Online Vocal Anatomy & Physiology Resources For Singers

The internet is full of wonderful (free) resources for singers and singing teachers. But sometimes it might be difficult to filter out the “good stuff” from the massive amount of links that are being shared on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. And unless you happen to be very organised in keeping track of your internet bookmarks, many great links tend to get lost somewhere down the road.

Here I have collected some of my favorite online resources for singing teachers and singers who want to learn more about the anatomy and physiology of the voice. The list is far from being “complete”, so if you have more quality online resources on vocal anatomy and physiology you’d like to be added to the list, please mention them in the comments below.

The resources below are listed in alphabetical order:

 

Anatomia

Anatomia is an electronic resource developed at the University of Toronto, designed to assist medical and dental students with understanding of functional human anatomy. The site is a wonderful learning tool and contains a tutorial section on the anatomy of the larynx in 3D, a digital dissection of the larynx, video laryngoscopy, and self-evaluation tests (basic and advanced levels).

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Anatomyzone

Anatomyzone is a website with free video tutorials on the anatomy and functions of the body. Especially interesting for singers and singing teachers are the 3D videos on the respiratory system, including tutorials on the ligaments, membranes, mucosa and muscles of the larynx, as well as the videos about the musculoskeletal system.

 

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CVT Research Site

The CVT Research Site is the number one internet resource for anyone interested in Complete Vocal Technique related voice research. Being an Authorised CVT Teacher myself, I am very excited about this site and keep referring to it a lot. The site presents the ongoing research and debate that forms CVT, and describes how CVT is being tested, discussed and developed. On the site you will find:

  • Illustrations and descriptions of the larynx and how the voice works
  • Definition of terms and a glossary
  • Sound examples from the CVT Sound Library
  • Descriptions and the sound of Neutral, Curbing, Overdrive and Edge, including the transitions between the modes
  • Description and sound of effects
  • Laryngeal recognition of the vocal modes and effects
  • Laryngograph waveform recognition of the vocal modes and effects
  • Endoscopy and high speed videos from CVT research
  • Extensive data and test results
  • CVT-related papers and proceedings
  • List of Conferences & Abstracts on CVT-related subjects presented at conferences since 1996

With the CVT research site, Complete Vocal Institute aims to make the data, research and knowledge easily accessible for everyone interested in voice research, and for anyone who wants to understand and study the human voice. The site is continued to be developed on a regular basis. A very handy feature are the notifications that readers can automatically receive whenever a page on the research site is updated. All old versions of any page will also be stored, and researchers can link to the exact version of any article or page so references can be used in scientific work.

This video gives you a little glimpse into the CVT research done by Cathrine Sadolin and Julian McGlashan:

 

Get Body Smart

Get Body Smart is an online human anatomy and physiology textbook. What I especially like about Get Body Smart are the tutorials with interactive animations that help you learn about the functions of the human body, and the quizzes that come in handy if you want to check your knowledge on the subjects! Although it might be tempting for singers to just study the anatomy of the larynxpharynx anrespiratory system, remember to also have a look at the functions of the rest of the body, such as the muscular system and skeletal system too. 

…it’s all connected!

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Music video: Better Man Than He by Sivu

I love this music video and keep referring to it as a vocal anatomy and physiology resource, because not only is it informative and interesting for “vocal nerds”, but it’s also connecting research with art and shows us the human instrument in action during singing. If you’re interested in learning more about the nasal passage and sound colour in singing with this video, check out a mini-lesson that I wrote inspired by the video.

 

Vocal Process / Build Your Own Larynx

Jeremy Fisher and Gillyanne Kayes from Vocal Process in The UK have tons of valuable resources available for singers and singing teachers. One of my favorite resources from Vocal Process is the ‘Build Your Own Tilting Larynx‘. In all its simplicity, this paper larynx can help you or your students learn many things about the larynx and its functions. The model is available as a free PDF template download, and you might also want to check out the video with building instructions:

 

3D View of Diaphragm

This simple video shows the movements of the diaphragm during respiration. I have found it a helpful learning aid for singers who need visual feedback or who are eager to know about the “logic” behind things:

 

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Six Reasons Singers Should Know How Their Instrument Works

Why is (basic) understanding of the anatomy and physiology of the voice important for singers?

