Your Voice & How it Works

Anatomy: Parts of the Voice

  • Larynx (pronounced LAIR-inx, not LAHR-nix)
    The larynx is the voice box. The vocal folds (also called vocal cords) are part of the larynx. The vocal folds vibrate to create the sound of the voice.
  • Pharynx (pronounced FAIR-inx)
    The pharynx is the throat. It goes up from the larynx and divides into the laryngopharynx (just above the larynx), oropharynx (going into the mouth) and nasopharynx (going into the nose).
  • Trachea (pronounced TRAY-key-ah)
    The trachea is your windpipe. It's the tube that connects your lungs to your throat. The larynx sits on the top of the trachea.

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Figure 1: Notice we didn’t label the brain.  Of course the brain is crucial for voice production, even for sopranos (yes, that was a joke!).  See The Role of the Nervous System.  

Some other nearby organs:

  • Esophagus
    The esophagus is your food pipe. It's just behind the larynx and trachea. Your pharynx carries both air and food/water. The air goes through the larynx and trachea, and food and water go into your esophagus.
  • Spinal column
    The spinal column is behind the esophagus. You can feel it by pressing the back of your neck.
  • Diaphragm
    The diaphragm is underneath the lungs, inside the rib cage. It's shaped like a dome. The diaphragm is your main muscle for controlling respiration (breathing).

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Figure 2

For Your Information

Vocal FOLDS or Vocal CORDS?

You've probably heard the term "vocal cords" used to describe the part of the body that creates sound for the voice. You've probably also heard the term "vocal folds" in the same context. So what's the difference between the two? Well . . .

Vocal folds are the same as vocal cords. The two terms refer to the exact same part of the body performing the exact same functions. The term "vocal cords" is less technically correct but more often used among singers and laypersons.

Why, then, do voice scientists and otolaryngologists refer to them as vocal folds? If you refer to Anatomy: "Structure of the Vocal Folds" you'll see that years ago, vocal folds were thought of as being two cords stretched across the airway, like strings on a piano (hence the term "cords"). Now we know that vocal folds are multilayered folds of tissue that are continuous with other tissues in the throat. Therefore, vocal "folds" is a more accurate term, but it's OK with us if you call them vocal cords. Just don't get confused and call them vocal "chords!"