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There are two types of vocal folds (also known as vocal cords) which are referred to as 'true' and 'false'. The latter protect the more delicate 'true' folds and are located just above them.

True vocal cords are two pieces of tissue which are located above the windpipe and stretch horizontally across the larynx. They are controlled via the vagus nerve and due to a lack of blood circulation, appear light or almost white in colour. They differ in size between 12.5 mm and 17.5 mm in length, usually being larger and thicker in men than women whose body structure is usually lighter and less muscular. Just as our bodies, hair and features differ between each individual, these variations in size result in voices with a wide range of notes, tones and pitches so that every voice is unique.

Diagram of the Vocal Cords as seen in Greys Anatomy the medical reference book

Vocal Folds in Action - image provided by San Diago Center for Voice and Swallowing
When we hold our breath, the vocal folds close, when we breath in the vocal cords are open and they vibrate as air passes through the larynx including when we speak or sing (known as phonation). They oscillate so quickly (opening and closing 440 times per second when singing A above middle C), that the movement cannot be seen properly by the naked eye without slowing down the film. Hover your mouse over the image on the right to display how the folds move.

Watch the larynx and the voice video parts 1 and 2 which contains an overview and explanation of the larynx with anatomical model plus real time views of singers vocal folds / cords during production of sound and description of the equipment used. Part 2 of the video is available at our new site VocalistOnline.com which includes a range of singing and voice related videos.

Acknowledgements

This article was created using roll over images provided with permission from San Diago Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders plus information from WikiDocs article on vocal folds edited by C. Michael Gibson M.S., M.D. with video created by Paul Moore Ph.D. and Hans Von Leden M.D. made available to the public domain at Archive.org by Prelinger Archives modified by our editors for use on vocalist.org.uk. Browse the links provided below for more external articles.

Related Links & Articles

These are just a small example of the extensive links to online exercises and lessons we have available in the Singers Articles section, which contains complete listings of lessons, exercises or articles available on each site with direct links to the page (when not a framed site) plus answers to pretty much everything a beginner, intermediate, advanced singer or teacher needs to know! (All links open in a new window).

Anatomy of the Human Voice
Was a brief overview of the anatomy of the human voice with an excellent short movie of the vocal folds in action at San Diego Center for Voice and Swallowing Disorders who also kindly provided permission to use the larynx and vocal fold pictures on this page. Their website is no longer available but used to contains a wonderful set of information, photographs and short movies on anatomy of the human voice, laryngeal anatomy and a variety of vocal health issues including GERD, vocal fold paralysis and other related topics. Some of these appear to be available in the courses section of Michigan State University. (Note: Link to San Diego Center removed - if anyone knows of the new site or what has happened to the center please contact us.

Journey of the Voice
Provides comprehensive information on the process of speech and singing complete with diagrams which include respiration, Support system for the voice (framework) with diagrams of spine, ribs, strenum, and pelvis, phonation, resonation, articlation and care of the voice by Eric Armstrong.

Anatomy and Physiology of Voice Production
Articles provided by the Voice Foundation provide a wide range of authoritive information on the vocal mechanism, vocal production and health issues.

Anatomy Modules - TMJ Tutorial
The University of Washington Dept. of Radiology presents the Termporomandibular Joint, includes QuickTime movies, descriptions and diagrams including computed tomography and magnetic resonance pictures of the TMJ.

Cyber Anatomy Tutorials
A range of tutorials on anatomical structure complete with clear pictures in each section written by Donal Shanahan, of the Anatomy & Clinical Skills Centre, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Emory University's Human Anatomy Course
An explaination of the Pharynx and Larynx with diagrams of the structures of the throat and how movement affects the vocal chords.

La Voix
French site (no english) has some excellent diagrams of the larynx, respitory, hearing and resonation systems of the body.

Respiratory System - Larynx
Pictoral cross sections of the larynx and vocal folds - click on the links provided and labels will appear, excellent for singing teachers and students, the page has a print facility ! GetBodySmart is an online examination of Human Anatomy and Physiology. This is an ideal start point for beginners with animated interactive diagrams that can be printed for further study or use in the classroom. (flash player required)

Normal Voice Function
Article with images and video clips showing how vocal folds (cords) function in production of sound from the Voice Medicine site (Lucian Sulica, MD)