- Simon Chate
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So, how exactly does the voice work?
Well, as we inhale, the diaphragm muscle contracts causing the lungs to expand and air to be drawn into the lungs. As we exhale, the diaphragm will relax and move upward reducing the size of the lungs and causing air to be expelled from the lungs.
This exhaled breath is then forced out along the trachea, and through the vocal folds, which are capable of vibrating at an incredibly fast rate. For voice to exist at all, the vocal folds must vibrate and it is at this point that the vibration of the vocal folds, coupled with the power of the exhaling breath gives rise to the creation of vocal sound.
This sound is then shaped by the manipulation of the various structures along the vocal tract, such as the position of the tongue, and the larynx, etc. The articulators are the cheeks, tongue, teeth and lips and they all contribute to vocal articulation, whereas the sinus, chest, laryngeal and pharyngeal cavities all act as resonating chambers for the voice.
It is through the repetition of exercises, designed specifically to strengthen the larynx and the diaphragm, that the voice is trained. The singer is able to control the muscles in the diaphragm and the vocal tract resulting in increased quality of vocal tone and more power of vocal projection.
The Vocal Folds
Sound occurs as a result of vibration. This is true throughout all of Nature and is evident in a myriad of different forms. The human voice is no exception.
We have all heard of the term “vocal chords”. Current pedagogy, however, describes them as Vocal Folds, due to the malleable nature of their ligament-like structure.
The vocal folds attach to the front of the larynx at the Adam’s Apple (or thyroid cartilage) - and at the rear of the larynx, via the arytenoids, to the crycoid cartilage. Here the folds can come together and move apart, allowing for breathing and sound production.
The primary function of the larynx is to protect the airways and stop food entering into the lungs. The larynx itself is protected in the neck by an increase in muscle, cartilage and bone. The provision of sound is a secondary function of the vocal folds.
The vocal and vestibular folds close during the acts of swallowing, coughing, excreting, giving birth and when pushing or lifting heavy objects etc. This closing is called constriction.
As we can see here, the vocal folds are suspended over the open space of the trachea, where they act as a sort of portal, through which all the air that comes into and goes out from the body must pass.
We can also see the vestibular or false vocal folds which sit just above the delicate vocal folds, protecting them from damage through strain and swallowing. This is where constriction of the voice and the optimum retraction of false folds occurs.
While humans are able to last weeks or more without food, and days or more without water, we can only last a brief few minutes without oxygen from the air.
The Lungs and the Diaphragm
Breath is crucial to the fundamental workings of the voice. Without breath there would be nothing to power the voice, or even to ensure that the vibration of the vocal folds can be heard. Quite simply, the voice cannot exist without the breath.
The Thoracic Diaphragm is a trampoline-like dome-shaped muscle stretched across the abdominal cavity, separating the organs of the chest cavity from those in the lower abdominal cavity. The movement of this muscle allows the lungs to expand and contract during the process of breathing.
The commonly heard phrase “Singing from the diaphragm” means that by expanding the abdomen during inhalation, increasing the rate of contraction in the diaphragm and taking more air into the lungs, the singer is able to provide more power, through increased breath support, and control through strengthening of the diaphragm muscle.
The Sinus Cavities
What follows is a Flash Movie designed to inform the viewer about the intricacies of the sinus cavities. These cavities are found within the bone structure of the face, where they act as acoustic resonating chambers, adding higher frequencies and increasing the brightness and vitality of the sound.
The Sinus cavities are spaces in the skull which have various purposes such as airflow, drainage, etc.
Another important purpose of these cavities is to act as resonators for the voice.
For a detailed look at the Sinuses and how they work, click on the picture below and check out Piper’s page of this great Flash Movie.