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Health Answers

What is ‘vocal fry,’ and is it harmful to your voice?

Q. What is “vocal fry,” and is it harmful to your voice?

A. Vocal fry is a type of vocalization characterized by a low, creaky voice. Ramon Franco, director of laryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, explains that when you speak, air pushing upward from your lungs causes the vocal folds — two folds of tissue on either side of the voice box — to draw together and quickly slap back and forth. This vibrational movement produces a particular note. When you drop the pressure and tension in your voice, he says, “the vocal folds will stop this automatic flapping back and forth and they’ll go into a more chaotic rhythm.” The result is a creaky sound with no particular note.

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“We all use vocal fry,” Franco says. Your voice may creak at the end of a sentence or when you’re tired. Radio and TV broadcasters are often trained to eliminate vocal fry, he says, but in other contexts it is very common. “It’s not unusual to hear a lot of fry during lectures,” he says, where professors use a low gravelly voice to convey gravitas. Recently, several speech researchers have noted a trend of frequent vocal fry among young women, exemplified by celebrities like Katy Perry, Zooey Deschanel, and Kim Kardashian.

Vocal fry is not a health concern, Franco says, except with overuse (for instance, shouting in a loud venue while using vocal fry). Anything that causes the vocal folds to slap together with too much force, he says, can lead to injury.

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