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The Physics of the Human Voice Essay

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The Physics of the Human Voice


The voice is our primary mean of communication and expression. We rarely last more than a few minutes without its use whether it is talking to someone else or humming quietly to ourselves. We can use the voice artistically in many ways. For example, singing carries the rhythm and melody of speech. It creates patterns of pitch, loudness, and duration that tie together syllables, phrases and sentences. We use the voice for survival, emotion, expression, and to reflect our personality. The loss of the voice is a severe curtailment to many professions. It is affected by general body condition which is why we need to consider the location of the larynx and how that organ produces voice. Surprisingly, this complex biological design is mechanical in function. It is mechanical to the point that when it has been excised from a cadaver and mounted on a laboratory bench, the larynx produces sounds resembling normal phonation. (Titze, Principles)
The larynx, known as the voice box, consists of an outer casing of nine cartilages that are connected to one another by muscles and ligaments. There are three unpaired cartilages and six paired. The unpaired cartilages include the thyroid, cricoid, and epiglottis. The thyroid cartilage is the largest and better known as the Adam’s apple. The cricoid cartilage is the most inferior cartilage of the larynx which forms the base of the larynx on which the other cartilages rest. Together, the thyroid and cricoid cartilages maintain an open passageway for air movement. The epiglottis and vestibular folds, or false vocal chords, prevent swallowed material from moving into the larynx. The paired cartilages, accounting for the remaining six, include the arytenoid (ladl...


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...rynx for speech. Anatomy is very important when considering the physics of the voice. Much of the head, neck, and chest play an important role in sound production. Although the larynx is biological it is very mechanical in function. Mechanical means that we study objects in motion and the associated forces that produce that motion. The same three universal laws made famous by Sir Isaac Newton apply to the voice. The larynx can then become a nonbiological sound source. When compared to other instrument made by human hands the voice is not ideal in structure. Tissues found in the human body do not vibrate as easily or as predictably as the strings of a piano or the reed of a clarinet. One can speculate that our bodies are still evolving to create a sound more conducive in structure. Considering all that we can do with our voices, I doubt we will hear much complaining.


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