There are three basic parts to any instrument. We can illustrate how this relates to the voice by taking an example from a source that's less "internal", like a guitar or trumpet. Here are the three parts of any instrument (with one extra part for the voice, because it's special).
1. The Initiator
This is the part of the instrument that creates the initial disturbance that starts the sound. Any sound that we hear is just a disturbance of air molecules. When the air is disturbed, similar to the smooth surface of a body of water when a pebble is thrown into it, ripples emanate from the original source of the disturbance.
From our examples, the initiator on a guitar would be a finger or pick that plucks or strums the string. On a trumpet, just like in your voice, the initiator is your breath. The initiator is the driving force behind any instrument.
2. The Vibrator
The disturbance created by the initiator is extended by the vibrator. The combination of the initiating force and a surface that vibrates as a result creates that series of waves in the air (like we just talked about with the ripples in the pond).
A guitar's vibrator is the string. When a guitar string is plucked, it's easy to see it vibrating. It's harder to see how your vocal vibrations start, but basically two little muscles in your throat (called the vocalis or thyroarytenoid muscles) come together and vibrate, similar to the way you buzz your lips to play a trumpet.
3. The Resonator
The raw vibration sound is amplified and shaped by the resonator. By itself, the vibrator's sound is not that impressive. But the resonator takes the sound and makes it a nice musical sound.
Guitars (at least acoustic guitars) have a wooden body with a hole beneath the vibrating strings that acts as a resonating chamber. Trumpets have a series of tubes controlled by valves that allow for a longer or shorter resonating space that ends in a bell to project the sound forward. Your voice has resonators above the vocalis muscles, including your larynx, pharynx, oral cavity (mouth), and to a lesser extent, the nasal cavity. When you open up your voice into a vowel sound and extend it, your resonators shape your vocal sound into a musical tone.
4. The Articulator
Unlike any other instrument, the voice has one additional component. At the very end of your vocal mechanism, your tongue, teeth, and lips have the function of an articulator. This allows the voice to form words around the musical tones, otherwise known as singing. The articulators primarily put consonants (not open music tones) around the vowels (open music tones) to create words.
Just knowing these facts won't make you a better singer, but it may help you to understand a little bit more about what happens when you sing. Your voice is an instrument. In fact, it is the original instrument. All other instruments are just imitations of the instrument that God made - your amazing voice!
This is Rick. Rick is a church and local community musician, and the head blogger at Harmony Passion. Rick and his wife Bethany use the knowledge gained by earning college degrees in music to teach voice and piano students in their home studio. Rick enjoys singing in harmony, family time, web development, exercising, watching college football, and studying and teaching the Bible as the youth director at his church.
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