What Makes a Voice Sound the Way It Does?
posted by The Ear, Nose and Throat Team | July 15, 2016
It’s always amazing to ponder the sheer diversity in the sounds that can be made with the human voice. There are high voices, deep voices, raspy voices and many others. Have you ever wondered about the biology behind these abilities? It all comes down to the voice box.
The term “voice box” is a bit of a misnomer. The larynx, where vocal sounds are produced, is actually shaped like a tube rather than a box. It is located at the top of your windpipe and manages pitch and volume. Air passes through the larynx and moves over the vocal folds, also known as the vocal cords. These folds open when you breathe and close when you swallow or produce vocal sounds. The folds vibrate as air passes them at a tempo of anywhere from 100 to 1000 vibrations per second.
On their own, your vocal cords would produce just a buzzing noise. Your throat, mouth and nose are what give your voice the rest of its sound. Think of the vocal cords as the reed in a saxophone. The keys and bell of the sax are your mouth, nose and throat. All of these factors determine how a person’s voice sounds. A person with a deep voice has thicker vocal cords and larger cavities for the sound to resonate. A person with a raspy voice may have vocal cords that have nodules or polyps on them.
Our voices change throughout our lives. Sometimes temporary changes, like a case of laryngitis, can cause us to lose the ability to speak for a short period of time. It’s possible to deliberately change the way your voice sounds, but not necessarily healthy over the long term.
One of the most notable voice changes is the one that occurs during puberty. While both males and females go through vocal changes, the changes are far more dramatic in boys and men.
A child’s larynx is very small, and the vocal cords are thin. This makes children’s voices much higher than adults’. As a child, particularly a boy, goes through puberty, his larynx gets larger. The vocal cords lengthen and thicken as well. Facial bones grow, and the cavities in the back of the throat, the nose and in the sinuses get bigger, creating a larger space for vocal sounds to resonate. This all leads, over time, to a lower voice. During the growing period, the body has to adjust. Because of this, you’ll sometimes hear squeaks, voice cracking and tones that go high and low at random. These all stop once the larynx has grown to its adult size.
Some vocal changes, however, can signal problems. If you find your voice suddenly getting more hoarse, for instance, you may have an issue with polyps or even ulcers on your vocal cords.
Throughout our lives, care and good habits are needed to preserve vocal health. Do you have any voice health concerns? Make an appointment with one of our ENT specialists today.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.