Table of contents
- Vocal Weight
- What is vocal weight?
- How it works
- Lighter Vocal Weight
- Heavier Vocal Weight
- Other Info
- Gender perception of vocal weight
- Generalisations about vocal weight
- Loudness vs vocal weight
Vocal weight is a perceived quality of voice. It describes a heaviness or rumble that is present in most masculine voices. It’s a substantial part of changing the gender of the voice and plays a role in pitch range too. Although it doesn’t directly describe a physical modification, it does allude to one. It can be thought of as an educated guess at the amount of Vocal Fold Vibratory mass or “how much of the vocal folds is moving”.
This is also referred to as:
- OQ/CQ open and closed quotient
- vocal fold vibratory mass
- thickness and thinness of the folds
It is essentially a way of describing the sound quality caused by the amount of mass with which the vocal folds interact. When we have more mass involved in the vibration of the vocal folds, we get a heavier, more rumbly sound. The muscles that control lowering pitch are largely thought to be responsible for this. When we have high vocal weight at a high pitch, it becomes difficult and effortful or even straining because these muscles are fighting against eachother. This means that high pitches that are relaxed are also most likely light in vocal weight. Breathiness - and some other usually undesired features - can hide this, which is why it’s very important to avoid breathiness when training vocal weight.
Under normal circumstances:
- High pitch + heavy vocal weight = tension and effort
- High pitch, relaxed and non-breathy = probably light vocal weight
Sliding up in pitch can encourage ‘belting’ or keeping high vocal weight, so it’s important to stay relaxed and even let the voice transition into M2. Sliding down in pitch tends to release this somewhat, if we do it relaxed and semi-quietly.
For increasing vocal weight, we need to be careful to not go into pressed phonation. Generally the heaviest vocal weight we can do is going to be the lowest note we can do before we go into vocal fry. Lowering pitch tends to increase vocal weight, and so getting heavier often uses downward slides to the lowest note in order to slowly build up vocal weight. Sliding down slightly loudly but without high closure (so, staying normal or slightly breathy) will tend to increase vocal weight. Breathiness can be used provided we don’t rely on it at any point or use it in a speaking voice.
It’s important however to be aware that pitch is not the only way to affect weight. You can isolate it and get low weight at a low pitch for example or high weight at a high pitch. This extra control is very useful - not only does it prevent us from accidentally slipping into another configuration but it allows us to progress faster and expand our range for this aspect more.
Here are some examples of vocal weight in action:
Examples Of Vocal Weight
- vocal weight is a subjective estimate of how much of the vocal folds is vibrating
- heavy vocal weight is more masculine
- light vocal weight is more feminine
- vocal weight is connected to pitch, high pitches should usually be light or else they will be tense, low pitches tend to be heavier
- breathiness, unless we’re making vocal weight heavier, is to be avoided
Exercises for reducing vocal weight / achieving a lighter voice. This is geared toward feminisation vaguely, though how far you take each exercise is up to you!
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There are some behavioural triggers that encourage light vocal weight. One of these is to say “awww” as if talking to a cute puppy. We can then pitch down to where we can speak more comfortably. We need to make sure the pitch is high enough to get lighter weight (200hz or higher, usually) and low enough that we can actually speak.
After saying “awww” 1-3 times we can go into speaking in that configuration, either a passage or just narrating to ourselves.
This exercise is usually very effective if done at the right pitch and in a relaxed way. Unlike pitch slides we don’t have as much of a tendency to keep the weight high accidentally which makes it a very good exercise for if we tend to belt instead of lighten when going to high pitches.
It’s very important to imagine something cute, and get “into the character” of this, or else it won’t work at all.
The Awww Trigger for Light Vocal Weight
Pitch slides are a good way to reduce vocal weight. As we go up in pitch, the folds want to thin and vibrate at a higher rate, which decreases the amount of force and vocal weight involved in phonation. You can use pitch then to induce low vocal weight and then eventually learn to control it independently of pitch.
The exercise itself looks like this:
Pitch Slides for light vocal weight
It can be very useful to bring the low vocal weight configuration down to a low pitch. Usually this is to either get more control over it in general or to access that lower range for low pitch feminine voices.
Bringing Low vocal weight down in pitch
Yawning typically induces lower vocal weight so we can sometimes use this to our advantage. Usually people yawn with low vocal weight and low resonance, so we can use this to see what low vocal weight sounds like for us. Some people have a tendency to abduct (go breathy) so it’s important to be aware of this and reduce the breathiness if there is any.
