Kashu-do (歌手道): The Vocal Fry: A Means To Efficiency

Teacher: “Your folds need to close completely!  The tone needs to be more ‘focused’, less breathy!”
Student:  “But how much?  Won’t it be pressed?  Is there a sensation of what the right amount is?”

The question is one of precision.  What is the ideal sensation of fold posture?  After years working with the “vocal fry” with the purpose of training efficiency, it has become one of my fundamental tools.  I once asked an esteemed colleague if he ever used the vocal fry.  His response was:  “yes the ‘creaky voice’ is an ideal set-up.  The problem is going from the low pressure of the vocal fry to the higher and constant compression of actual singing.”

Over the years I realized that the reason why the vocal fry only works in the low range is that the lower range has enough natural mass to allow efficient vibration without too much medial pressure (this is discussed often here on the blog. See here!).  Therefore if fold depth were appropriate in the upper range (beyond the muscular passaggio where the folds are in thinning mode instead of thickening mode), that is, not over-thinning as is the tendency, the “fry set-up” could be maintained.

In fact, the gentle vocal fry (one could go from a fry tone to a pressed tone by over-compressing) is as efficient as the folds can come together (i.e. full-closure without pressing, which necessitates ideal fold depth).  The object is to teach the entire range to accomplish the three-way dynamic between the CT-TA-IA muscle groups in order to achieve the necessary fold depth that makes a fry posture possible when compression is increased to create a self-sustaining vibration.

The training exercise (videos forth-coming on the Kashu-do Website, which will be launched by May 1, 2013) would be simply to sustain a gentle vocal fry, clear and regular and then go to tone without a change in the fry posture.  Again, this exercise only works when adequate fold depth has been achieved .  This I have done through occlusives such as vocalizing on voiced consonants, rolled Rs and lip-trills.

The vocal fry has gotten a bad rap because it is not a “supported” sound.  This is true.  The ‘fry’ is not compressed like a good tone, but it does indeed bring the folds perfectly to midline with relatively no pressure.  The key is to use this aspect and go from the fry tone to a compressed tone without a change in the fry sensation.  My success rate with this has been remarkable.

Because the ‘fry tone’, like any exercise,  can be performed in many different ways, it is important to know how to do it to get best possible results.  I stress the word “gentle.”  A pressed vocal fry is tantamount to a stiff chest tone associated with “improper belting” and forcing (Belting can be done with a balanced tone.  In fact I encourage singers to learn how to belt correctly.  It will have a positive influence on classical singing if approached with balance).

If the gentle fry is indeed in a state of a balanced exchange of air from below the glottis to above it (hence the absence of sub-glottic pressure build-up), it follows that if that state is maintained, compressed air can also be exchanged in the same way, whereby the pressure needed for maintaining fold vibration is exchanged into flow thereby preventing an unhealthy rise in sub-glottic  pressure.

© 04/05/2013

Added after publication:

I should add that whenever we are dealing with muscular re-balancing, there will be a learning curve (i.e. if will take time for the muscles to adjust and strengthen in the new configuration).  Some singings whose closure mechanism always included full glottal closure (balanced or pressed) will have less problem with the vocal fry than a singer who has sung breathily up to the point of using the exercise.  With time, the natural compression of singing will not feel like such an effort.  Indeed many singers do not progress because they avoid the necessary compression of full-glottal closure.  Current pedagogical norms, as reflected in much of academia, prizes the avoidance of pressure of any kind.  Consequently, many young singers go out of school without ever achieving the complete closure necessary for a viable operatic/theatrical tone.