Laryngeal Mechanisms – how the voice REALLY works

By | April 2, 2016

Laryngeal mechanisms

The most important first step for any singer is gaining control of the vocal fold vibration. Although resonance and articulation play vital roles in the overall voice quality, the sound is fundamentally produced at the level of the vocal folds.

To REALLY understand what happens when we sing, we need to strip away emotion and
aesthetics and think about the voice as a physical mechanism.

Some of the best vocal research in recent times has been done by Nathalie Henrich PhD. Nathalie has given us a very simple way to understand the voice in terms of what she terms Laryngeal Mechanisms.

Before we discuss the mechanisms, a little explanation of the vocal folds is in order. The vocal folds have a layered structure, a bit like a trifle. But we can simplify this down into two layers – the Cover (cream and custard) and the Body (jelly, sponge and fruit).

These are connected, but behave independently, a little like the skin on the back of your hand, which is taut when you make a fist, loose when the hand is relaxed.

Laryngeal Mechanisms describe how the Body and Cover of the vocal folds vibrate at different pitches and intensity levels.

Nathalie has identified four basic mechanisms:

M0 – where the Body and Cover are both loose.

M1 – where both the Body and Cover vibrate.

M2 – where the Body no longer vibrates (she describes this as a ‘decoupling in the layered structure of the fold’.

M3 – where the the vocal folds are very thin and very tightly stretched and only the Cover vibrates, often with incomplete fold closure.

Personally, I like this ‘scientific’ / non-subjective way of thinking about the voice and it’s something I use a lot in my teaching.

But if you want to understand it in other terms,

M0 is Vocal Fry, Slack folds, Strohbass;
M1 is Modal voice, Thick folds, Heavy, ‘Chest voice’;
M2 is Thin folds, Cry, Light, Loft, ‘Head’ voice (sometimes confusingly called Falsetto)
M3 is Whistle, Stiff folds.

I’m putting this post up so that I can reference it in other posts going forward. I thought it would be a good starting point and one which we can return to as we get into the dark, murky world of ‘registers’!