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Slacken Those Vocal Folds — How Vocal Fry Can Strengthen Your Lower Range

You've probably heard of it many times under different names: Vocal fry, creak, glottal fry, Strohbass, or pulse register. It is the oh-so-popular effect you hear from many singers as an onset, offset or a stylistic effect, including Christina Aguilera, Pink, Kenny Rogers, Katy Perry, James Brown, Steven Tyler, Jared Leto, Britney Spears...the list goes on.

But did you know that the vocal fry can be just as useful as a training tool for your voice in the low and middle range? Here is how.

A rodent touching its nose to a child's nose

Vocal fry has a characteristic sound that differentiates it from the so-called chest (M1) or head (M2) registers. So much that some teachers and researchers have given it its own register name, "pulse" (M0). But what is it exactly?

It is a thicker vocal fold configuration that lacks longitudinal tension, which allows for a more square contact. A defining characteristic is that the vocal fry has a very low fundamental frequency, so low that your vocal folds cannot complete their regular pitch-production patterns. They have to be much shorter and looser to produce this pulse-like sound. Even if the pitch rises, they must remain short and relaxed to maintain this mode of production. This also means that air pressure and effort levels are lower, and nasality is reduced because it is easier to keep the velum up.

Sounds pretty useful, right?

But as most things in voice pedagogy, practitioners have differing opinions. Some practitioners comment on the vocal fry as a separate register, but do not mention anything about its potential uses. Some say it is not generally useable, but might have potential applications for training low voices. Whereas some blatantly reject it.

Yet, contemporary voice models tend to acknowledge the existence of vocal fry a separate register based on vocal fold configuration (such as the slack folds in Estill Voice Training) and as vocal effect (in Complete Vocal Technique).

And in a paper from 2005 (1), 3 researchers and practitioners share their insights on the vocal fry. Let's begin with how they define it.

Is It A Register? An Effect? An Onset?

Well...all of the above.

Simply put, vocal fry is rarely used on its own except for some choral and ethnic singing, which is why some practitioners are hesitant to call it a register. But listen to this example of subharmonic singing and tell me it's not fascinating. Subharmonic singing is said to be in M0 register, which essentially makes it an extended vocal fry on pitch. Maybe I'm biased, but I think it can be absolutely amazing when used on its own to fill out the low end of an a cappella choir.