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Mechanics of Voice Production
The part of the body that is responsible for singing and speaking is the larynx or the voice box. Singing, however, requires the use of other body parts apart from the voice box. Singers are able to create sound by the use of abdominal muscles, back muscles, the oral cavity, the lib cage and lungs among others (Blitzer, Brin & Ramig 2009).
Medically, the vocal cords are known as the vocal folds, which are membranes that normally snap open while one is singing, making noises, or speaking. The vocal folds consist of five layers of tissues. The deepest of them is the vocalis or thyroarytenoid muscle, followed by the deep and intermediate layers of the lamina propria that form the vocal ligaments (O'connor 2011). Overlying is the superficial layer of lamina propria - a gelatinous matrix, which permits the last layer, epithelium, to slide over the vocal ligament during phonation.
When air pressure is building up against these vocal folds, the folds snap together and create a sound. When these folds are snapped gently, less airflows from the lungs are used causing the vocal cords to blow apart to a less degree, a soft sound is usually heard. Actually, when the folds snap forcefully, the airflow from the lungs increases substantially creating a greater force in the airstream from the lungs, the epithelium opens wider and forces air past them (Lion's Voice Clinic 2012). This much air release results to a loud voice. The use of excess force is referred to as laryngeal hyper function. Therefore, a forceful closure of the vocal folds may result to vocal fold trauma causing tearing of folds, swelling, hemorrhages, polyps, nodule masses, or cysts. An optimal balance between airflow forces and glottal resistance is important. The quicker the opening and the closing of the cords, the higher the subsequent pitch.
However, there are “false” vocal folds that just sit above the true vocal cords, which work is to prevent food or drinking from entering the trachea when one is swallowing. As a result, these folds play no role in an individual’s speaking or singing.
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When a person starts singing, the first thing that happens is breathing. Breathing helps the larynx muscles to bring the vocal cords together (Heman-Ackah 2006). Consequently, the vocal cords stay closed until enough pressure is build up and a rush of air escapes through the cords.
Unlike instruments that produce sound by vibration, human beings produce sound by the pressure changes created when small amounts of air pass through some moving vocal cords. When an individual runs out of breath, the vocal cords are drawn together and no sound is produced (Davis 2007). In order to make good singing, one is supposed to practice breath control since it is like the engine that makes the singing machinery to function well. Moreover, when a swelling from incorrect singing, smoking interrupts this gradual opening and closing of the folds or small lesions, which cause hoarseness, the quality of the voice is altered and becomes bad (Haston 2007).
If a singer develops small spaces between the vocal folds that may be because of a mild vocal fold weakness, masses like nodules, cyst or polyps, vocal fold scars or swelling, there could be escape of air in the phonatory cycle and the vocal folds epithelium may not be in a position to close completely. Furthermore, an incomplete vocal fold closure forces a need of more energy to produce higher airflows from the lungs to increase volume and maintain phonation. This need of more energy results to a greater susceptibility to fatigue. The effect is also seen in the lungs thus producing a softer sounding voice (Seleshanko 2007). Many singers with incomplete glottis closure tend to compensate by recruiting the accessory muscles of phonation making them suffer from the consequences of laryngeal hyper function and those effects associated with incomplete closure. Likewise, this tendency leads to voice fatigue and largely, a serious vocal fold injury.
Anatomy and Physiology of the Voice
Resonance and mplification
Voice production practically involves all systems of the body. It begins with breathing where the volume of the lungs expands and air rushes out to fill the space. Therefore, the resonance chamber and voice amplifier is the vocal tract that includes the pharynx, the palate, the tongue, and the mouth, the back of the nose, the sinuses, as well as the head. When sound leaves the vocal folds, there are waves that bounce back and forth against the walls of the vocal tract (Blitzer, Brin & Ramig 2009).
Sound gains energy in the areas amplified by the specific shape of the vocal tract when it vibrates in the vocal tract. Sound, on the other hand, loses energy in the areas that are dulled by the form of the vocal tract. Since the individual’s shape of the pharynx, oral cavity, the head, and nasopharynx are different, intensification of the fundamental frequency occurs differently and in different degrees from one individual to the other (Davis 2007). The harmonic frequencies are the ones that give a “ring” to each voice allowing us to differentiate the sound of one individual to another. Harmonic frequencies with the highest energy are referred to as formant frequencies. However, one can change the shape of the vocal tract by changing the position of the tongue, the position of the uvula, the shape of the pharynx changing the characteristics of the harmonics and formants hence achieving a projection.
