The Human Voice

Jan 10, 2020 | Sound

How are guitar strings and the human voice similar? Here’s a hint: both rely on vibrations to make sound. Complete this lesson to learn how the human voice is produced in the larynx using air and vibrations.

Your Instrument

What’s your favorite song? To sing along to your favorite song or just say hello to friends you have to use your voice. But what exactly is a voice and where does it come from? Just like a guitar or violin uses vibrating, or quickly moving, strings to make music, humans use vibrating body parts to make sounds.

Larynx

Take a deep breath in. You just filled your lungs with air. As you breathe out, that air travels back up your windpipe, also called the trachea, the tube-like passageway in your throat for air.

The box-shaped area at the top of your windpipe is called the larynx. The larynx is nicknamed the voice box because it holds the body parts that help us speak. So you could say that the larynx is the source of your voice. Have you ever noticed the small bump on the front part of your throat below your chin? That is your larynx.

Vocal Cords

Vocal cords are two very thin bands of muscle that are stretched across the inside of the larynx. When we breathe in, the vocal cords open to let air pass through the larynx, into the trachea, and down to the lungs.

When we breathe out and want to talk, the vocal cords close. Air from the lungs trying to pass by the closed vocal cords causes them to vibrate, which makes sound. Hum a little bit of your favorite song and touch your larynx. Can you feel the vibrations?

To play the guitar, you use your fingers to make the strings move. To speak, you use air to make your vocal cords move. It’s kind of like having a built-in instrument!

Changing Sounds

When we relax the muscles in our arms, they feel very long and loose. If the vocal cords are relaxed when air passes by, the sound they produce is very low and deep. Try saying ‘hello’ in your deepest voice. If the vocal cords are short and tight, like when you flex the muscles in your arms, the sound they make is very high pitched. Try saying ‘goodbye’ in your highest voice. Although we don’t even have to think about it, when we want to make different sounds we flex or relax our vocal cord muscles in different ways.

Men’s vocal cords are usually longer and thicker than women’s. That is why men’s voices are naturally deeper and lower than women’s.

Relaxing and tightening the vocal cords isn’t the only way to change how our voices sound. Moving your jaw, teeth, and tongue also changes the sounds that you make. All of the words we say start out as the same vibrations in our vocal cords. Changing the shape of our mouths lets us form different words.

Lesson Summary

The larynx (aka voice box), located at the top of the trachea (the passageway in your throat for air), is the source of a human’s voice. Two very thin bands of muscle found in the larynx called vocal cords vibrate when air passes by them, making a sound. Men’s vocal cords are usually longer and thicker than women’s, making their voices naturally deeper and lower than women’s. You can change the way your voice sounds by relaxing or tightening the vocal cords; moving your jaw, teeth, and tongue; and changing the shape of your mouth.

What is Timbre in Music?
What is Echolocation?