Frequently when we work with clients, whether this be in a workshop or a one-on-one session with individuals who aren’t professional voice users, we often find that those without formal vocal training don’t have the technical knowledge around how your voice actually, physically works. We want to demystify some of the many facets behind how your voice works, to give you a stronger understanding of how your body operates, but also so you can start to gain a bit more control over your own sound.
The human voice is one of our primary forms of communication that we use to speak and sing, so how does it work?
First, let’s break down the important parts of your voice.
Vocal cords: The vocal cords (also known as vocal folds) are made up of two very tiny bands of muscle and elastic tissue. When we say tiny, we mean it! The length of your vocal folds is probably somewhere between the diameter of a dime or a quarter depending on your body.
Larynx: You may know this as your “voice box”. Your larynx is the home for your vocal folds and it is also a suspension system, so it is meant to move around! It also sits on top of your trachea.
Trachea: You may know this as your “windpipe”.
Lungs: This is the tissue that brings air in and out of your body so you can breathe! We will go into the details around how breath affects your voice in our next post.
Vocal tract: This is where the sound waves your vocal cords create travel through to become the sounds we hear in the world. Your resonance tract can be best thought of as anywhere air touches or moves through as sound leaves your body. This includes your pharynx (back of your throat), nasal and oral cavities.
So how do all of these parts work together?
When you go to speak or sing, air travels from your lungs, through the trachea and, as it passes through your larynx, your vocal cords will suction together creating air pressure below your vocal cords. This process is also known as the Bernoulli effect (which, interestingly enough, is the same principle that allows airplanes to fly). Because of that air pressure, your vocal cords then create vibrations (sound waves) that travel through your resonance tract that then produce sound.
Now that we’ve walked through the physical ways in which a sound is created and leaves your lungs to become heard in the world, we can move on to another important question: how do you change your sound?
There are a lot of vocal tools that you have at your disposal, but for today we’re going to start with pitch, resonance, and words.
When you go higher in pitch, your vocal cords get longer and skinnier and vibrate faster. When you go lower in pitch, your vocal cords get shorter and chubbier and vibrate slower. To help illustrate what this all looks like, imagine taking a rubber band and pulling it taut and plucking it. The sound that comes out is going to be a higher pitch. Now relax the stretch on that rubber band and pluck it again. The pitch will have lowered.
(Fun fact: your vocal cords stretch back to front, not up and down. So, a higher pitch occurs when your vocal cords have gotten longer and stretched horizontally, not because they have moved up in your throat.)
Another way you can change your sound is through resonance and how you shape your vocal tract. That means that the shape of our tongues, lips, sinuses and jaw will also impact your sound. This is why each of our voices are so unique! Our bodies are different, and therefore so are our sounds - which provides us all with our own unique vocal brand (those hallmark sounds that identify our voices to listeners!). *If you want to learn more about your vocal brand, check out our series on Vocal Branding.
The final way we will discuss how you can change your sound is through words! Let's start with how we make words. We use our tongue, jaw, lips, and teeth to create vowels and consonants. For example, to say the letter “t”, the tip of your tongue touches the back of your upper teeth and to create the vowel sound “ah” your tongue lies flat on the base of your mouth.
As you can see, there are many parts involved in the human voice. To continue breaking down how things physically work, we will be following up with posts on how breath, resonance and energy work in your body and to support your voice.
If you have any questions along the way, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com. And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to be notified when we post the next blog in our series!