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"Voice" redirects here. For other uses, see Voice (disambiguation).
File:Human voice spectrogram.jpg

The human voice consists of sound made by a human using the vocal folds for talking, whispering, singing, laughing, crying, screaming, etc. The vocal folds, in combination with the lips, the tongue, the lower jaw, and the palate, are capable of producing highly intricate arrays of sound.

The tone of voice may be modulated to suggest emotions such as anger, surprise, or happiness.

Singers use the human voice as an instrument for creating music.

Voice types and the cords themselves

Main article: Vocal folds

Men and women have different vocal cord sizes; adult male voices are usually lower-pitched and have larger cords. The male vocal cords (which would be measured vertically in the opposite diagram), are between 17 mm and 25 mm in length.[1]

Matching the female body, which on the whole has less muscle than the male, females have smaller cords. The female vocal cords are between 12.5 mm and 17.5 mm in length.[1]

As seen in the illustration, the cords are located just above the trachea (the windpipe which travels from the lungs). Food and drink does not pass through the cords but is instead taken through the esophagus, an unlinked tube. Both tubes are separated by the epiglottis, a "flap" that covers the opening of the trachea while swallowing. When food goes down through the cords and trachea (usually happens when the person inhales while swallowing) it causes aspiration (choking).

Cords in both sexes are ligaments within the larynx. They are attached at the back (side nearest the spinal cord) to the arytenoid cartilages, and at the front (side under the chin) to the thyroid cartilage. Their outer edges, as shown in the illustration, are attached to muscle in the larynx while their inner edges or "margins" are free (the hole). They are constructed from epithelium, but they have a few muscle fibers on them, namely the vocalis muscle which tightens the front part of the ligament near to the thyroid cartilage. They are flat triangular bands and are pearly white in colour—whiter in females than they are in males. Above both sides of the vocal cord (the hole and the ligament itself) is the vestibular fold or false vocal cord, which has a small sac between its two folds (not illustrated).[1]

The difference in vocal cord size between men and women means that they have differently pitched voices. Additionally, genetics also causes variances amongst the same sex, with men and women's singing voices being categorized into types. For example, among men, there are basses, baritones and tenors, and altos, mezzo-sopranos and sopranos among women. There are additional categories for operatic voices, see voice type.

Vocal registration

Main article: Vocal registration

The human voice is capable in most cases of being a complex instrument. Humans have vocal folds which can loosen or tighten or change their thickness and over which breath can be transferred at varying pressures. The shape of chest and neck, the position of the tongue, and the tightness of otherwise unrelated muscles can be altered. Any one of these actions results in a change in pitch, volume, timbre, or tone of the sound produced.

One important categorization that can be applied to the sounds singers make relates to the register or the "voice" that is used. Singers refer to these registers according to the part of the body in which the sound most generally resonates, and which have correspondingly different tonal qualities. There are widely differing opinions and theories about what a register is, how they are produced and how many there are. The distinct change or break between registers is called a passaggio or a ponticello.[2] The following definitions refer to the different ranges of the voice.

Speaking voice (Chest)

Main article: Manner of articulation

The chest voice is the register typically used in everyday speech. The first recorded mention of this register was around the 13th century, when it was distinguished from the throat and the head voice (pectoris, guttoris, capitis -- at this time it is likely head voice referred to the falsetto register, see falsetto article) by the writers Johannes de Garlandia and Jerome of Moravia.[3]

The speaking voice is named as "the chest voice" in the Speech Level Singing method. It is so called because it can produce the sensation of the sound coming from the upper chest. This is because lower frequency sounds have longer wavelengths, and resonate mostly in the larger cavity of the chest. A person uses the chest voice when singing in the majority of his or her lower range.

