Understanding How Voice is Produced |  Learning About the Voice Mechanism |  How Breakdowns Result in Voice Disorders

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Key Glossary Terms
Highly specialized structure atop the windpipe responsible for sound production, air passage during breathing and protecting the airway during swallowing

Vocal Folds (also called Vocal Cords)
“Fold-like” soft tissue that is the main vibratory component of the voice box; comprised of a cover (epithelium and superficial lamina propria), vocal ligament (intermediate and deep laminae propria), and body (thyroarytenoid muscle)

Glottis (also called Rima Glottides)
Opening between the two vocal folds; the glottis opens during breathing and closes during swallowing and sound production

Understanding Voice DisordersKnowing how normal voice is produced and the roles the voice box and its parts play in speaking and singing helps patients understand their voice disorders

Voice “As We Know It”

The “spoken word” results from three components of voice production: voiced sound, resonance, and articulation.

  • Voiced sound: The basic sound produced by vocal fold vibration is called “voiced sound.” This is frequently described as a “buzzy” sound. Voiced sound for singing differs significantly from voiced sound for speech.
  • Resonance: Voice sound is amplified and modified by the vocal tract resonators (the throat, mouth cavity, and nasal passages). The resonators produce a person’s recognizable voice.
  • Articulation: The vocal tract articulators (the tongue, soft palate, and lips) modify the voiced sound. The articulators produce recognizable words.
Voice Mechanism

Speaking and singing involve a voice mechanism that is composed of three subsystems. Each subsystem is composed of different parts of the body and has specific roles in voice production.

Three Voice Subsystems
SubsystemVoice OrgansRole in Sound Production
Air pressure systemDiaphragm, chest muscles, ribs, abdominal musclesLungsProvides and regulates air pressure to cause vocal folds to vibrate
Vibratory systemVoice box (larynx)Vocal foldsVocal folds vibrate, changing air pressure to sound waves producing “voiced sound,” frequently described as a “buzzy sound”Varies pitch of sound
Resonating systemVocal tract: throat (pharynx), oral cavity, nasal passagesChanges the “buzzy sound” into a person’s recognizable voice

Key Function of the Voice Box
The key function of the voice box is to open and close the glottis (the space between the two vocal folds).

  • Role in breathing: Open glottis
  • Role in cough reflex: Close, then open glottis
  • Role in swallowing: Close glottis
  • Role in voice: Close glottis and adjust vocal fold tension (plus additional functions for singing)
Key Components of the Voice Box


  • Muscles
  • Nerves
  • Vocal folds
Abnormalities or Changes in the Vibratory System Result in Voice Disorders

Breakdowns can occur in any one or all three subsystems of voice production. This patient education series focuses on voice disorders, specifically breakdowns in the vibratory system.

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