- yawn down to a low pitch
- reverse the yawn to come back up
- each time, go down to a higher pitch, working your way up to about 220hz or A3
- each time, make sure you check that when you go to higher resonance, it doesn’t go too heavy
Exercises for getting a heavier vocal weight. These are masculinising, but can be applied in any degree to achieve masculine or androgynous vocal weight levels.
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In this exercise we start at a neutral pitch and slide down, layering on progressively heavier vocal weight. It’s important as usual to avoid hyperadduction.
- start at a neutral pitch saying a vowel like “ahh” or “iii”
- let the pitch fall down to the lowest note you can do comfortably
- don’t go into fry; fry sounds like a series of ‘pops’ and is somewhat rough
- you will probably be fairly loud when doing this
- if you go ‘buzzy’ or ‘brassy’, add breathiness; if it reduces the buzziness, then you might have been doing hyperadduction or pressed fry (avoid this)
- slide back up, keeping the volume high
- slide back down again, still keeping the volume high and repeat 1-3 times
Contains information about things like the vocal weight and closure relationship, things to avoid when training and so on.
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Higher vocal weight requires more subglottal pressure, but not more airflow. This can seem a little counter intuitive, but we can increase air pressure without increasing airflow, since that airflow pressure is resisted by the folds. This extra resistance by the folds is what allows them to vibrate with more mass. If the airflow skipped over the folds, then they wouldn’t have the energy to move in the high vocal fold mass configuration.
- more vocal weight requires more pressure but not airflow
- you can get louder without increasing airflow by adding vocal weight and pressure
- pressed phonation (hyperadduction) is another example of adding force to the folds to get a louder sound
Adding more closure, like in yelling (loud at a high pitch) or barking (loud at a low pitch) does not necessarily add weight. Often, we hear more adduction like in hyperadduction as heavier when it’s actually just louder. It’s important to be careful not to assume that because a sound is more buzzy or louder, that it is from vocal weight.
Here’s a list of things that are not vocal weight, although they do affect it marginally in some cases.
- pressed phonation or hyperadduction
- buzziness - many things sound buzzy
- FVF constriction (which can sound buzzy)
- twang, which is a resonance effect
Hyperadduction or pressed phonation can sound similar to vocal weight to a beginner, and so if increasing weight we can accidentally use it instead. Usually this only happens when trying to add weight. Hyperadduction sounds very buzzy, whereas vocal weight is more of rumble quality. Adding more pressure and forcing it through tightly is very bad for the vocal folds.
Breathiness can hide the buzziness effect of a high vocal weight voice and make it harder to hear. This is not lowering vocal weight at all, only making the high vocal weight voice softer. It’s best to avoid breathiness especially in exercises that modify vocal weight.
If we make a habit of using breathiness to hide high vocal weight and talking at a high pitch with that heavy vocal weight for too long, we can make that comfortable to the point that we cannot use normal techniques like pitch slides to reduce weight, as the comfortable thing to do is stay heavy, rather than relax into light vocal weight like most exercises rely on.
Using glottal strikes or medium hard onsets and offsets can help avoid this when doing vocal weight exercises.
- Low vocal weight ➡️ ♀️ more feminine
- High vocal weight ➡️ ♂️ more masculine
There are however, many female voices with medium or even heavy vocal weight relative to typical feminine levels. Some examples include imawonder and 39daph. The important thing that makes this possible is most likely microbehaviours and potentially different ways/mechanisms of affecting the perception of vocal weight.
Even though it’s possible to have a feminine voice with medium or high vocal weight and even at a low pitch, it’s extremely difficult until we have more control.
These are very much generalisations and might not be accurate in everyone’s case. Generally, vocal weight requires more air pressure, but not flow rate.
- When getting louder I drop in pitch and/or don’t add air - heavier weight
- When getting louder I raise in pitch and add air - lighter weight
A lot of people conflate the volume of our speech with vocal weight. Vocal weight is louder, but that doesn’t mean all loud things are high in vocal weight. Yelling or shouting (rather than just speaking loudly) typically induces three things:
- raise in pitch
- increased airflow (and increased closure to balance)
- increased vocal weight
These can be isolated or removed from the equation. You can get loud without going up in pitch, or without increasing airflow or any combination. Some people go quiet when trying to achieve low vocal weight and then never learn control over it properly. It’s important to ‘stretch’ in every direction (within reason) and to avoid relying on something for our voice to work!