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  • Suzanne Ford

Vocal Fry: The Epidemic Continues


You know what I'm talking about. That gravelly, creaky-speak that so many young women employ (yeah, and some young men - although it seems less noticeable with men because of their vocal pitch). It's everywhere now, on the radio, television, on the street. Even ON NPR!

I'm not easily annoyed, normally, by very much. I'm fairly patient with other drivers, with waiting in line, with being put on hold, even with sluggish Internet. I understand. Stuff happens.

But vocal fry is slowly driving me crazy. I wonder why these (mostly) women can't hear themselves. And if they can–if they're aware of how they sound–do they honestly think that vocal frying makes them seem attractive? Smart? Professional?

I love the way a well spoken, fully engaged woman voice sounds: remember Bette Davis? Rosalind Russell? Myrna Loy? Their voices were full and melodious, rich, meaningful. Their voices gave them power.

But it wasn't just actors. Listen to Gloria Steinem sometime. Come to think of it, almost every publicly articulate woman until maybe 15-20 years ago sounded pretty great. And then it happened. The deep fry epidemic. I've been wondering why, so I did some quick research, and stumbled upon a great article called "The Frying Game: on vocal fry and sexist feedback" by two vocal coaches in New York, Casey Erin Clark and Julie Fogh. Their business is called "Vital Voice" and they make a lot of good points about the vocal fry phenomenon. For example:

"Let’s talk about vocal fry on a physical level: Your voice is a combination of your breath, your vocal cords, and your resonators. Vocal fry happens when we don’t use enough breath to fully engage and close the vocal cords–this leaves our cords vibrating together in a deeper tone, but without enough breath support to carry the sound. Essentially, it’s a breathy voice that uses tension in the cords and the throat to create volume–and it can be extremely damaging in the long run.

But on an emotional and intellectual level it's about more. The vocal patterns we develop (vocal fry, upspeak, regional dialects) come out of a subconscious instinct to fit in. Specifically, vocal fry creates a laid back sound with minimal effort. Many famous faces and voices of pop culture through the 90’s and 00’s (Britney Spears. Justin Timberlake, most of the young Disney actors–and looking back further Luke Perry, James Dean, etc.) spoke this way. It’s gravelly and deep and has 'cool factor.' Some may associate vocal fry with ‘Valley girls,’ but we’ve also heard our fair share of men who do it too–from undergrads to young Wall Street types. Vocal Fry is also the sound of Bro-ness."

Yep, that's kind of what I suspected. It's a way of trying to be cool. This is discouraging because it raises the question: how do we stop the epidemic? Here's where these two vocal coaches make another great point:

"Vocal fry is a learned affectation formed out of a complex set of social cues and physical habits. Our issue as vocal coaches with vocal fry is not that young women sounding like young women is bad–it’s that there is SO MUCH MORE to your voice."

Vocal fry isn’t a problem because it make you sound 'dumb' or 'girlish' or 'young.' Vocal fry is a problem because it cuts you off from your full presence, breath, power, and ability to connect. How do you want to use your power? You don’t need to sound like someone else. You need to sound like all of you."

Amen.


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© 2015 by Suzanne Ford.