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How the Voice Works




When we intend to make a sound or talk an impulse from the brain sends a signal to our vocal cords (folds) to come together.  As the exhaled air passes through the ‘voice box’ (larynx) this causes the folds to vibrate in a wave like fashion.  The speed of the folds in vibration and the size of the folds themselves determine the pitch. That’s why an adult sounds very different to a child. Depending on health, pitch, sex and age the vocal folds open and close between 60 and 1000 times per second. The sound created by the vibrating air becomes sound waves, these are then amplified by the resonating cavities of the vocal tract: the throat, mouth and nose in which they travel through.  The sound is shaped by the oral anatomy: lips, teeth, tongue, throat and soft palate making it the recognisable speech sounds of the language chosen.


Aspects of Voice Production:




The voice should never be separated from the body; it is a part of the body and naturally connected in one way or another. If there is tension in one part it usually affects the quality of the voice.  It is vital that the whole body works in harmony.  Therefore it is vital to reduce muscular tension in any part, especially in and around the neck.  Encourage correct alignment from feet to head to establish the right head, neck, back relationship. A supple body, free of tension, with correct spinal alignment makes speech much better.





Breath is the fuel for the voice. Without breath normal speech cannot happen.  Good breath capacity is necessary to power the voice and support speech right to the end of the sentence.  You will need to be able to manage the breath flow so that you are using sufficient breath pressure to speak.  It is about gauging the right amount of breath so that you don’t take in too much and expel it too soon or not enough that your voice starts to strain before the end of the phrase.


Sometimes when we say ‘take in a deep breath’ the first thing many people do is to expand and raise their chest and narrow their waist, this is actually not a very useful thing as it is actually doing the opposite. As you inhale the ribs expand laterally and front and backwards, a large dome shaped muscle called the diaphragm contracts and lowers/flattens.  This expansion of the thorax enables a good supply of air to be inhaled to power our voice.  Think of the whole of the chest and belly filling with air like a balloon.  As we exhale the abdominal muscles press the rib cage back to the original position as the diaphragm returns to its dome shaped position, expelling air out of the lungs. Good diaphragmatic breathing directs the breath lower in the body to avoid shallow breathing. Building up the breath support requires the correct use of the diaphragm and the muscles of inspiration and exhalation. Balancing the release of muscle tension when you inhale and the application of the support muscles when you exhale will create a well-controlled breath supply for speech.





Sound or phonation is generated in the larynx where the intricate laryngeal parts are activated by air pressure and muscular force to make voiced sounds.  Ordinarily, when the voice is considered, the most prominent feature of the anatomy that springs to mind is the vocal cords (vocal folds).  These elastic fibres made up of tendons, muscles and mucous membrane come together to vibrate in an undulating fashion.  However it is incorrect to think that the vocal folds operate like violin strings to produce sound.  Although their tension, thickness, length and proximity to each other can be varied to alter the sound, it is more a case of air escaping through the vocal folds that result in phonation rather than the vibration of the folds on their own.  Borden and Harris use the example of the ‘raspberry’ sound produced by intra oral pressure and air squeezing through tense lips.  The sound is created by the burst of air acting against the elasticity of the lips.  This is the agreed explanation of how the vocal folds work; as a result of the air against the surface of the folds.  The vibrations that emerge are then amplified and shaped in the resonating chambers.





The tone of voice is determined by the shape and size of the vocal cords and the spaces within the vocal tract.  However it is also determined by choice, confidence, postural consideration and placement. It is important to find a balance in resonance so that the sound is focussed predominantly in the mouth with sufficient nasal and pharyngeal vibrations. Place the voice into the mask of the face for optimum forward placed resonance.


Projecting well relies on good breath use and how we focus and direct the sound. The sound waves are amplified in the resonating cavities of the body.  Like the body of a guitar the sound produced is determined by the shape of the instrument.  Opening up the spaces in the throat, nose and mouth by reducing muscular tension, can improve the quality, tone and strength of the voice. However the whole body can be a vibrating source as the sound buzzes around the body by sympathetic vibrations via bone conduction. Imagine that the sound fills the whole body. 


It is important to focus on the intention behind what you are saying and the desire for your message to reach the audience to channel the voice effectively.  Own your space and feel comfortable there!





Articulation is the placement of the specific parts of the mouth to form recognisable speech sounds, words and sentences we choose. The working organs are shaped or brought together to create vowels and consonants.  It is the precision of these anatomical movements that makes good speech. The way we speak says a lot about our background, where we are from, our education, class and so on.  






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