Things Singers Need to Know About Their Voice
Voice box, vocal mechanism and vocal apparatus are terms commonly used to refer to the larynx (“LARE-rinks” literally “throat” in Greek), which is the cartilaginous structure in the neck that houses the vocal folds (A.K.A vocal cords). Unlike other instruments, the voice cannot simply be lifted from its hard case, examined and adjusted
Unlike other instruments, the voice cannot simply be lifted from its hard case, examined and adjusted, fixed, cleaned, and tuned up. Nor can it ever be put away for safekeeping.
In fact, the voice box is not primarily a musical instrument. Its many roles prevent it from ever being at rest. From assisting in swallowing, protecting the airway, and helping to lift heavy objects, to assisting with phonatory functions including sophisticated musical capabilities.
Where is your voice?
Put your fingers on the front of your neck. Can you feel a bump? Your instrument lies directly behind that bump. The bump is made of cartilage and, like an instrument case, is designed to protect the two tiny bands of vibrating tissue we call vocal folds.
The bump tends to stick out more distinctly on men than on women and is commonly referred to as an Adam’s Apple. Its actual name is the thyroid cartilage. Now feel for a steep little dip at the top of the bump called the thyroid notch. Your vocal folds attach just behind and below that thyroid notch.
You may have difficulty when first trying to find the thyroid cartilage. On some female necks, another cartilage protrudes more obviously than the thyroid. This cartilage is the cricoid which actually sits just below the thyroid.
What may further confuse you is that the cricoid cartilage dips slightly in the front and you may mistake this dip to be the thyroid notch. To avoid mistaking the two drag a finger down along the underneath of your chin until you reach the top of the neck. Gently massage until you locate the V-like dip of the thyroid notch.
Thyroid means “shield” in Greek. The tough thyroid cartilage is shaped like a shield and literally shields the vocal folds from impact. The thyroid is the largest cartilage of the voice box or larynx.
How big are your vocal folds?
You may be picturing the vocal folds taking up the entire inside of the neck. Actually, your vocal folds are unbelievably tiny. Adult male vocal folds can span 17-25 mm in length (average 6-9 mm thick) and adult female vocal folds 12.5-17.5 mm (average 5-7 mm thick). To visualize this, draw a “V” across a quarter for a low bass voice, a “V” across a nickel for the average male, and a “V” across a dime for a female with a high soprano.
The vocal folds span your airway, extending horizontally in a “V” just above your windpipe / trachea. You might be surprised to learn that your trachea’s inner diameter is only about 2 cm. So all the air passing in and out of your body not only travels between the vocal folds but also through a pipe that would accommodate little more than your index finger!
Is your voice destined for beautiful singing?
A great voice is a combination of natural born physiology, training, and musical instinct. Aside from the slight length and width variant that generally distinguish a male’s vocal folds from a female’s, all vocal folds are essentially alike.
It’s a person’s ability to coordinate their breath and vocal folds combined with that person’s resonator shapes and sizes, as well as their ability to be musical that factor into a beautiful voice. In other words, if you could somehow exchange your own larynx with your favorite female, your voice may sound slightly different, but still not like her due to your unique oral, nasal, laryngeal and pharyngeal cavities.
Finally, our voices, like every other part of us, are wired up to our brain. Even if you were to have your favorite singer’s exact anatomical structure, but still have your brain controlling the muscular motion, you would not be able to sing exactly like her.