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Lalalala! A Look Behind the Scenes of Singing

April 14, 2011

Singing lessons are like body building for your larynx

~Bernadette Peters


“Singers can produce great varieties of vocal quality, pitch, and intensity, despite the fact that they have only one pair of vocal folds as their sound generators. Comprehensive study of the anatomy and physiology of the vocal folds and the muscles that control them reveals that humans exhibit remarkably complex control over the characteristics of their vocal folds. Alterations in the length, stiffness, shape, and other characteristics combine with changes in air flow, resonance, and other activities to permit such extraordinary diversity” (Hirano, 1988).

About the Video

The following video captures the vocal folds of a professional singer in action!  The video was taken using laryngoscopy, a procedure that is used to get a view of the vocal folds and glottis. The procedure involves inserting a laryngoscope  into a person’s mouth and then part way down their throat to where the top of the larynx and vocal folds are visible. From there the person can be instructed to make a variety of sounds, or simply breathe as the clinician observes the vocal folds and can determine if they are functioning properly.

What am I looking at exactly?

For those who are unfamiliar with the anatomy of the larynx the vocal folds are the two white strips of tissue that come together and vibrate against one another. This is what creates voice! What makes the vocal folds vibrate is a combination of being brought close together by muscles of larynx and being set into motion by the airstream from the lungs. When we inhale or exhale without voice, the vocal folds move away from each other to allow air to freely flow into our lungs. Watch the video to see this happen and see if you can spot the top of trachea (tube to the lungs) below the vocal folds.

Another structure you might see is the epiglottis, which is the pink U-shaped flap of tissue at the bottom of the screen. The epiglottis plays an important role in protecting us from choking or as Dad used to say “having food go down the wrong pipe”. It does this by folding over the larynx when we swallow; keeping food on its course down the esophagus and not into our lungs.  You will also be able to see the structures of the throat that surround the larynx. Watch how they move as the singer adjusts his pitch up and down.

Now that you know what you a looking at, take a look at the video to see if you can spot the structures and how they move to create a changing pitch!


Hirano, M. (1988).Vocal mechanisms in singing: Laryngological and phoniatric aspects. Journal of Voice. (Vol. 2, Issue 1, Pages 51-69)


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