Singing Vocabulary

Singing, like music, has an extensive vocabulary. Throughout the years, these terms emerged and evolved. You may have learned a wide range of terms depending on where you studied, who you studied with, and what videos you watched. On this page, you will find an ever-growing collection of singing and music terms so that we may all come together with a more consistent understanding.

Read more about the purpose of this lexicon and the complicated singing vocabulary we have to navigate here.


Term Category: Anatomy

The abdomen is the region of the body located between the chest (thorax) and the pelvis. It contains vital organs such as the stomach, liver, intestines, and more. During abdominal breathing this area is allowed to expand increasing the volume of air able to be inhaled. Several major muscles for balance and posture are located in this area including the rectus abdominis and the obliques.

Abdominal Breathing

Term Category: Techniques

Abdominal Breathing is frequently seen as the “proper way to breathe”. Focus is placed on the expansion of the abdomen. This breathing method allows for a large volume of air to be inhaled and tends to lower the larynx. It can overly increase subglottal pressure, which can lead to over-adduction and tension.

Abdominal Viscera

Term Category: Anatomy

Abdominal viscera refers to the organs located within the abdominal cavity, including the stomach, intestines, liver, spleen, gallbladder, and kidneys. These vital organs perform various functions related to digestion, metabolism, and waste elimination. The abdominal viscera are protected by the abdominal muscles and are surrounded by a lining called the peritoneum.


Term Category: Acoustics

Acoustics is the branch of physics concerned with the study of sound, its generation, transmission, and effects. It encompasses various aspects of sound, including its production, propagation, and interaction with the environment. Acoustics examines how sound waves travel through different mediums, how they reflect, diffract, and interfere with each other, and how they are perceived by the human auditory system.


Term Category: Anatomy

Vocal Fold Adduction is the closure of the vocal folds by the interarytenoids (IA) and the lateral cricoarytenoid (LCA) muscles. Adduction occurs between inhalation and exhalation and during phonation. Incomplete adduction can be used stylistically to produce a breathy tone. Incomplete adduction forming a posterior glottal chink, is also common in teenagers and may be extremely common in female singers of all ages according to recent research.


Term Category: Science

Air is a mixture of gases primarily composed of approximately 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and small amounts of other gases such as carbon dioxide, argon, and trace gases. Air is essential for life as it contains the oxygen required for respiration. In acoustics and the study of sound, air serves as the medium through which sound waves travel as pressure variations.


Term Category: Voice Science

Airflow refers to the movement of air through the respiratory system during inhalation, exhalation, or phonation. Airflow is typically measured in liters or milliliters per second. Standard airflow rates vary greatly from tens or hundreds of milliliters per second while phonating up to multiple liters a second during forced respiration.

Alveolar Ridge

Term Category: Anatomy

The Alveolar Ridge is the hard ridge between the upper teeth and the hard palate or behind the bottom teeth. Usually used to refer to the top Alveolar Ridge. It is used to create the English consonants [t], [d], [s], [z], [n], [l], among others.


Term Category: Acoustics

Amplitude refers to the maximum extent of a sound wave's vibration, typically measured as the height of the wave from its equilibrium position to its highest point (peak) or its lowest point (trough). Amplitude directly relates to the perceived loudness of a sound; greater amplitude corresponds to a louder sound, while smaller amplitude corresponds to a softer sound.


Term Category: Anatomy

Anterior describes a position or location that is toward the front of the body or an organ. It is the opposite of posterior, which refers to the back or rear. For instance, when discussing the human body, the heart is located anterior to the spine, meaning it is positioned toward the front of the chest.

Aryepiglottic Folds

Term Category: Anatomy

The Aryepiglottic Folds extend between the arytenoid cartilages and the lateral margins of the epiglottis, aiding in the prevention of aspiration by helping close the larynx during swallowing. A narrowing of this area may increase harmonics in the 2-4 kHz range during phonation, sometimes called the singer’s formant.

Aspirate Onset/Offset

Term Category: Techniques

Aspirate Onsets/Offsets happen when airflow begins before the closure of the vocal folds (onset). The end of phonation occurs when the vocal folds separate before airflow ceases (offset). In both cases, this causes a moment of breathiness. Singers may wish to use aspirate onsets and offsets as stylistic choices.


Term Category: Acoustics

Attenuation refers to the gradual reduction in intensity or strength of a signal as it travels through a medium or encounters an obstacle. In the context of sound, attenuation results in a decrease in sound energy as it propagates, leading to a quieter or less audible sound. This phenomenon is influenced by factors such as distance, absorption, scattering, and obstacles in the sound path.

Audible Range

Term Category: Voice Science

The Audible Range is the range of frequencies that the human ear can perceive. For the average human this range is about 20 to 20,000 hertz, this range is affected by acoustic conditions, age, health, and accumulated hearing damage. Humans are more sensitive to frequencies between 2-5 kHz and these frequencies are perceived as being louder.

