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How Your Voice Works

by | Nov 1, 2022 | Anatomy, Voice

Did you know that the primary function of your voicebox is to help protect your airway? The fact that we can speak and sing with the small folds that act as the final layer of defenses to keep food or other items out of your lungs is really just a happy accident (thanks, evolution!).

The voicebox is also moveable– it slides up and down to help us swallow. Place your fingers around your windpipe and swallow to feel this motion; it goes up first, then down.

The voice is genderless. The size of your voicebox and general vocal timbre is influenced by your body’s hormones (especially during puberty), but there are wide ranges of variance for normal voice production in any biological gender, and the vocal function works the same regardless of biological gender as well.

 

As we look deeper inside the voicebox, we find our vocal folds (also sometimes called vocal cords) — the part that allows us to actually make sound. Remember, these folds come together to close off the windpipe when we swallow, so they can be thought of as a valve. Have you ever pinched the neck of a balloon so it’s nearly closed while you release the air? That whining sound created by the balloon is a fairly exact replica of how the vocal folds make sound, too! If you stretch the opening longer (the edges of the balloon get thinner), the pitch becomes higher. Our vocal folds do the same thing, adjusting to be longer/thinner or shorter/fatter to modulate the pitches we want to produce in speech and singing. Although your voicebox can ascend slightly in your throat while you sing higher, nothing in your body needs to move higher to sing higher notes. In fact, if you feel like you’re “reaching” for a note, that may be extra effort you don’t need! Try to stay neutral in posture to create greater ease.

 
Did you know that your vocal folds have very few nerve endings? This means you can’t really feel what’s happening inside your voicebox! Most of the sensations that singers perceive that help them control their voice are sympathetic vibrations (in the chest, in the “mask”), air pressure, or negative cues such as straining. Vocal injuries can occur without even feeling them. This makes it very important to take any warning signs your body sends you very seriously! Scratching, tickling, and coughing are all signs of vocal strain.

Every voice is unique. This is based on the unique characteristics of each of our individual bodies; everything from your size, hormones, strength, acoustic properties of your resonanting chambers, and even a unique “mucosal wave” that shimmers on your vocal folds influences your personal sound. Imitating other singers can be a useful learning tool, but you should never try to fashion your sound exactly after someone else’s.

Of course, your voicebox is only one part of your vocal apparatus! The voice exists as part of a larger system. Read on in our posts about Breathing for Singing and Body Alignment to put all the pieces together.

If you’re ready to dig deeper and more fully understand how these details influence your sound and your experience of singing, schedule a free consultation. Cardon Voice is here to help you become the singer you dream of becoming.

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