Voice Academy Glossary

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Abduct: To spread apart or separate. The paired vocal folds abduct when we breathe in to allow air to go into the lungs.

Absorption: The amount of reflection as sound strikes a surface. In the classroom, a carpeted floor absorbs more sound than a hard, tile floor, and thus, numerically, the covered floor has a higher absorption rate than a hard-surfaced area.

Adduct: To bring together. Humans adduct the paired vocal folds upon expiration to produce voiced sound. (An easy way to remember the difference between abduction and adduction is this: The first syllable of adduction is "add," or putting two things together).

Adenoids: Spongy tissue located in the nasopharyngeal area. Overly enlarged adenoids often cause individuals to breathe through the mouth rather than the nose, losing the benefits of warmth and moistness obtained through nose breathing.

Allergy: A person's reaction to a specific irritant. Often, an allergic reaction produces swelling of the mucous membranes in the nose and mouth, which may interfere with vocalization.

Amplitude: Scientific explanation for amount of vibration in a sound pressure wave, used synonymously with degree of softness or loudness.

Articulation: The shaping of the lips, teeth and other structures to make words from the basic buzzing sound produced in the larynx.

Articulators: Moveable and non-moveable structures that shape sounds into words; six are primary (tongue, teeth, lips, hard palate, soft palate and alveolar ridge), and two are secondary (jaw and cheeks).

Alto: In singing, lowest of the female range.

Alveoli: Tiny air sacs within the lungs; the site for exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

Amplitude: Maximum movement away from equilibrium in a sound wave. In simple usage, amplitude is synonymous with volume or loudness of a sound.

Anterior: Anatomical direction meaning toward the front.

Anterior commissure: The point at the front of the larynx where the vocal folds join.

Aphonia: An inability to vibrate the vocal folds, and thus, no voice is made.

Arthritis: An inflammation of joints within the body. When the cricoarytenoid joint of the vocal structure becomes arthritic, an individual may lose flexibility in maneuvering the vocal folds.

Arytenoid cartilages: Paired, wing-shaped cartilages located in the larynx that attach to the vocal folds.

Aspiration: A sound made by airflow either before or following vocal fold vibration, as in (ha) or (ah). A second meaning is the inhalation of a foreign matter into the lungs, sometimes causing an infection, such as pneumonia.

Atrophy: A wasting away of cells. In the vocal system, age may cause a loss of cells in the vocal muscles, which may result in the weaker voice often observed in the elderly or infirm.


Baritone: Between bass and tenor, it is the most common male range.

Bass: Lowest male voice.

Bilateral vocal fold paralysis: Loss of function of the muscles in both the right and left vocal folds, usually causing extreme difficulty in producing voice.

Bleet: So named because this vocal quality resembles the bleeting of sheep, the sound results from excessive physical tension that causes a fast vibrato.

Breathiness: The distinct sound of air with the voice, resulting from vocal folds that do not completely meet during voicing. As an example, the actress Kathleen Turner has a breathy voice.

Bronchioli: Small tube-shaped ducts, arranged in a branching pattern, that connect to the alveoli deep within the lungs.


Cartilage: A somewhat flexible, but firm, tissue of the body (as found at the end of the nose). Vocal structures composed of cartilage include the larynx, trachea, cricoarytenoids and epiglottis.

Caudal: Anatomical direction meaning toward the tailbone.

Chest voice: Speaking in low-pitched register so that vibratory sensations are felt in the sternum and trachea. Males often speak in chest register, while many females speak in head (mixed) or falsetto.

Cleft palate: An opening in the roof of the mouth caused by the palate not joining together as a fetus is developing. It is believed that a combination of genetics and environmental factors cause cleft palates. Children with this condition may have recurrent ear problems/infections and difficulty with eating and speaking. The voice often sounds nasal and breathy in sound. Cleft palates are repaired by surgery.

Constructive interference: When two or more sound waves are brought into contact with one another, a new resulting wave is created increasing the amplitude of the waveform. In practical terms, the sound becomes louder.

Contact ulcer: Irritation - often caused by gastroesophageal reflux, surgical intubation, or over-adduction of the vocal folds -- may result in a sore on the vocal processes. Voice therapy or surgery is usually recommended.

