Kid Question: Why do we all have different voices?

by Deb on March 26, 2012


Our voices work the same as an instrument like a saxophone. Air comes from our lungs then through our voicebox, or larynx, in our neck like the reed on the saxophone mouthpiece. Next it goes out through our mouth like the pipe of the saxophone. The sound depends on the shape of the instrument that we make using our tongue, mouth and lips. This is how we talk.

How high or low our voice is partly depends on size – a violin sounds higher than a viola or cello, and kids’ voices are higher than women’s or men’s voices. None of us are exactly the same size! Men’s larynges are so much bigger that they make a lump on the front of their neck, the adam’s apple.

String Quartet

Aiana string quartet - two violins, a viola and a cello. Photo courtesy of Nicky Nylon.

It also depends on the size and how tight the vocal folds (or vocal cords) are. These are flaps that go across our larynx, when we talk the air coming up from our lungs pushes on them and makes them vibrate, a bit like a sheet on the washing line. This makes the noise, then our mouths shape it. Have a look at this video to see it happening, it used a special camera down someone’s throat to see the larynx and folds.

The folds moving back and forth push the air molecules to make sound. Behind them you can see the trachea going down to the lungs.

Our own voices

Have you ever recorded yourself then listened to it? Try it, you sound completely different to when you hear yourself talking normally.

What’s happening here is that you don’t hear your own voice through the air vibrating – you hear it through the muscles and especially bones vibrating and taking it straight to your ear that way. When you record your voice you are hearing it through the air, like everyone else does. It’s a very weird experience to know what you really sound like!

Top photo – Montelesong in concert.

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