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What’s in a voice?

November 27, 2012

Take a moment to think about how many different voices you hear in a day. Besides your friends who you talk to, there are the lectures you listen to, the people on the other end of the phone, the strangers you overhear on the bus. Have you even thought about how different all of these voices are and what causes this difference? (Even if you haven’t, I dare you to now!)

We all know that the voice is created when we use our lungs to send a column of air up to the vocal folds, which rhythmically open and close to add vibration to this air, which is then shaped by our vocal tract and articulators into the sounds of our language. However, as we are learning in our voice and resonance class, there is much more to the voice than this simple process. The shape, size, and structure of the vocal folds and vocal tract, as well as the way we habitually form and speak words creates an original voice that we attribute to each speaker. This is all interesting in itself, but a topic that I found even more interesting arose while watching youtube videos with some friends one day.

We happened across a video of an impressionist who amazed us with his impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Morgan Freeman. I then got to thinking about what goes into being able to not only create different voices using your own voice structures, but to be able to match so exactly the voice of someone else.

To get further insight, I spoke with Dr. Jana Rieger, our Resonance professor, and an expert in this area. She explained that to be able to change your voice to match that of someone else requires the ability to manipulate the length and shape of the vocal folds, as well the ability to create the same kind of resonance as them (how and where the sound is radiating out of the pharyngeal, oral and nasal cavities).

She also directed me to the video below. In it, Mel Blanc, an American voice actor famous for his work in voicing many of our favorite Warner Brother’s characters, demonstrates via endoscopy the changes that he is making to his vocal folds and pharynx as he creates each of the different voices. Look carefully at the opening between the folds, and which parts of the folds are moving.

Neat huh! So the next time you are bored standing in line for your coffee, take a close listen to the voices you are hearing around you, and try to imitate them. Not only will you draw some funny looks, but you will also gain a great understand of just what makes each voice unique and how talented voice impressionists really are!

-Adele Courchesne

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