Convergent glottis: A configuration of the airspace between the vocal folds, whereby the opening narrows from bottom to top.

Conversion aphonia: A rare condition caused by emotional distress or disturbance, whereby the muscles controlling the vocal folds do not coordinate well and the individual is unable to produce voice.

Corner vowels: The three vowels, "ay," "ee," and "oo" that are formed by extreme placements of the tongue.

Cricoid cartilage: Located directly below the thyroid cartilage (Adam's apple), this ring-shaped cartilage completely surrounds the airway.

Cricothyroid muscle: Paired muscles located inside the larynx that are critical in controlling pitch.

Croup: A respiratory disorder often accompanying an upper respiratory infection in young children in which tissues swell to the point that the child often produces a bark-like cough.

Cyst: Non-cancerous lesion that may appear on the vocal fold and interfere with the vocal folds approximating well. Surgery is usually recommended for its removal.


Decibel (dB): Unit of measure for loudness. More technically, a decibel describes the degree of energy in a sound wave. Quiet conversation is at a level of about 40 decibels, while planes on the runway measure about 120 dB. Ideally, the sound level of the classroom would not exceed 35 dB.

Dehydration: Loss of fluids within tissue, including vocal fold tissues, which can make voicing more difficult and possibly more prone to injury.

Destructive interference: When two or more sound waves are brought into contact with one another, resulting in partial or full cancellation of one another. The practical effect would be lessened loudness of the combined sound wave.

Diaphragm: A large, smooth muscle separating the chest organs from those of the abdomen. A healthy breathing pattern dictates that the diaphragm flattens and lowers during inspiration.

Differential control (of muscles): A coordinated release of one muscle with simultaneous contraction to its opposing muscle. Singers become experts at controlling their laryngeal muscles in order to make smooth transitions between musical notes.

Diffusion: An acoustic term that refers to sound striking a surface and scattering in many directions.

Diplophonic voice: A condition whereby the speaker produces voice with two pitches simultaneously.

Dorsal: Anatomical direction meaning toward the back. (Remember: Sharks have a distinctive dorsal fin.)


Edema: Swelling or puffiness of a bodily tissue. Vocal fold tissues with edema usually produce a hoarse-sounding voice.

Electroglottogram (EGG): A non-invasive instrument used by otolaryngologists and speech-language pathologists to measure how tightly the vocal folds are touching one another over a time period. The read-out is called an electroglottograph.

Electromyography (EMG): A technique whereby small electrodes are placed into muscle tissue to record the amount of contraction of that muscle.

Epiglottis: A flap of cartilage -- roughly shaped like the tongue of a shoe -- sealing the airway during swallowing and opening the airway for breathing.


False Folds (or ventricular folds): A set of folds located immediately above the true vocal folds. The false folds may play a role in sealing the airway but do not touch to produce voice as the true vocal folds do.

Falsetto: A high-pitched register in speaking and singing. In American culture, female falsetto voice is viewed as acceptable, although male falsetto speech may be considered undesirable. As examples, singers Barry Gibb and Aaron Neville often sing in falsetto register, although they speak in lower registers.

Frequency (of sound): In a scientific sense, the frequency implies how often a sound wave repeats itself. In practical terms, it is the pitch of the sound, or the highness or lowness of the human voice. Frequency is measured in Hertz (Hz).

Fricatives: Airflow noise resulting from obstructions - but not complete blockage - of the vocal tract. For example, the tongue and teeth obstruct airflow when producing the sounds "s," "z," and "th."

Fry: A low-pitched vocal quality so called because the sound is similar to food cooking in a hot frying pan. It is characterized by intermittent "pops" of sound and produced by the vocal folds opening and closing irregularly and unrhythmically.

Functional vocal disorder: Vocal symptoms that cannot seem to be linked to a specific anatomical irregularity, but observation by the voice-care team detects abnormal movements of the larynx and the voice sounds abnormal (compared to organic voice disorder).

Fundamental Frequency (Fo): Recalling that sound waves result from a vibrational source, the fundamental frequency refers to the lowest frequency of the sound wave. It is synonymous with first harmonic. A pure tone would contain only the fundamental frequency, but most vocalizations are composed of the fundamental frequency with multiples, or harmonics.


