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Are You Straining Your Voice with Vocal Fry?

You've probably never heard of vocal fry, but chances are you know what it sounds like. The Public Speaker explains why vocal fry can harm your voice and hurt your job prospects.

By
Lisa B. Marshall,
Episode #275

Vocal fry.

You might not have heard the term, but you’ve certainly heard what it sounds like. Vocal fry is a speech affectation that sounds like the person’s vocal cords are strained or laryngitis is setting in..

Most vocal coaches will tell you that vocal fry has been around forever. It’s not a new concept. But lately it seems like it’s everywhere. You can hear examples of vocal fry in popular music and on TV. You’ll hear it if you spend much time with high school kids or on a college campus. Some celebrities who have become known for using vocal fry are Kesha, Katy Perry, and Kim Kardashian. If you still don’t know what it sounds like, Google “vocal fry” and you’ll find plenty of examples.

Why should we care about vocal fry? Isn’t it just a harmless fad, much like the 1980s Valley Girl “uptalk”? Not quite. There are a few reasons we should work to keep vocal fry out of our speech:

Reason #1:  Vocal Fry Can Hurt Your Voice

Vocal fry isn’t a major health concern. But if used for an extended period of time, it can cause your throat to feel tired and sore. That’s because you’re sending small puffs of air through your vocal cords that causes them to slap together instead of rubbing smoothly. If you do it long enough, fatigue will set in.

Vocal coach Judy Rodman warns that vocal fry can damage your vocal chords. “Vocal fry in the speaking voice, or what I like to call 'falling on gravel,' is one of the sneakiest and most pernicious causes of vocal fatigue. If you don't talk much, maybe this doesn't turn into that much of a problem, but most people find themselves talking for long stretches.”

Reason #2: Vocal Fry Can Hurt Your Job Prospects

In May of 2014, the online journal PLOSone published a study titled “Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market.” To briefly summarize, the study took a small group of young men and women and had them read a line twice; once with vocal fry and once without.

The recordings were then played for a large sample of listeners of all ages. The listeners were asked to choose which one was the most hirable, the most trustworthy. The vast majority of listeners chose the recordings without vocal fry. Overall, the sample group reacted negatively to the vocal fry recordings.

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