Skip to main content
Is the Cure for Vocal Fry as Simple as Telling Someone to Speak Up?

You are listening to The Scope Radio:

Is the Cure for Vocal Fry as Simple as Telling Someone to Speak Up?

Feb 10, 2016
Croaking, creaking, and vocal fry—they’re all different descriptions of a way of talking marked by a low, vibratory sound that often comes at the end of a sentence. You’ve no doubt heard many girls and women, and even some boys and men talking in this manner. Maybe even your own kids. It’s not only bothersome to many people to listen to, but it also can cause vocal fatigue and potentially harm the vocal chords. Speech disorders expert Dr. Katherine Kendall refers to this as a backwards-focused voice. We asked Dr. Kendall if this is a genuine medical condition and if it can be cured.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah specialists and physicians you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: Your child has developed a croaking talking style. Is that something you should be concerned with and can it be fixed? Dr. Katherine Kendall is an expert in speech and swallowing disorders. So I've heard her referred to as croaking, creaking, popcorning or vocal fry. Explain to me what vocal fry is. First of all, can you do a vocal fry for us?

Dr. Kendall: I can't. It would be against my profession to do a vocal fry. I'm not very good at that, but it does involve often using . . .

Interviewer: It kind of sounds like this. Somebody is like, "Oh, so glad to have you guys out here."

Dr. Kendall: Exactly. We refer to that as a backward-focused voice, a deepening of the pitch, it often involves the muscles, not of the true vocal folds, but the ventricular folds, which are located above the true vocal folds. And the vibration of those structures creates that deeper pitch. You often see it in girls, but we also see it in young men and it's really a technique rather than a disorder.

Interviewer: So if you want to do a little more reading on vocal fry it's almost equivalent to Valley Speak in a way.

Dr. Kendall: Absolutely.

Interviewer: It's a way of speaking for a specific purpose that a person speaks whether it's because they want to intimate the Kardashians or there was a New York Times article on how powerful women use it to seem less threatening in boardrooms in the finance industry. But is it a good thing? Is it a bad thing? If your child is doing it, should you stop them?

Dr. Kendall: I think you should stop them.

Interviewer: Yes. From a medical standpoint, not just from a standpoint that it probably drives a lot of parents crazy when they talk like this.

Dr. Kendall: Exactly. And I've actually read other articles that say that people are considered less intelligent when they use this kind of vocal style. So for that reason, also, I think it should be stopped. But I do think that individuals will develop vocal fatigue, it's possible to develop pain with speaking, secondary lesions and muscle tension in the neck that is problematic.

Interviewer: So you've seen these sorts of things. What's going on exactly? It has something to do with not using the voice the way the voice was intended for that particular person.

Dr. Kendall: Exactly. So they're using this style that's not their own, it's not their baseline style. It's a different one that requires muscular contractions that they wouldn't normally do and that's what brings on some of the vocal fatigue that comes with it.

Interviewer: So, as a parent, I don't want my child to do it anymore because of the reasons you expressed and maybe because of other reasons as well. Do you just say, "Stop it"? Do you say, "Just speak up?" Because to me, it sounds like they're just not putting power behind their voice.

Dr. Kendall: That's true, but they need to bring their voice in a forward focus like it's out in front of them. They need to project it, not necessarily squeeze harder to get louder, which is sometimes what people do when they're asked to be louder and they don't change their pitch. They need to bring their pitch up so it's not just loudness but also pitch change. That will usually relieve it. Some people can just be told, "Stop it," and they will, but oftentimes they need voice therapy to help them realize how they're using their voice and help them find their own natural vocal pitch and style.

Interviewer: I'm guessing it's somewhat similar to if you've walked with posture that's not appropriate for long enough, it becomes part of your normal perception of how you should walk and it can take a lot of work to undo some of that stuff. And is that why the professional is needed?

Dr. Kendall: Absolutely, it's like walking with a limp a long time after an injury has healed. You're using your muscles in a way that's automatic and natural that you're not thinking about intentionally and you have to unlearn that pattern and get back to your so-called baseline or normal pattern. It's in your brain, it's there because you've used it since you were born or starting to speak anyway, and it just needs to be reset to that normal pattern.

Interviewer: So if you're a parent, try first of all saying, "Stop it."

Dr. Kendall: That would definitely be my first step. I would say, "Raise your pitch. I want you to use your normal voice when you're talking to me and don't use that vocal fry style." So get them out of it and if they have difficulty, a speech pathologist or a laryngologist can certainly be of help.

Interviewer: And you mentioned vocal fatigue can occur as a result of this. Is that the point you normally see somebody?

Dr. Kendall: Yes, we often see patients coming in complaining of vocal fatigue and their voice giving out at the end of the day, worsening vocal quality. What we will hear from them is this vocal fry style. And it's pretty easy to demonstrate to them that this is not their normal style when we work with a therapist. Oftentimes, the light bulb goes on and they think, "Oh, that's true. I sound differently when I'm using a more natural, easy style." They can feel that too because the muscle tension that they're using to create that vocal style that's deeper and harsher is, like I said, very fatiguing and they can notice a change right away.

Interviewer: If somebody seeks out some professional help, generally how long does it take for them to get better or to change their style of talking?

Dr. Kendall: Well, on the topic of voice use in general, if it's fatiguing and tiring, and basically there is a deterioration of vocal quality, something's not right about how you're speaking. And that should be a sign that, perhaps, an evaluation should be done. Individuals who have voice changes that last for more than two weeks or another group of individuals that should be seen in our clinic and evaluated for voice problems, oftentimes these things can be fixed in a single session of therapy. So there's really a lot of potential for improvement and I don't want to let anyone feel like they have to go on and on with this voice issue without getting an evaluation because it can be very effective to be treated.

Announcer: is University of Utah Health Sciences Radio. If you like what you heard, be sure to get our latest content by following us on Facebook. Just click on the Facebook icon at

More Episodes