Gastroesophageal reflux: Sometimes referred to as "GERD" (Gastroesophageal reflux disease), it is the spilling of digestive acids from the stomach and into the esophagus. Often, individuals note heartburn symptoms. If the stomach secretions spill over into the larynx, the acidity may inflame vocal fold tissues and cause hoarseness (see laryngopharyngeal reflux).

Glottal attack: A speaking habit whereby the speaker brings the vocal folds abruptly together to produce sound (sometimes causing an audible "click"), particularly in words that begin with a vowel. This voicing pattern may cause eventual damage to the vocal fold tissues.

Glottis: The airspace between the vocal folds.

Granuloma: Located on the arytenoid cartilages, this grainy growth may result from respiratory tubes (as used for surgical or other patients who require respiratory support).


Habitual voice pitch: The pitch range used by an individual on a daily basis. The habitual pitch may not be the same as optimal pitch. This discrepancy may be vocally damaging.

Hard palate: The bony area at the top of the mouth, roughly bordered by the inside of the top teeth and the soft palate.

Harmonic: A component of a complex tone. Harmonics are multiples of the fundamental frequency.

Head voice: Speaking in a mixed register (chest and falsetto) so that vibratory sensations are felt in the head. Females often speak in head register, while males tend to speak in chest voice.

Hemorrhage (of the vocal fold): Breaking of blood vessels in the vocal fold tissue, usually due to injury or extreme over-zealousness in screaming or yelling. Voice rest usually allows the hemorrhage to heal on its own. Aspirin products thin the blood and may put professional voice users (such as teachers and singers) at greater risk for hemorrhage.

Hoarse voice: A raspy, harsh, or grating sounding voice caused by irregular vocal fold vibration (such as asymmetry of the vocal folds) and noisy escape of air from the glottis.

Hyoid bone: Located above the larynx and below the base of the tongue, the hyoid connects to many muscles and soft tissues in the vocal system. It is the only bone of the vocal system.

Hypernasal: An imbalance of nasal and oral (mouth) air during speaking with excess air escaping through the nose resulting in a "nasal" or "honky" voice quality. This can be a problem for individuals with cleft palates, who may not be able to close off the back of the throat (velopharyngeal area) well, thus letting excess air travel up and through the nose.

Hyponasal: An imbalance of nasal and oral air during speaking with minimal air coming through the nose. The resulting voice quality is dull sounding. Often people with a sinus cold temporarily experience hyponasal sounding speech.


Inferior: Anatomical direction meaning below.

Inflection: Variation in pitch that adds meaning and interest but also prevents speech from sounding monotone.

Intelligibility: The ease of understanding a person's speech. Often, poor intelligibility results from inexact articulation. It may also be caused by reduced volume.

Intensity: In physical terms, it is a power per unit area. In everyday speech, intensity is roughly synonymous with loudness, volume or vocal power.

Inverse filtering: A method used by scientists to determine the sound from the glottis (source); this technique removes the effect of the vocal tract (the filter).


Jitter: Varying pitch in the voice, which causes a rough sound. Compare to shimmer, which describes varying loudness in the voice.

Keratosis: A condition whereby keratin, a hard tissue typically found in fingernails and toenails, accumulates on the vocal folds. Keratosis may be pre-cancerous at worst. At best, it causes a very hoarse voice.


Laryngeal web: Due to a failure of the vocal folds to split during fetal development, laryngeal webs prevent babies from making voiced sounds. Surgical correction is usually recommended.

Laryngectomee: A person who has undergone a laryngectomy (see following definition).

Laryngectomy: Removal of all or a portion the larynx, often to remove cancerous tissue.

Laryngitis: A general term for irritation and redness of laryngeal tissues. A usual cause is a viral illness.

Laryngologist: An ear-nose-and-throat physician with specialty training in diseases of the larynx and voice.

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR): Gastroesophageal reflux disease with gastric juice spilling on the larynx, often causing a hoarse voice, need to clear the throat, or sensation of choking on phlegm.

Laryngospasm: Strong and unnatural closing of the vocal folds in the larynx, usually causing a frightening feeling of the inability to breathe.

Larynx: The primary voice-producing organ of the body, sometimes called the "voice box." Located in the neck, the larynx is composed of hard cartilage, which safely houses the vocal folds.