It was discovered via stroboscope that during ordinary phonation, or speaking in a man that the vocal folds contact with each other completely during each vibration closing the gap between them fully, if just for a small length of time. This closure cuts off the escaping air. When the air pressure in the trachea rises as a result of this closure, the folds are blown apart, while the vocal processes of the arytenoid cartilages remain in apposition. This creates an oval shaped gap between the folds and some air escapes, lowering the pressure inside the trachea. Rhythmic repetition of this movement a certain number of times a second creates a pitched note. This is how the chest voice is created.[3]

The tonal qualities of the chest voice are usually described as being rich or full, but can also be belted or forced to make it sound powerful by shouting or screaming.

Use of overly strong chest voice in the higher registers in an attempt to hit higher notes in the chest can lead to forcing. Forcing can lead consequently to vocal deterioration.[2]


Main article: Falsetto

In falsetto, the vocal folds, or cords when viewed with a stroboscope are seen to be blown apart and a permanent oval orifice is left in the middle between the edges of the two folds through which a certain volume of air escapes continuously as long as the register is engaged (the singer is singing using the voice). The arytenoid cartilages are held in firm apposition in this voice register also. The length or size of the oval orifice or separation between the folds can vary, but it is known to get bigger in size as the pressure of air pushed out is increased.[3]

The folds are made up of elastic and fatty tissue. The folds are covered on the surface by laryngeal mucous membrane which is supported deeper down underneath it by the innermost fibres of the thyro-arytenoid muscle. In falsetto the extreme membranous edges, ie the edges furthest away from the middle of gap between the folds appear to be the only parts vibrating. The mass corresponding to the innermost part of the thyro-arytenoid muscle remains still and motionless.[3]

Some singers feel a sense of muscular relief when they change from chest voice to falsetto.[3]

In women, the falsetto voice refers to the whistle register.

Generally when singers describe their range they exclude the falsetto voice. A classical male singer who routinely sings using the falsetto is called a countertenor. Countertenors tend to count this range. If a singer makes frequent use of their falsetto it may be counted as part of their vocal range.

Head register

Main article: Head register

The head register is used in singing to describe the resonance of singing something feeling to the singer as if it is occurring in their head. It's mentioned in the Speech Level Singing method used in some singing. All voices have a head register, whether bass or soprano.[4] It is not associated with any particular musical pitch, but rather with the resonance of the voice in the head.

Often explanations for the physiological mechanisms behind the head voice alter from voice teacher to voice teacher. This is because, according to Clippinger: "In discussing the head voice it is the purpose to avoid as much as possible the mechanical construction of the instrument".[5]

Influences of the human voice

Main article: Voice projection

The twelve tone musical scale, upon which most of the world's music is based, may have its roots in the sound of the human voice during the course of evolution, according to a study published by the New Scientist. Analysis of recorded speech samples found peaks in acoustic energy that mirrored the distances between notes in the twelve-tone scale.[6]

Voice disorders

Main article: Vocal loading

There are many disorders which affect the human voice; these include speech impediments, and growths and lesions on the vocal folds. Talking improperly for long periods of time causes vocal loading which is stress inflicted on the speech organs. When vocal injury is done, often a ENT specialist may be able to help, but the best treatment is the prevention of injuries through good vocal production.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Page 15, Yehudi Menuhin Music Guides - Voice, Edited by Sir Keith Falkner, ISBN 0-356-09099-X
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 THE NEW GROVE Dictionary of MUSIC & MUSICIANS. Edited by Stanley Sadie, Volume 6. Edmund to Fryklund. ISBN 1-56159-174-2, Copyright Macmillan 1980.
  4. Clippinger, David A. (1917). The Head Voice and Other Problems: Practical Talks on Singing, Page 12, Oliver Ditson Company.
  5. Clippinger, David A. (1917). The Head Voice and Other Problems: Practical Talks on Singing, Page 14, Oliver Ditson Company.

Further reading

  • Puts, D. A., Gaulin, S. J. C., & Verdolini, K. (2006). Dominance and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in human voice pitch. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27: 283-296. Full text

See also

Look up voice, vocal in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
singing may have more about this subject.

External links

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