Musical Muscles: How we sing

As the first post, let’s start where two of my interests intersect: linguistics and singing! It’s as if today’s daily post: Sing read my mind of where to begin! It’s the science of singing put simply…

Your lungs, throat and mouth make up your very own instrument that allows you to control pitch (whether sounds sound high or low) in a similar way to a guitar or violin.  If your throat and mouth is the ‘body’ of your vocal instrument, then inside the small bump (or adam’s apple) is where your ‘strings’ can be found. In order for stings to produce sound waves that travel to your ear and are heard as notes, they need to move: think of a guitar being plucked or a violin being bowed. When you talk, you pump air upwards through your throat by setting your lungs in motion. As the moving air reaches the muscular ‘strings’ of your throat known as your vocal folds, they start to vibrate. This movement allows us to hear ‘eee’s, ‘aaa’s, ‘mmm’s and similar sounds. In normal speech, your ‘muscular strings’  vibrate randomly at varying speeds. When you transform your talk into tunes, you regulate the vibrations of your vocal folds to constant speeds. Faster vibrations are heard as higher pitches and slower vibrations are heard as lower pitches. Flapping your folds at the same frequency  means that the sound you make can be recognised as a musical note. That means melodies can be made when the speed of vibration is alternated abruptly in time to a rhtyhm.

To sum up: Your lungs, throat and mouth can be played like an instrument when your muscular ‘strings’ move at the same speed for a long enough that musical notes can be heard. Wow.



The science (References):

Catford, J. (2001). A Practical Introduction to Phonetics. 2nd Ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kadmon, N. (2000). Some Basics of the Phonology of Prosody. In Formal Pragmatics. Oxford: Blackwell.228-249.