Lateral: Anatomical direction meaning toward the outside (away from the center).

Leukoplakia: A condition characterized by white patchy material that collects on the vocal folds and caused by long-term irritation, such as cigarette smoking.

Lift: In singing, a "lift" is the shift in a pitch scale where vocal production is less effortful.

Loft: The highest (loftiest) register, synonymous with falsetto voice.

Lombard effect: An adjustment of vocal loudness based on the level of environmental noise. In practical terms, people often raise their voices when they hear competing noise.

Loudness: An amount of sound perceived by the listener. Compare this definition to volume, which refers to an amount of sound produced.


Medial: Anatomical direction meaning toward the center.

Middle (or mixed) voice: A mixture of chest voice and falsetto; another term for "head" voice in singing.

Monotone: Speaking without variation of pitch. This pattern of speaking is often dull to the listener and less healthy for the vocal system than using the full range of comfortable pitches.

Muscular tension dysphonia: Excessive tension in the neck muscles, which negatively impacts voice production by hampering vocal fold vibration. Symptoms often include sharp pain in the neck and a weak-sounding voice.

Mutational dysphonia: An unusual voice disorder characterized by the individual producing vocal fold vibrations that mimic those of the opposite gender.


Nodule: A callous-like growth on the surface of the vocal fold caused by repeated and prolonged collision of the vocal folds due to behaviors such as screaming or excessive throat clearing and coughing. Nodules cause imperfect closure of the paired vocal folds, leading to a voice that sounds low-pitched, breathy or rough.

Noise: A somewhat arbitrary term that refers to any auditory disturbance that interferes with what a listener wants to hear. [Consider a student doing an impromptu tap dance during math class. To the student who wishes to hear the beat of her shoes, the teacher's voice may be noise. To the teacher, the pupil's tapping is noise!]


Organic voice disorder: A broad category for voice problems for which specific origins can be identified. Examples would include growths or tumors located in the larynx or elsewhere in the body.

Ossify: A gradual but naturally occurring transformation of cartilage to bone beginning around age 20 and continuing until the 60's.

Otolaryngologist: A physician with special training of the ear, nose and throat. The medical sub-specialty for physicians who focus on voice problems is "laryngologist."


Papillomas: Small non-cancerous growths that usually grow in clusters on the vocal folds, larynx and trachea, greatly interfering with normal voice production.

Pharynx: The area of the body between the uvula (punching-bag shaped structure at the back of the throat) and the larynx (or voice box). It is roughly equivalent to the commonly used term, "throat."

Phonation: A production of sound from the vocal folds, implying that the sound has not yet been shaped into words by the vocal tract and articulators.

Pitch: How high versus low a person's voice sounds. Men typically speak in lower pitches than do women. This is due to men's larger larynx and vocal folds.

Plosive: A speech sound produced by suddenly initiating or stopping bursts of air. Examples of plosives are "b," "d," "t" and "g."

Polyp: Growths appearing on the vocal folds that are almost always non-cancerous that are caused by irritation of the outermost tissue layer. Cigarette or other environmental irritants contribute to these growths.

Posterior: Anatomical direction meaning "toward the back."

Pressed voice: A detectable voice quality resulting from speaking with the vocal folds pressed tightly together with little air moving between them.

Quality: Characteristics of the voice unique to each individual. Qualities are developed as the sound from the vocal folds is filtered in the vocal tract (the area between the larynx and the lips).


Reflection (of sound): Like a rubber ball, speech bounces off hard surfaces (such as a concrete block walls) and back toward the source (the speaker). This essentially causes echoes in the classroom that hamper clear communication with the students.

Registers: Series of adjacent pitches that are produced by similar vocal fold and vocal tract movements.

Resonance: In a broad sense, resonance is the reaction of surrounding components to a vibrating object. In the vocal system, resonance refers to the enrichment of sound originating from the vibrating vocal folds inside the larynx.

Reverberation: Sounds that have been reflected many times and come at the listener from many directions. Rooms with excess reverberation may be called boomy or lively (such as gymnasiums), while rooms with little reverberation -- like recording studios -- are "dead."

Reverberation time: An acoustical measure of how quickly sound diminishes in a particular space (such as a classroom). Ideally, classrooms should have a reverberation time of about half a second.

