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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).
- One of Memorex's "Is it live or is it 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.
- Gaston Lagaffe's dreadful instrument, the Gaffophone.
- Banshee from the X-Men has used this a few times.
- Parodied in the film version of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The fat lady tries to sing high enough to break a glass, when she fails, she just shatters it against her frame:
Fat Lady: It's amazing! And just with my voice!
- In Victor Victoria, Julie Andrews' character does this with the high note at the end of her stage act (her voice also pops a champagne cork).
- In Splash, Madison saying her real name in her native language causes all the TV screens on a department store to shatter.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Roger's glass-breaking "steam whistle" after drinking strong liquor.
- In Shrek the Third Prince Charming shatters the audience members' wine glasses, opera glasses and even pearl necklaces with his girly high-pitched singing during his play.
- Last Action Hero has this in Movie Land when the Lieutenant screaming for Jack Slater causing his windows to break.
- Sean Cassidy, aka Banshee in X-men First Class. Charles points out all the science to Sean.
- Tintin: The villain hires Bianca Castafiore in order to shatter the bulletproof glass holding a model ship he was planning on stealing.
- Invoked and parodied in The Absent Minded Professor: The opening scene features Professor Brainard attempting to demonstrate this with a trumpet and a glass placed on the table. His playing fails to crack the glass but manages to shatter every other glass object in the room, including beakers full of chemicals that fill the room with smoke as the opening credits roll.
- In The Fourth Bear, Judy's scream is so shrill, it makes a nearby flowerpot shatter.
- The key to the murderer's plan in "The Face of Helen" by Agatha Christie.
- The purpose of the screaming clock in The Three Investigators.
- 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 and managed to replicate it. Jamie wasn't able to hold the right note long enough to break the wine crystal, but Adam was, and the metal singer they brought in to give vocal lessons was able to break it without even using any 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.
- In the final scene of one The Wild Wild West episode, Gordon is trying to demonstrate the principle (with a tuning fork and a glass) to the two charming young ladies he and West are about to take out to dinner. He can't get just the right note. One of the girls remarks dismissively, "A tuning fork? Really, Mr. Gordon," and taps the fork herself. She hits it exactly right, and accidentally smashes half or more of the glass objects in the room — all the wine and brandy bottles, for instance.
- 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.
- There was a Spitting Image sketch in which Margaret Thatcher's voice was so high it could shatter the glass in people's spectacles, until she was coached to speak more deeply. (The sketch ended with her sounding like Adolf Hitler.)
- In one episode of The Muppet Show, special guest Ethel Merman shows Miss Piggy and Kermit what note you need to hit to shatter a glass.
Kermit: Did you also double as an air-raid siren during The War?
- A series of newspaper comics had Piggy trying to do it herself. Her first attempt cracked the table.
- Exaggerated in an episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, where Mariah Carey's ultrasonic voice shattered the arena's lights, made nearby dogs suffer and caused Jim Carrey's head to explode.
- Dungeons & Dragons starting from AD&D2 have 'Shatter' spell that breaks fragile objects through sound.
- Willie's special ability in Lego Indiana Jones is to scream, which breaks nearby glass.
- 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 (1987), 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.
- 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".
- In one episode of Tom and Jerry, the pair become sidekicks to a superhero in order to help him with a super-villain crime wave. One such villain is the Maestro, who uses his voice to shatter the glass windows of stores, so he can rob them. The duo foil him by (accidentally) breaking the glass beforehand, so when he tries to do so (not noticing the glass is gone) he quickly becomes out of breath trying to break what isn't there.
- An example not only of glass shattering but bone shattering. After the Russian bombardment of Finnish positions on the Karelian Isthmus in 1939-1940 several dead Finnish soldiers were dug out of pillboxes with no wound except having their skulls imploded by the noise.