Knowing the names of the muscles and cartilages that we use while singing is not going to make you a better singer. It is quite possible to sing even without knowing the name of a single muscle! But some basic understanding of how the voice works can be useful for a variety of reasons. Here are six of them.

 

1.If you know how the voice works, you can work with it instead of against it.

This will speed up your learning process. The voice responds directly to what you do. If an exercise is done the right way, you will notice the effect of it immediately and you can be sure you are on the right track.

2. It makes it easier for you to understand singing technique.

This will help you become faster at recognizing and solving vocal issues and problems, like reaching high or low notes, solving unintentional vocal breaks, wobbly notes, not enough air, vocal strain, and so on.

Some singers and teachers are afraid of ‘thinking too much’ about what is happening in the body during singing. Sometimes singers looking for solutions to their vocal issues are given advise like “just let the voice do what it naturally wants to do”.

But just like we cannot learn to play the piano, flute, or any other musical instrument by “letting the instrument do what it naturally wants to do”, we cannot learn to sing just by “letting the voice do what it naturally wants to do”. And we definitely cannot solve vocal issues without looking into the functions of the instrument, our voice.

3. It will help you understand what singing in tune is and what to do about pitch problems.

When talking about singing skills, many people focus firstly on singing in tune. Unfortunately, still today a lot of singers with pitch problems are told that there is something wrong with their ears. Others are being told they are tone-deaf and should better just shut up.

Singing in tune is a coordination between hearing the pitch and being able to reproduce it. Being able to produce the right pitch has often more to do with singing technique than it has to do with our ears. If you know how the voice works, you can actually do something about not singing in tune.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

4. It ensures us that what we do is healthy.

Singing should always feel comfortable. If it itches, scratches or hurts, this is a sign you are doing something wrong.

All sounds can be produced in a healthy way. Even sounds that sound loud, sharp, metallic, rough or ‘unhealthy’. But only teachers with extensive knowledge of the voice can teach you how to produce these sounds in a healthy manner.

5. It helps you separate fact from fiction. 

Singers are bombarded with (well-meant) vague advice like “sing from your diaphragm”, “sing in the mask”, and so on. It does not mean all the advice is bad. Sometimes pictures and mental images can be wonderful tools for learning. However, some of the advice given to singers is plain fiction, and there exist a lot of myths and misconceptions about the voice.

Understanding how the voice works and how different sounds are produced in the body helps you distinguish between good, well-intended but vaguely presented, and plain bad advice.

6. It protects you from people in the industry who do not have (sufficient) knowledge of the voice.

Just because somebody is a teacher, coach, producer, or has worked with famous people, it does not automatically make them experts on the voice. These people might be good teachers and have some good advise and tools to share with you, but it does not mean they have sufficient knowledge or are updated in the developments in voice research and vocal pedagogy.

Research is constantly developing and we keep learning new things about how the voice works. Be aware that even some coaches and teachers can be “lazy” and look for the easy way out, or for quick solutions to success. And some teachers, again, think that they already know everything they should know, and are unwilling to learn about new developments or keep developing themselves. Nobody can of course know it all, and not all singing teachers need to be experts on solving all technique problems – there are plenty of other things to work on in singing besides technique! Teachers can, however, make sure they keep developing themselves, try to stay updated, and are honest about what they do know (or don’t).

Make sure you check the backgrounds of your teachers to find how they have trained and what kind of teaching experience they have, and whether they seek further (ongoing) training. Also be aware that lot of products are sold based on pseudo science or wrong information about the voice. Always make sure there has been research done to back up whatever method you might be interested in learning more about. And remember that famous people being associated with a method does not equal research.

 

©2013 Katja Maria Slotte

This article was originally posted on my blog katjamariamusic in April 2012