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Usually when going into M2 (aka falsetto), we find a fairly passive, hollow, hooty sound. This is partially because of the mechanism itself and partly because the thyroarytenoid (TA) muscles tend to lose some activation resulting in very low vocal weight, and often we lose closure too. All these features combined lead to the previously described hooty and hollow sound.
Active, strong M2:
However, it is possible and very useful to train our M2 to sound more like M1 and be more full sounding. This is known as mix voice or strong M2.
- Passive M2
- hollow, hooty, dark sound
- very low vocal weight
- generally lower TA muscle activation
- usually less closure, airleaks
- big vocal breaks
- Strong M2
- more full sound
- can be bright or even buzzy
- more consistent TA activation
- higher vocal weight
- balanced closure (not too much or too little)
- no or less sudden vocal break
When we flip into M2 because of a vocal break, we often lose some activation of the thyroarytenoid (TA) muscles. This can also happen in M1, and when in M1 it’s commonly a result of doing pitch slides or humming exercises incorrectly. It can however be a useful tool in modifying certain voice characteristics, such as we will cover in this page.
While TA is a physical muscle, vocal weight is a resulting perceived acoustic quality. Vocal weight can in theory be affected in more ways than just TA activation, so the concept of losing vocal weight to the point of becoming hollow and passive is called vocal weight deactivation to avoid complications.
The TA muscles run the length of the vocal folds and when contracted bulk up the folds, pull the arytenoid cartilages and thyroid cartilage closer together and as a result of this, lower pitch.
More vocal weight activation:
- heavier sound
- more ‘full’ sound
- lower pitch
- more closure (to a small extent)
- very low vocal weight
- a tendency to suddenly jump in vocal weight
- lack of lower pitch range
- very hooty, dark sound
- more M1/M2 break and at a lower pitch if started deactivation in M2
Breath support is a prerequisite of strong M2. Without it, we won’t have the stability to traverse the M1/M2 break. Don’t worry though, it’s fairly easy to achieve.
Start by making the S sound. Start off normal, then add a bit more air pressure to get a louder sound. If the chest and abdomen muscles tense slightly, you have breath support.
All we need to do now is to control it when we’re not doing the S sound, so try on some other sounds like AHH with a relaxed posture and a more supported one like we just did.
Vocal weight activation typically happens because of a few behavioural actions.
- lowering in pitch
- getting heavier
Picture you’re about to yell loudly to someone about 50m away. Now stop and hold that posture and configuration. Notice how you get that breath support and possibly open your mouth wider in readiness to yell. In this configuration, or one like it, we will have a slightly higher level of vocal weight but at a high pitch. In M1 this might be too much and we’d just go really loud and heavy, and probably at a medium to low pitch. In M2, this amount of vocal weight is a lot harder to achieve, so we only get a little out of it for now until we get more coordination.
It may be worth trying phonating in a low volume yell (or “fake yell”) and a medium volume relaxed configuration to note the difference.
Now we are going to go into M2 at for example 300hz, and we’ll start at a very hollow and hooty configuration. We want a fairly dark vowel so let’s use O like in SORT.
It’s important to note that it is possible to add hyperaduction to this if trying too much or trying to get too loud. Usually, when adding hyperaduction the voice will become extremely unstable and break immediately, but it’s good to remember to be careful not to hyperadduct.
Now, remembering the ‘almost yelling’ configuration we had before, we will transition from O to a brighter vowel A as in BAT. This can be called the OOOAAA exercise. We will go from a hollow hooty sound to a brighter, more active sound. It may take a few tries and some experimentation to get it to happen.
We can now test if we have vocal weight and breath support by sliding down in pitch to a note low enough as to definitely not be in M2 such as 150hz. We need to do this very slowly so we can notice any breaks. You might find you lose some weight when sliding down, in which case just try again and stay focused on keeping it consistent.
We can then remove the vowel change from the equation and just go from hollow to active. At the same time, we should try to relax the configuration as much as possible to find our ‘lazy’ configuration.
- I become very unstable
Instability is normal when adding weight to M2, but if it’s also accompanied by a harsh tone or buzziness, or if it stays around when you stop adding TA then it’s probably hyperaduction.
- I break when trying to add TA / weight
It is possible the pitch is too low, going a little higher might help.
- I feel like the tone is strained or I have trouble adding weight
The pitch may be too high. It’s best not to go above 400hz for most people. Hyperadduction tends to be the only way to add fullness above this range until more control is developed.
- I’m at 300hz but I can’t add weight
It could be that more control over weight in general is needed.
- When I come down I drop suddenly in pitch and get very heavy
It could be that your M1 is too high in vocal weight and needs to be trained to be lighter before learning strong M2.
Strong M2 Workshop by Sumi: link on Google Drive
TA muscles in relation to belting (not all information is accurate, but it can explain the sound color difference):