Back Vowels

Term Category: Acoustics

The Back Vowels are [u] [o] [ɔ] [ʊ] [ɑ] and they are produced with the highest point of the tongue towards the back of the mouth. These vowels are also defined by having a low second formant due to the low tongue position in the front of the mouth. These vowels are spacious in the oral cavity and narrow in the throat.


Term Category: Techniques

Belt or Belting is a thicker, heavier, brassier, brighter, twangier vocal style of production for female singers, representing most female vocal styles that are not head voice or thin folds. While belting is most often associated with female vocalists a belt production is achievable by everyone. Belting is a state of thyroarytenoid dominance with an increased closed quotient (duration) requiring lower subglottal pressure than regular thyroarytenoid-dominant vocal production while producing large amplitudes of sound. This form of production can only be maintained within a certain range with many vocal researchers putting the upper limit around C5.

Bernoulli Effect

Term Category: Acoustics

The Bernoulli Effect, named after the Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernoulli, refers to a principle within fluid dynamics that states that an increase in the speed of a fluid occurs simultaneously with a decrease in pressure or potential energy of the fluid. In other words, within a steady, incompressible flow of fluid, the total energy along a streamline (path that a fluid particle will follow) remains constant, which means that when a fluid (liquid or gas) increases in velocity, it must result in a reduction in the internal pressure or energy of the fluid.

This principle can be observed in various everyday phenomena. For instance, when you drink from a straw, the air pressure inside the straw decreases as you suck the air out, which is replaced by the liquid which is pushed up into the straw by the higher outside air pressure.

Impact on Singing

In the context of singing, the Bernoulli Effect plays a crucial role in how the vocal folds function to produce sound.

  • Vocal Fold Vibration: When a singer exhales, the air from the lungs is pushed through the narrow space between the vocal folds, known as the glottis. According to the Bernoulli Effect, as the velocity of this airflow increases through the constricted glottis, the pressure drops. This drop in pressure creates a suction force that pulls the vocal folds towards each other, causing them to come together or adduct.
  • Cycle of Vibration: After the vocal folds are brought together, the airflow briefly stops, causing the pressure below the vocal folds to build again. Once this subglottal pressure is sufficient to overcome the closure, the vocal folds are pushed apart, and the cycle repeats. This rapid opening and closing of the vocal folds—typically hundreds of times per second—sets the air particles above the vocal folds into vibration, producing sound.
  • Pitch and Tone: The rate at which the vocal folds vibrate determines the pitch of the sound. Faster vibrations create higher pitches, while slower vibrations result in lower pitches. The Bernoulli Effect, in combination with the muscular adjustments made by the singer, helps to control these vibrations. Additionally, the way the vocal folds come together and apart—affected by the Bernoulli Effect—can influence the tone quality or timbre of the voice.

Blade of the Tongue

Term Category: Anatomy

The Blade of the Tongue is the front of the tongue right behind the tip of the tongue. Along with the Dorsom, the Blade is responsible for the creation of vowels. The higher the placement of the blade of the tongue, the lower the first formant.

Boyle's Law

Term Category: Voice Science

Boyle's Law refers to the principle that governs the relationship between the volume and pressure of a gas. According to Boyle's Law, as the volume of a gas increases, the pressure decreases, and vice versa, assuming that the temperature remains constant. In singing, this law is relevant to the management of breath and airflow.


Term Category: Techniques

Breathiness in singing refers to a vocal quality characterized by the audible passage of breath during phonation. It can be described as lacking resonance and is often accompanied by an audible emission of breath. This vocal quality is achieved when the vocal folds vibrate as in normal voicing but are adjusted to allow more air to escape, producing a sighing-like sound. Breathiness can be used as a stylistic choice in singing, adding a soft and airy texture to the voice.

When a singer produces a breathy tone, the vocal folds are not fully adducted, allowing excess air to escape during phonation. This results in a softer, less intense sound with a hushed quality. Breathiness is often used to convey vulnerability, intimacy, or a sense of longing in a song. It can also be employed for stylistic effect in various genres such as jazz, pop, and folk music.

In terms of vocal health, an intentional breathy quality is of no concern. A breathy quality can be a concern if the singer is unable to produce a clear fully adducted tone quality. It should also be noted that during puberty an inability to fully adduct the vocal folds is common for males and females and may be present in female singers for several years and is not a concern. If you or a student are experiencing continued unexpected breathiness consult with a doctor.


Term Category: Anatomy

The bronchus or bronchi are the two main air passages that branch off from the trachea and lead into the lungs. They further divide into smaller airways called bronchioles within the lungs. The bronchi are lined with cilia, hair like structures that help move mucus and particles out of your lungs. The bronchi are divided into three sections the primary, secondary, and tertiary bronchi each getting progressively smaller.


Term Category: Acoustics

Catacoustics is the branch of acoustics dealing with echoes and reflected sounds, also sometimes referred to as cataphonics. Typically, however, it shows up simply under the term acoustics.

