How The Voice Box Works While Singing – Why Do We Even Care?

For many years that I’ve been singing, I never really bothered about what’s going on inside the voice box (also called larynx) as I enjoyed my favorite songs. “What for?”, I thought. I didn’t have to. I was more interested in voice technique and how I sounded than the intricacies of the source, the voice box.

After years of practice, and after many rounds of voice and singing exercises, it finally dawned upon me. How the voice box really works while singing is quite intriguing in some sort.

It would be interesting to know, don’t you think? Let’s take a look.

The Voice Box – Not Actually a Box

Medically speaking, our voice box is called the larynx. I’m sure you’ve heard that term before. In layman’s term, Adam’s apple if you wish. Specialists who study it are called…guess… Laryngologists, tada!! Easy enough. Surprisingly, the larynx isn’t really a box but a tube, and it is located inside our necks.

A slit membranous tissue is housed inside the larynx. They are known as vocal cords, sometimes referred to as vocal folds interchangeably. Without them, we don’t hear each other talk or sing. As simple as that. It’s very much like the lip of a balloon after being inflated. You squeeze the lip of the balloon and letting the air freely pass through the opening making an audible sound.

The high and low pitches are made depending on how tight or lose you stretch it. That’s exactly what happens on the cords inside your larynx when activated. They vibrate as we speak or sing.

A laryngologist would use a scope and insert it inside the mouth, or another type of scope can be inserted through the nasal cavities, to examine it for medical reasons.

We don’t see it often, but we hear it every second, minute, hour and every day as long as we’re alive. It’s there, and it’s constantly and actively working quietly while we talk or sing or even as we cough or whisper.  Watch the video below to see how it works, very interesting.

 

The Voice Box as One Part of Four Compartments To Produce Our Voice

The voice box, when seen from a holistic point of view is part of four compartments – the actuator, the vibrator, the resonators, and the articulators.

If you think about these names, now you begin to have an “aaaahhh moment…”

Both you and I can now appreciate that our voice is the result of two vibrating tissues, the vocal folds that pass through the resonators, and finally to the articulators.

Let us explore a little bit deeper.

 

  • Actuator – It is your breathing technique, your diaphragm, and your lungs and chest. It is what activates the vocal cord to vibrate and creates the sound of your voice.
  • Vibrator – this is the actual vocal cord. More on that later here.
  • Resonators – this is a combination of the larynx, the pharynx, and the oral and nasal cavities. What it does is it amplifies that sound coming from the vocal cords. It resembles the hollow body of the guitar, a stringed instrument, the wooden casing of the piano as examples.
  • Articulators – this is comprised of your tongue and your lips that enunciates the words you’re speaking or singing, most evidently in the articulation of consonants.

How do you ever make an intelligible sound when pronouncing a certain word or consonant if your tongue rests at the wrong spot; behind the lower teeth instead of the upper teeth?

Try it for a second. Say the letter T while your tongue is touching the back of your bottom teeth. You with me?

The Voice Box – Let’s Put It All Together

This all makes it clear, at least to an extent that when we sing, there’s an awareness and appreciation of what’s going on inside there.

Once again, the inhale and exhale thing. This breathing activity is the liability of the actuator. It is the fuel that gives power to our voice. Without air, we are all muted and quiet, evidently. Well, I never thought in that scenario until this writing. Once or twice in my life, maybe. I suppose silence could be a virtue to some people out there at times. I just caught myself grinning when I said that. Oops!

Seriously aside, what an amazing creation. Whoever engineered it is brilliant, I know.

Then, the air passes through the vocal cords or folds. Remember the inflated balloon? As you apply pressure of air, a vibration is produced, and it is the vibration that creates the sound of our voices. I could go on to say that it’s much like the reed piece of a woodwind instrument like the clarinet, saxophone, oboe or bassoon and so on.

Frequency is the speed of vibration and is measured in Herz (wave cycles per second). A frequency of 1 Hertz means one wave cycle per second. The note A above middle C on the piano is 440 Hz, or wave cycle per second.

