the opposite way about vocal fry and rather than wanting to adopt it, are trying to rid yourself of it. The sound ca be quite irritating, especially if overdone and used when speaking. There are two simple ways to stop it.
- Raise your pitch. Fry almost always happens in the lower tones. So, brighten your voice and raise it.
- Support your vocals with breath. Fry needs to run on emptier lungs. Breathe deep and low into your diaphragm to create a more open, rich and controlled tone.
Singers who use vocal fry
If this singing technique still feels alien, the best way to familiarise yourself is to listen to some artists using it. Here are some examples of famous songs and vocalists using this method of singing.
Savage by Megan Thee Stallion
Vocal fry can be a super useful technique in rap, as well as melodic vocals.
Sweet Dreams Are Made of This by Marilyn Manson
In this cover of Annie Lennox’s Sweet Dream Are Made of This, Marilyn displays his alt-metal vocal fry.
Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City by Whitesnake
Lead singer of Whitesnake, David Coverdale, has been flying his vocals since the 1970s. This is a classic rock style.
Let’s Make It Baby by Bon Jovi
Bon Jovi has long rocked a pharyngeal voice. It’s evident on most of the band’s back catalogue, but no more so than on this one.
Bad Idea by Ariana Grande
While many rock singers use a harsher style of fry, here Ariana shows that it works with a softer timbre. And this is less wearing on the voice.
Baby One More Time by Britney Spears
Britney’s throaty glottal sound in Baby One More Time became iconic. The now-classic pop anthem is the stuff of modern legend, thanks to her youthful, yet edge vocals.
I’m Too Sexy by Right Said Fred
Right Said Fred have a ‘couldn’t care less’ vibe about their songs, particularly this one that is cool yet kitsch. It goes to prove that vocal fry even works in cheesy numbers.
Let’s Dance by David Bowie
Vocals don’t come much more unique than Bowie’s inimitable voice. The late singer used a number of interesting techniques, including vocal fry.
Lose You To Love Me by Selena Gomez
Vocal fry can totally suit lighter pop songs, as Selena Gomez shows in this song. And the tune doesn’t have to be low for it to work.
Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
A country classic, this is an easy listening number. Johnny Cash’s legendary deep tones are both gravelly and smooth on the ear.
Always On My Mind by Willie Nelson
Even the most romantic of love songs can utilise vocal fry to great effect. Willie Nelson’s husky voice lends itself to this technique.
Chandelier by Sia
Sia introduces a depth of emotion using this technique. There’s a heartfelt element to her sound in this song, especially on the acoustic version.
Is vocal fry attractive?
Yes, if practised correctly – and provided you have a nice voice anyway. Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Britney Spears and Kesha are some of the well known female singers who use this tone in their songs. As an example, in Britney’s hit ‘Baby One More Time’ she sings ‘Oh baby, baby’ using vocal fry. Examples of male singers include Mick Jagger, Billy Ray Cyrus, Lenny Kravitz, Marilyn Manson, Shawn Mendes, and most metal, prog rock, punk, and rock bands.
One of the most memorable Eurovision winners was the Finnish group Lordi. They were the first hard rock/heavy metal band to win using plenty of vocal fry. It’s also used in electronic dance and pop such as Hero by Enrique Iglesias.
Have you been inspired to incorporate some vocal fry in your singing? Or perhaps you’ve recognised that you’re doing it too much and need to return to some more basic singing techniques. Either way, now you know-how, you can have more control and licence over your own voice and where to take it.
- What is the best song to show off your voice?
This will be different for everyone. If you want to optimise your natural talent, pick something that sits within your range. Should you have skill singing very high or low notes, find a song that has those. Choose something you can emote, that suits your style and personality.
- Why do Millennials have vocal fry?
Many people in their teens and twenties speak with vocal fry. This is where the voice sits on the throat. Many of the cast of docusoaps like Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex, for example, speak with vocal fry.
- What does falsetto mean?
This is almost the opposite of vocal fry. It’s a technique that enables vocalists (usually males) to access a very high area of the voice. Famous singers who use falsetto have included Freddie Mercury, Justin Timberlake, Jeff Buckley and Prince.
Do you use vocal fry as part of your vocal arsenal? How did you learn the technique and do you find it enhances your sound? Let us know your experiences and share clips of your own fry in the comments below.