Your voice

The Anatomy of Sound Through You.

Posted Under: Intermediate Music

You should think of your voice as a musical instrument. Like any other acoustic instrument, it has a motor (your breath), a vibrating element (your vocal folds, aka vocal cords), and a resonant chamber (throat, oral cavity, nasal cavity). And just as with any other instrument, proper care and handling is required to maintain its optimal tone and longevity.

Of course, your voice has fundamental differences compared with any other instrument, most notably is that it is part of you and your physiology. What affects your general health can impact the quality of your instrument and your ability to perform. While singing can be the most simple and natural thing in the world, becoming a great vocalist requires the same dedication, study, practice, and discipline necessary to excel at any musical instrument. It starts with a basic understanding of the structures that comprise the vocal instrument, and the mechanics of producing sound.

Voice production begins with your breath. When you inhale, the diaphragm — a large, horizontal muscle below the lungs — lowers, and the lungs expand and fill with air. When you exhale, air is expelled via elastic recoil of the lungs and thoracic cavity, aided by the abdominal muscles. The larynx houses the vocal cords, and as the air rushes through them, the resulting pressure causes them to vibrate hundreds — even thousands — of times per second. The sound this creates is then shaped by your throat, lips, tongue, palate, and jaw to form words and sounds. With healthy individuals, the vocal cords open when we are breathing and close when we are voicing, coughing, or swallowing.

Next to and above the vocal cords are the false vocal cords (ventricular folds). Typically, the false vocal cords don’t vibrate when you’re voicing, but they may come together if you have muscle tension dysphonia, a fairly common condition where excessive muscle tension occurs with voice production.

Like all acoustic instruments, your voice has its own special chambers for resonating tone. Once a tone is produced by the vibrating vocal cords, it resonates in and through these chambers, including the throat, mouth, and nasal cavity. While the area above your nasal cavity (the head) and your chest don’t literally resonate, singers and vocal coaches will often refer to them as resonant chambers. These different chambers are often described as having different colors or timbres, from dark (chest) to bright (head/nasal). The greater command you have of all the colors in the resonant spectrum, the greater your dynamic range of tones, notes, volumes, and sounds.

Head voice: Softer singing primarily occurs in the head voice (head resonance), which feels as if the sound you were producing is resonating in your head.

Nasal (mask) resonance: Nasal resonance is bright and is generally part of any well-balanced tone. Combined with the mouth, this can create a resonance that is placed forward, or in the mask (the front part of your face).

Chest resonance: While not precisely resonating in the chest, the sensation is that this tone emanates from below your throat, providing a rich, dark, deeper tone with power and warmth.

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