A more open mouth and an oral cavity achieve greater amplification of the voice. To achieve this, one is supposed to optimize the best locus of his or her tongue and its base, the palate, the jawbone and the lips. A correct neck position, that is, a neutral position of the head, and a straight spine, produces a straighter vocal tract and enhances resonance and projection (Chete 2011). The uvula’s and the palate elevation help in opening the vocal tract at the back of the oral cavity sealing the nasopharynx and minimizing hyper nasality. When the tongue base is relaxed and the tip of the tongue placed in a forward position, the oral cavity lengthens, and the tongue base widens creating a longer and greater amplification diameter (Greater Baltimore Medical Centre 2010).
Airflow and Breathing
In vocal production, airflow involves a complex relationship between the lungs, the abdomen, the back, the chest, the hips, the legs together with other body structures.
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For the fundamental functioning of the voice, breathing is crucial. The breath empowers the voice and makes sure that the vocal folds vibration can be heard. In simple terms, voice cannot exist without the breath.
The lungs have the capability of expanding in all three dimensions, the greatest excursion area being down. The lungs situation is in the chest cavity and is separated from the abdomen by the diaphragm (Lion's Voice Clinic 2012). They are encased by the ribs on all sides, which limit their outward expansion leaving the great expansion room on the down part that is towards the abdomen. The diaphragm moves down with inhalation and moves up on exhalation. The contraction of the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles relaxation causes the siphoning of more air into the lungs during breathing (Phillips 2003).
In voice production, there is a greater control of air flowing from the lungs. By expanding the abdomen during breathing, there is an increase of the rate of contracting in the diaphragm hence more air into the lungs. In this, the singer is capable of providing more power through the support of an increased breath and has control through the strengthening of the diaphragm muscle (Lion's Voice Clinic 2012).
Lung diseases such as asthma and chronic pulmonary disease resulting from smoking can limit lung function (Vendera 2007). In these cases, the lungs are capable of inhaling the same amount of air as normal, but the force produced during inhalation decrease due to a limited recoiling inside the lungs.
Obstructive lung diseases like emphysema, obesity, and some effects of broken ribs llimit the amount of air in the lungs thus limiting the amount of air the lungs can exhale. For this reason, these infections affect a person’s airflow and control of it during singing. Injuries can prompt vocal fatigue and cause decreased vocal projection.
The abdomen helps to produce a suction effect on the diaphragm when breathing. The abdomen consists of the external and internal oblique, the transverse abdominus, and the rectus abdominus muscles. A sustained abdominal contraction during exhalation helps to control the airflow from the lungs in the course of breathing and phonation (Vendera 2007).
Abdominal surgery weakens the cut muscles and hence the knowledge of the abdominal anatomy is critical for a voice professional considering an abdominal surgery. As a matter of fact, recuperation and strengthening of weakened muscles before resuming to a normal vocal routine is vital for the proficient voice user.
The main function of the back is to support the abdomen and maintain balance. However, for the abdomen to support breathing, the support of the back muscles is crucial in support of its contraction efforts (Hatscheck 2012). A greater force is created when the back offers a continued support to pressures within the stomach.
Ways to Maintain Vocal Health
Plenty of Rest
A singer must know the amount of sleep he or she needs to function best. He or she should then keep a regular sleep schedule according to his or her needs (Peckham 2010). Resting the voice when possible is important and an unwinding time is essential to help one renew the lost energy that will be needed to another singing. It is important not to wait until one burns out to schedule for a downtime away from some stressful work.
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For the well-functioning of one’s voice, drinking plenty of water is important since the vocal cords should be well lubricated in order to vibrate with the little amount of friction. A well-hydrated body is capable of flushing out germs that cause throat infections. The water should be taken before a feeling of thirst strikes.
Singing can be physically involving, and maintenance of good health is important to successful singing. Regular exercise helps the singer to stay fit physically and mentally and increases one’s energy (Smolover & Bertoli 2006). Since a singer’s body is his or her instrument, any effort to improve its health eventually shows in the strength of the voice.
Smoking causes emphysema, and mouth and vocal tract cancer, which are of great negative effect to the functioning of the lungs and the throat. Similarly, chemicals from smoke cause irritation of the vocal tract membrane forcing the body to compensate this with secretions. The throat clearing further causes irritation, which is serious for one with a singing career (Peckham 2010). Smoking aggravates reflux, causing inflammation. Singers with this condition react to some foods and drinks, which can affect their singing by causing reflux laryngitis.
Do Not Sing if it Hurts
It is essential for singers to listen to their bodies when they feel some discomfort. When tired, it is of necessity to rest the voice and see also a qualified laryngologist in case of more than a simple cold (Klickstein 2009). A doctor should diagnose any suspected health problem.
After all, voice production is the result of the relationship between airflow, resonance, and amplification. In conclusion, knowledge about the physiology of voice production and the anatomy of the organs involved is the base to understanding the care and maintenance needed on one’s voice throughout his or her career.
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