Rostral: Anatomical direction meaning toward the mouth.


Shimmer: A frequent back and forth change in amplitude (from soft to louder) in the voice.

Soprano: In singing, the highest of women's or children's ranges.

Sound field equalization: Enhancing a space (such as a classroom), so that speaker/listener distance is optimized for listeners within the space (students, regardless of where they are seated).

Spasmodic dysphonia: A poorly understood voice disorder whereby the vocal folds either clench tightly together (adductor type) or resist meeting midline (abductor type). The individual has difficulty producing voice. The voice produced has a strained or strangled quality.

Speech-language pathologist: A licensed professional with an educational degree at the master's level and certification from state licensing agencies. Speech-language pathologists are trained to work with individuals with speech, voicing or language difficulties.

Sulcus (vocalis): A condition characterized by a groove in the vocal fold causing abnormal vocal fold vibrations and a rough-sounding voice.

Superior: Anatomical direction simply meaning "above."


Thyroarytenoid muscle: A key muscle of the vocal system. Often shortened to "TA," this muscle comprises much of the bulk of the vocal fold.

Thyroid cartilage: The cartilage that forms the "Adam's apple," it is also the largest cartilage of the vocal system.

Timbre: A term that describes the quality of vocal output, as the pure tone is enhanced by its overtones.

Tremor: Shakiness in the voice caused by disease, age, emotion, or possibly fatigue.

Turbulence: Air that flows at varying speeds through the vocal tract producing a hissing noise. Whispering often is characterized by a turbulent quality.


Velopharyngeal insufficiency: An inability to close the area between the soft palate and pharynx (back of throat). The result is usually a nasal-sounding voice.

Velum: The areas at the back of the mouth, including the soft palate and nasopharynx, which touch during swallowing and production of certain sounds.

Ventral: Anatomical direction meaning "toward the belly."

Ventricular phonation: An abnormal mode of speaking whereby the false folds (superior to the true vocal folds) are used to make sound.

Vibrato: An intentional ornament in singing with pitch and loudness varying by small amounts to add interest and beauty to the note.

Videostroboscopy: A tool used in the voice clinic to view the vocal folds in motion. Fiber optic and strobe light technologies provide a clear and slow-motion view of the vocal folds as the patient vocalizes. A permanent record of the exam is recorded on videotape.

Vocal cord: Synonymous with vocal fold, although the latter term is preferred as it is more descriptive of the shape of the actual structure.

Vocal fold paralysis: Muscle paralysis of the thyroarytenoid muscle of the vocal fold; it may be one-sided (unilateral) or two-sided (bilateral). This condition usually produces an effortful, breathy and rough-sounding voice.

Vocal folds: Paired and multi-layered "shelves" of muscle and other tissues located in the larynx. Vibrations of the vocal folds produce voice.

Vocal tract: The area of the vocal system that is between the glottis and the lips; here, the raw buzzing sound produced by the vocal folds is resonated and shaped into recognizable sounds.

Vocologist: A person who has special training to correct vocal behavior -- a speech-language pathologist, otolaryngologist, singing teacher or voice coach.

Voice coach/director: In theatrical or singing performance, an experienced individual who assists the performer with healthful and aesthetically pleasing use of the voice. They also may be helpful in consulting with health care professionals in a voice care team.

Voice Range Profile: A graphical display of how loud and soft and of how high and low a person can produce voice on a given day. Pre- and post-VRP's can demonstrate effects of surgery, therapy, or disease progression.

Voice teacher: A person who works one-on-one with singers, primarily to improve aesthetic voice qualities.

Volume: In technical terms, "amount of sound," although usually used interchangeably with loudness.


Whisper: Voicing achieved by air passing between the vocal folds and shaped by articulators, although different than normal speaking in that the vocal folds do not vibrate.

Whistle register: The highest-pitched singing register. Popular singer Mariah Carey occasionally sings in whistle register.

Wobble: A slow and undesirable vibrato in the voice, usually caused by poorly conditioned vocal system muscles or fatigue (perhaps due to age or infirmity), or a lack of animation.

Yawn: A vocal quality sounding like a yawn; the sound is the result of a lowered larynx and widened pharynx.