How Does the Voice Work?

Anyone who uses their voice for a living gains something from learning how their instrument works.  It may help with technique or troubleshooting or may simply make a doctor’s visit more easy to understand.

Highlights about voice production and anatomy:

  • Your lungs are you power source, producing the strength of sound
  • Vocal folds (or cords) are part of your larynx, and vibrate to make the air from your lungs vibrate, producing sound
  • Everything above your vocal folds (such as lips, tongue, and sinuses) are resonators, shaping sound and giving it color.


Your voice is powered by your breath. This is the driving force; anything that affects your breath can impact your ability to produce sound.

Asthmatics are particularly aware of this but even non-asthmatics can understand this concept. Take a shallow breath and attempt to shout. Now, take a deeper breath and attempt to shout. It should be easier with a deeper breath. Without enough air to support your sound, the voice falls flat and quiet.

Your lungs must be healthy in order to produce the breath you need. Managing any lung disease properly will improve your voice.

Vibratory Source

Vibration of the true vocal folds (aka “vocal cords”) produces a sound wave in the air from the lungs. The complex anatomy of the vocal folds is designed to produce smooth, even vibrations which will sound pleasant and not hoarse.The epithelium is the outermost layer of the vocal folds. It is thin and moist and resembles the lining on the inside of your cheek. The next layer is the superficial lamina propria (SLP), which is a gelatinous material. Vibrations in this layer are what make sound and loss of SLP results in scarring and hoarseness.The final layer is the vocal ligament. Tension in this structure helps determine the pitch of the sound.

Resonance Source

Resonators add the richness and tone that make the voice musical and give it its individual quality and character. The labeled structures shape the sound and add richness to the voice.

Alterations to resonators (i.e., illness, vocal training, surgery such as tonsillectomy) will have an effect on the resonance and timbre of the voice.

Voice training involves the manipulation of all of these components. For that reason, a good laryngologist should assess and manage all of these as well for the performer.