Vocal Fry Register (Strohbass)

Gentle Undertones

Definition

Vocal fry (or pulse register, strohbass) is a vocal technique that creates subharmonic undertones an octave or more below the modal voice by modulating the vocal cord vibration mode.

Modulation of the Vocal Cord Vibration

It is a vibration mode of the vocal cords. Vocal fry technique was studied in detail by Leonardo Fuks in his dissertation . He calls the vocal fry “periodic pulse register”. You get this relatively soft sound when the voice relaxes and starts to rattle, which can happen unintentionally when the voice gets tired. The same thing happens in yodeling when one slowly reaches the limit of flipping the modal voice into falsetto, i.e., the edge of full vibration to the vibration of the ligamentous edges of the vocal cords.

Two Octaves Below

The Art of Leonardo Fuks

Sound analysis of Leonardo Fuks' undertone scale

This unique sound sample comes from Leonardo Fuks (courtesy). He sings down to the 5th subharmonic, i.e. he produces a tone that has only one fifth of the frequency of the fundamental of his vocal chords.

The picture shows the spectral analysis of this recording (Overtone Analyzer). From left to right you find the fundamental, then the 1st subharmonic, the 2nd subharmonic and so on until the fifth subharmonic. As you can see, not all perceived tones have a fundamental. The ear only needs a section of the partial tone series to perceive it (residual tone effect). Fuks sings the same fundamental B3 all the time.

Speaking with Vocal Fry

A Recent Habit Of Actors

In speaking voice and classical singing, the effect is usually undesirable. I find strohbass very beneficial and relaxing for the voice. It only works when completely relaxed and is excellent for a quick and gentle warm-up. I have discovered for myself that I produce strohbass in two qualities, a quiet, relaxed one and a louder one where I feel a tension in the larynx. Studies are still pending, but I suspect that in the louder case the positional cartilages play a role (meanwhile confirmed, cf. the video “Strohbass vs. Kargyraa”).

For some American actors, the straw-bass approach to the speaking voice is apparently very popular in interviews:

Natalie Portman Black Swan Interview

The Vocal Fry Epidemic

Vocal fry – new trend among American actresses.

How to Sing Vocal Fry

One achieves this relatively quiet sound when the voice relaxes and begins to creak, which occasionally occurs unintentionally when the voice is tired. The same happens when yodelling, if one slowly goes to the limit of switching the voice into falsetto, i.e. to the limit of the full vibration to the vibration of the ligamentous edges of the vocal cords. The rattling can be cultivated so that the voice virtually locks onto the lower note. This then makes it possible to sing a part an octave below the singing pitch, which is sometimes helpful in choral singing.

Literature & Sources

Quotations in the Text

1.
Fuks, L. PhD Thesis in music acoustics: FROM AIR TO MUSIC - Acoustical, Physiological and Perceptual Aspects of Reed Wind Instrument Playing and Vocal-Ventricular Fold Phonation. (KTH, 1998).

Further Reading

1.
Wolf, N. Young women, give up the vocal fry and reclaim your strong female voice. The Guardian (2015).
1.
Diplophonie. Wikipedia (2014).
1.
Anderson, R. C., Klofstad, C. A., Mayew, W. J. & Venkatachalam, M. Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market. PLoS ONE 9, e97506 (2014).
1.
News TV. ‘Vocal fry’ speaking with Faith Salie. (2013).
1.
The Buzz: Vocal Fry trend. (2012).
1.
Throat Singing by The Gyuto Monks of Tibet • Pure Sounds • Mandala Offering. (2010).
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Tibetan Chant - Heart Sutra. (2010).
1.
Nawka, T. & Wirth, G. Stimmstörungen: für Ärzte, Logopäden, Sprachheilpädagogen und Sprechwissenschaftler ; mit 30 Tabellen. (Dt. Ärzte-Verl., 2008).
1.
Saus, W. & Seimer, A. Strohbass vs. Kargyraa Undertone (Subharmonic) Singing. (2006).
1.
Fuks, L., Hammarberg, B. & Sundberg, J. A self-sustained vocal-ventricular phonation mode: acoustical, aerodynamic and glottographic evidences. KTH TMH-QPSR 3, 49–59 (1998).
1.
Fuks, L. PhD Thesis in music acoustics. (1998).
1.
Fuks, L. PhD Thesis in music acoustics: FROM AIR TO MUSIC - Acoustical, Physiological and Perceptual Aspects of Reed Wind Instrument Playing and Vocal-Ventricular Fold Phonation. (KTH, 1998).
1.
Osborne Head & Neck Institute. Vocal Fry.
1.
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