The Anatomy of the First Musical Instrument – The Human Voice

Vocals Singing

The human voice is one of the most beautiful and versatile instruments of all time. It can create sounds that range from the grunts of prehistoric man to the lovely Gregorian Chants of ancient Rome, to the clarity and articulation of an opera, to modern vocal trends. The unique structure of the human voice is what generates such creativity and distinguishes us from other creatures.

The voice box is comprised of 3 principal organs, the larynx, the vocal folds, and the glottis.

  • The Larynx is located just above the trachea, or windpipe. This organ permits air to pass as we breath, and it stops airflow when we swallow. In men, the larynx is sometimes called the “Adam’s Apple.”
  • The Vocal Folds are two folds of tissue, with three complex organs, which lie horizontally across the larynx. When a person speaks, these folds vibrate as the air passes through them and produces sound waves that make up your voice. The Vocal Folds are commonly referred to as the vocal cords; however, that is not accurate and is misleading.
  • The Glottis, not to be confused with the epiglottis, is located at the opening of the airway and is an opening between the vocal cords when a person is speaking or singing. This organ also functions in conjunction with the larynx to allow air to pass. Please note that the epiglottis is a piece of cartilage that acts as a “trap door.” It closes when we swallow, and its primary function is to block foods and beverages from going down the trachea and into the lungs. Unfortunately, we all know what it’s like to experience something that “went down the wrong pipe.”

According to the website, VoiceFoundation.org, “the ‘spoken word’ results from three components of sound production: voiced sound, resonance, and articulation.”

  • Whispering does not create sound per se, even though a whisper can be heard. It depends on how loud someone is whispering. In any case, when someone whispers, the vocal folds do not vibrate; however, airflow is still passing through them at different frequencies. This process is what makes the “breathy” part of the whisper and is often called unvoiced speech.
  • On the other hand, voiced speech is precisely that, speech that is voiced and heard by others. In voiced speech, air passes through the windpipe, and the vocal folds vibrate. Sometimes singers have a “breathy voice” when they sing, which seems to be very popular in the modern age. This is because the glottis does not close completely. It is for this reason that many professional performers take voice lessons to learn how to sing from their diaphragm and not their throat.
  • The mouth, tongue, nasal passages, teeth, soft palate, and throat also aid the sound and resonance that humans produce when speaking or singing. These parts play critical roles in amplification, annunciation, and they are what give everyone their unique voice.

The human voice is mysterious, and much is yet to be discovered. But, science has revealed that the voice box has many delicate structures that have great significance in creating different forms of vocal communication, especially when it comes to the beauty of singing.