We don’t pay attention to this detail when we sing, do we? We don’t ever need to. But it’s an added understanding and appreciation of the intricacies and abilities of the voice box as we use it to sing the most beautiful sound our instrument can produce.

 

 

 

Now, the resonator is responsible for amplifying your voice. Basically, the sound that was produced inside your vocal folds resonates in your oral and nasal cavities.

And lastly, the sound has to be articulated in one form or other by using your mouth and your tongue in a language understandable to people who are spoken or sung to.

 

What Have We Learned About Understanding Our Voice Box?

Now that we know how the voice box works, and what they are made of, it is time to get back to practicing, knowing that we have an imaginary friend in there to identify who we are. Without it, our voices could only be confined in our minds and hearts, unable to be shared the beauty to the ones who listen. That would have been very sad.

As I think of it more and more, I realized that with much understanding, it helps me to pay more attention and take meticulous care. They’re very delicate and the only ones I’ve got.

Click here to get more detailed information of the Larynx and the Voice on DVD.

I hope you will have the same appreciation as I do now when you sing your heart out.

If you have any questions and comments, leave them below and I’ll be more than happy to help you out.

If you think this has some value to you or anyone you know, feel free to like or share.

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4 Comments:

  1. Dear Richard,

    Wow, what an amazing and informative post indeed! I thoroughly appreciate the research you must have done to gather and compile so much information.

    You have given me plenty to think about here. This post is so thorough it opened my eyes to all sorts of information I wasn’t aware of!

    Really its mind-blowing to know how larynx works and I praise and wonder on GOD for this. The videos you embedded is very helpful! I am going to share your post with my church choir team and I strongly believe they gonna find great value from your post.

    Much Success!

    Paul

    1. Hi Paul,

      I’m glad you’re finding the article valuable.  It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it?  Those two little white reed-like muscles down our throat can produce enormous sound when amplified.  Opera singers usually don’t even use electronic amplification and it’s still gigantic enough to fill up a whole auditorium full of people. Using just the natural resonance inside the cavities of the skull is miraculous.  The designer is genius, no other name can do that.

      I appreciate it if you can share this article to your choir.  I’ve sung in numerous choirs myself, community and professional choirs.  In fact, I directed choirs myself.  So, there’s so much to learn.  I’d be glad to be of help if any one of them have any questions about singing in general.

      Thank you again for stopping by and I hope to see you here again.

  2. This is a very educational article about our vocal cords actually the whole part of the voice box.

    I knew a bit of how anatomically and physiologically the voice box works, but it certainly made everything much clearer seeing the videos.

    I can even now understand what once happened to my late Mother, over 55 years ago, when she needed an operation to have her thyroid removed and one of her vocal cords got damaged during the operation.

    Her voice changed rapidly and was very low if someone didn’t know her and would have called her by phone, they often would have addressed her as Mr…. because they thought she was a man.

    Years later, the new throat doctor we consulted, explained why her voice has changed, by showing us a picture of something similar. The damaged vocal cord was not vibrating anymore it was just sitting there, so to speak.

    Seeing the videos I could imagine how it would have worked when my Mother would speak, unfortunately, she also loved singing and had a wonderful voice but after the operation, this wasn’t possible anymore.

    Thank you so much for this article and all the information, it also brought some closure to me in what, back then, has happened to my Mother.

    1. Hello Sylvia,

      I’m sorry to hear about your mom. I would probably get devastated when I learn that my thyroid needs surgery.  Inside it is where our delicate instrument and identity (our voice) resides. What I think the reason why her voice became male-like is that another muscle tissue was trying to compensate for the damaged vocal fold to make it thicker like a male voice.  Basically, instead of the thin reed-like tissues (folds) being utilized, the thicker substitute was talking over.  

      I’m glad you found some value to this article.  It’s helping me as well to take care of it, even more, they’re small and delicate.  We only have one pair, that’s it.  Find out here, if you need more information on the larynx.

      Let me know when you have other questions about singing in general.  I’d be happy to help out.

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