Sound is a vibration, which can be transmitted to a physical object, such as glass. If the pitch of the sound matches the natural vibration frequency of the object, and if the volume of the sound is loud enough, then the resulting vibration can cause the object to break. In the case of glass (usually wine crystals), the notes that cause resonance vibration are rather high-pitched.
As a result, shattering glass has become a fictional shorthand for indicating that a sound (often someone singing) is particularly loud or high-pitched. Or to indicate that they're a terrible singer
(an acoustic analogue to Mirror-Cracking Ugly
). (While it's possible to crack glass with the human voice, it's not as easy as just screaming; rather, you have to match the note that the glass makes when struck and create destructive resonance by holding the note long enough. So unless you have perfect pitch and excellent lung power—and don't mind something made of glass exploding in your face
—Do Not Try This at Home
Sometimes coupled with Dramatic Shattering
. Compare Make Me Wanna Shout
, which covers all-purpose (i.e. not limited to brittle materials) sonic attacks. Related to Gale-Force Sound
, which affects things other than glass. Frequently happens at the performances of a Dreadful Musician
or an operatic Brawn Hilda
. It is not, however, an indication that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin
is making an entrance.
- One of Memorex's "Is it real or Memorex?" TV commercials, where Ella Fitzgerald breaks a wine glass by singing a high note... and then replaying the recording of Ella singing also causes glass to shatter.
- One Bud Light commercial has two dudes going to an opera with bottles of the beer. Cue one Brawn Hilda soprano aria...all of the bottles pop. Another dude turns around and shows the other two that they should have brought cans.
- One commercial for Diet Mountain Dew ends with a lady topping her two eagle-tattoo sporting co-workers by letting out a piercing eagle-esque scream and shattering all the glass walls. Then she lets out a smaller eep to destroy the glass vase sitting on the table.
- In the Science Ninja Team Gatchaman episode, "Murder Music," has a scheme of kidnapping a rock band, forcing them to perform special music and then have a special ship with giant speakers that emits that music superloud that can shatter whole buildings and drive people insane.
- The Suite Life of Zack and Cody has a scene where Ms. Martin tries to give London singing lessons. They start with the simple "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do", but once London reaches the last Do, the note shatters a glass on the table in front of them.
- iCarly: There's a video where a girl sings a note so high it shatters one of her mom's really good glasses.
- MythBusters tested this one (explicitly referencing the Memorex commercial with Ella Fitzgerald above) and managed to replicate it. Jamie wasn't able to hold the right note long enough to break the wine crystal (he made the mistake of singing an octave too low), but Adam was, and the metal singer they brought in to give vocal lessons was able to break it without even using any amplification. The show did highlight how difficult the latter feat was, however; even the metal singer (Jaime Vendera) required 20 attempts to break even one glass sans amplification.
- In The Goodies episode "The Stolen Musicians", Cilla Black's voice can not only shatter glass, it can bring down an entire building.
- One time on Get Smart Da Chief went undercover as a singing waiter and used his ability to shatter glass with a high D to break a mook bad guy's glasses, distracting them enough to shoot the bad guy.
- Another time, a Brawn Hilda opera singer is recruited to hit a high note to shatter an unbreakable glass cell holding a captive scientist - when her note breaks all the glass in the vicinity except the booth, she squares her shoulders and just walks right through it.
- In one of the episodes of the Batman series, Batman and Robin get trapped in a glass dome. They break free by making a glass-shattering voice of F sharp above high C.
- The Amanda Show has this when Amanda demonstrates the audience if she can break a wine glass with her voice. All the glass around the studio breaks, but not the wine glass until she just purposely breaks it herself.
- An episode of Bonanza revolved around a man with a glass-shattering voice. The Cartwrights had to protect him after he broke every glass in Virginia City and the enraged beer drinkers came looking for revenge.
- Is presented by Jonathan Creek as a solution to part of the mystery in The Judas Tree
- CSI NY did this in "Not What It Looks Like". A bunch of women dressed as Holly Golightly used a frequency on an iPod to shatter glass counters in a jewelry store so they could make off with the jewels.
- Played with by real-life opera star Renee Fleming on an episode of "The Late Show with David Letterman" where she delivered "The Top Ten Opera Lyrics," giving a demonstration that "As a pro, my voice can shatter stuff." She cheats and smashes the glass on the floor instead, saying, "Close enough!"
- On Supernatural, angels' natural voices tend to shatter all the glass in the vicinity. This is one of the reasons they need human vessels.
- In the Diablo Swing Orchestra's song "Balrog Boogie", there's a sound effect of breaking glass as singer Annlouice Loegdlund hits the high notes in the second verse.
- In Monster Bash, when the Bride of Frankenstein practices her singing, she causes the display to shatter. However, it's unclear if this is due to her appearance or her voice, as neither one is extreme enough to invoke either trope.
- Dungeons & Dragons starting from AD&D2 have 'Shatter' spell that breaks fragile objects through sound.
- xkcd strip 812 averts this trope. The glass is intact, but the water turned into blood. Apparently Physics was upset they were looking for the Higgs Boson and decided to fuck with them.
- In one episode of Strawberry Shortcake's Berry Bitty Adventures, Katie and Sadie's singing is so bad that it cracks Lemon Meringue's mirror, which wasn't even in the same house.
- In one episode of DuckTales, someone brings in a bird whose calls shatter all glass within a very large radius of itself. This becomes a problem for Scrooge when the glass cases he keeps his non-money valuables in shatter too.
- On The Simpsons when Bart's class visited the Springfield PD, Bart lined up about 20 megaphones, turned them all on, and said "Testing" into the first one. This shattered glass for miles around.
- Parodied in another episode where Lisa hitting a high note seems to cause a glass to shatter, only to reveal Homer has shot the glass with a BB gun.
- In one episode of Futurama, Zapp Brannigan's terrible karaoke shatters the "In case of emergency, break glass" glass in front of the button for the escape pods, which was about to be broken anyway by the fleeing "audience."
- In an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine, an opera singer named Alicia Botti sees a mouse in one of the coaches and her scream shatters windows around the dockyard.
- In the Veggie Tales episode "Princess and the Pop Star," Princess' high notes cause one of the band member's glasses to shatter on multiple occasions.
- In one Making Fiends episode, Vendetta's kazoo-playing shatters a mirror.
- One Monster High webisode has Operetta breaking Ghoulia's glasses as well as the glass on the school's windows with a sneeze. Cleo's screaming has also broken windows multiple times.
- In the The Fairly Oddparents episode "Chip Off the Old Chip", a Running Gag involves Timmy's terrible voice winds up breaking some glass, while Chip Skylark's voice makes the glass magically unbreak. When Timmy and Chip wind up switching voices, Timmy now has the ability to fix the glass Chip broke with Timmy's awful voice.
- In The Smurfs, Harmony's playing the triangle at a pitch that makes Brainy's glasses crack in "Smurphony In 'C'", and Denisa's scream that makes the vials in Gargamel's hovel shatter in "Denisa's Greedy Doll".
- The Powerpuff Girls episode "Nuthin' Special" has Buttercup trying to find out what her special power is, only to be matched and one-upped by Blossom and Bubbles. One of them is their "sonic scream," which shatters every glass window in the downtown area. The crowd gathered around seemed to be more interested in this sibling contest than in the collateral damage to the city.
- The Gravity Falls episode "Double Dipper" has a parody of this, when Pacifica sings a high note and shatters a plastic cup.
- Kim Possible uses her painful attempt at a high note to break through a layer of ice in one of Drakken's death traps.
- An episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy has Nazz yodeling, which breaks several objects, including drink glasses, a vase and Ed.