How Does The Voice Work? Understanding Your Instrument

So you want to change your voice but not sure where to start. You can start with any number of free resources out there on the internet. BUT before you go down a rabbit-hole of YouTube videos, let’s start by understanding how the voice works. You’ll be inundated with valuable info when working with a voice clinician, but none of it is useful if it doesn’t make any sense to you. 

“Manipulate your articulators!”

“Lower the soft palate.” 

“Create length in your pharyngeal space.” 

What are you even talking about? Exactly.

1) The Source of Voice

To produce the sound that we know as ‘voice’ we have to start with a power source. The power source for our voice is our breath. So any good vocal practice will incorporate some deep breathwork. So start right now, by taking in a deep voluminous breath and let it out slowly. That’s the power behind your voice.

Breath is what inspires the vibration of the vocal folds. The vocal folds are blown apart by the breath and paired with a lowered air pressure to be brought back together (Bernoulli Effect) and put into rapid vibration. That vibration is what produces sound. The vibrations are so rapid that if you were to look at a pair of vocal folds vibrating you’d have to use Video Stroboscopy to catch the actual wave of vibration that produces voice.

2) Shaping Sound

That sound, the voice, then travels up the throat and bounces off the different parts of your oral cavity creating sounds. And as you speak you shape sounds that pair together to produce words, phrases, and sentences. Ta-da! Communication simplified. The throat and all the parts of your mouth that create sounds that we know as language are called your resonators. 

Imagine if you will, a bunch of people lined up, with their head and necks removed. Morbid, I know. If all those people with no heads and no necks were to blow air out and put their vocal folds into vibrations they would all produce the same white noise. Because the air has nothing to reverberate off of. So now add the neck and head back on to these poor headless humans. Imagine they are all different genders with throat spaces that have varying lengths and widths. Depending on how much or little space there is in the throat starts to determine how the sound will be perceived by the listener. 

3) Masculine vs Feminine Sound

A big, thick neck will produce a big, brassy and dark sound. Typically perceived as being more masculine. A small, narrow neck will produce a thin, vibrant and light sound. Typically perceived as being more feminine.

So throat space, or vocal tract, acts as a filter for the sound and creates different pitches and harmonics depending on the size, shape, and length! 

Is this starting to make sense?

Your vocal tract, pharyngeal cavity or throat is the first resonator. So learning to manipulate that space to be larger, wider, smaller or narrower is the first step to manipulating your voice. Then that sound travels into the oral cavity, or mouth, where it is shaped further into sounds by your articulators. The articulators are the tongue, lips, cheeks, teeth, hard palate and soft palate. These articulators move around rapidly with precision to create a string of sounds that we, as listeners, know as language. 

4) Vowel Play

Within the language that we produce, to dive even deeper, we have a variety of vowels. Depending on the language you speak, you may have more or less vowels. In English we have five vowels A, E, I, O, U. Alright, let’s not leave out the sixth one, Y. Go ahead and take in another voluminous breath and start to slowly chant the vowels and really pay attention and NOTICE your mouth shaping these sounds and where they bounce off of. Do you feel how high and forward the ‘e’ is compared to the ‘o’ sound? 

Vowels move sound all around your mouth. So don’t be surprised when you hear that variability in your pitch and resonance when speaking.

Finally, let us do one exercise to highlight how our articulators shape sound in our mouths. Start by taking a deep breath and say the sound “eee” softly and steadily. Notice where the sound happens in the oral cavity. It should feel high and forward. Now take another deep breath and say the sound “aww” softly and steadily. Notice where the sound happens in the oral cavity. It should feel low and back. Now contrast both of those sounds a few times and notice how the vowels elevate or lower your pitch. Paying attention to that kind of detail can help the process of feminizing the voice.


I send out blogs like this regularly, offering my expertise and useful tips related to all things voice and identity to help you feel comfortable while unlocking your authentic voice.

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