Centimeters of Water

Term Category: Physics

Centimeters of water (Cm H2O) is a unit of pressure measurement. It is used to quantify pressure in terms of the height of a column of water. One centimeter of water is equal to the pressure exerted by a one-centimeter high column of water under the influence of gravity at standard conditions. Phonation Threshold Pressure is generally between 1 and 3 centimeters of water.


Term Category: Acoustics

Cents, in the context of music and sound, are a unit of measurement used to quantify the difference in pitch between two frequencies. One cent is equal to one hundredth of a semitone. Cents provide a precise way to describe and compare the pitch variations between different musical tones and are an essential measurement in tuning and voice science.

Cervical Spine

Term Category: Anatomy

The cervical spine, also known as the neck region of the spine, consists of seven vertebral bones labeled as C1 to C7. It is a crucial part of the spine that supports the head and allows for a wide range of movement in various directions, including flexion, extension, lateral bending, and rotation. The cervical spine also protects the delicate spinal cord that runs through its central canal. It plays a vital role in maintaining posture, balance, and overall flexibility of the upper body.

Chaos Theory

Term Category: Voice Science

Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics and physics that studies complex and unpredictable systems. It explores how seemingly random and chaotic behavior can emerge from simple nonlinear equations. Chaos theory suggests that small changes in initial conditions can lead to significant and unforeseen outcomes, known as the butterfly effect. It has applications in various fields, including weather forecasting, economics, and singing. In singing chaos theory comes into play in the complex movement of sound waves in the vocal tract.

Chest Voice

Term Category: Techniques

Chest voice, a common term for Thyroarytenoid Dominant Production, refers to the lower range of a singer's vocal register, characterized by a deep and resonant sound. It is produced when the vocal folds shorten and thicken, resulting in a fuller and more robust tone. Chest voice is commonly associated with the sensation of vibrations felt in the chest during singing. It is often used for powerful and expressive singing, particularly in genres like rock, pop, and musical theater.


Term Category: Techniques

Chiaroscuro refers to a vocal technique that emphasizes the balancing of light and dark. It is a key part of bel canto singing, and is the standard among classical singers. It is characterized by a lowered laryngeal position and forward tongue position.

Clavicular Breathing

Term Category: Techniques

Clavicular breathing, also known as chest breathing or shallow breathing, refers to a breathing pattern primarily characterized by the elevation of the shoulders and upper chest during inhalation. Instead of utilizing the diaphragm and lower ribcage, clavicular breathers rely on the accessory muscles in the upper chest and neck for breathing. This type of breathing tends to be inefficient and can lead to reduced oxygen intake and increased tension in the neck and shoulders.

Closed Quotient

Term Category: Voice Science

Closed Quotient refers to the proportion of time during a vocal fold vibration cycle when the vocal folds are completely closed. It is usually expressed as a percentage. Closed quotient is a critical factor in voice production, as it influences the tone, pitch, and quality of a singer's voice. Singers and voice professionals can measure Closed Quotient using an Electroglottograph (EGG).


Term Category: Anatomy

The coccyx, commonly known as the tailbone, is a small, triangular bone located at the base of the vertebral column in humans. Comprising three to five fused vertebrae, the coccyx serves as an attachment point for ligaments, tendons, and muscles. While the coccyx doesn't have significant weight-bearing function, it offers some support to the pelvic region. Additionally, it plays a role in weight distribution when sitting and acts as a site of attachment for various muscles.


Term Category: Anatomy

The cochlea is a spiral-shaped, fluid-filled structure located in the inner ear that is responsible for translating sound vibrations into electrical signals that the brain can interpret as sound. Sound enters the cochlea through the vibrations of the middle ear bones, causing the fluid inside the cochlea to move. This movement stimulates tiny hair cells within the cochlea, which convert the mechanical energy of sound into electrical impulses. These electrical signals are then transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve.

Condenser Microphone

Term Category: Technology

A condenser microphone is a type of microphone that converts sound waves into electrical signals using an electrically charged diaphragm and a backplate. Condenser microphones require an external power source, typically provided through batteries or phantom power. They are known for their high sensitivity, wide frequency response, and detailed sound capture, making them popular for studio recording, vocals, and capturing subtle audio nuances. 

Costal Cartilage

Term Category: Anatomy

Costal cartilage refers to the hyaline cartilage that connects the ribs to the sternum in the human ribcage. It is essential for maintaining the structure and flexibility of the chest wall. Costal cartilage allows the ribs to move during respiration, which is crucial for breathing. There are typically 12 pairs of ribs in the human ribcage, and each rib is attached to the sternum through its costal cartilage.


Term Category: Anatomy

Vocal Fold Cysts are fluid-filled or semisolid growths that typically form on only one vocal fold and unlike nodules can form at any point along the vocal fold. They form in the superficial lamina propria of the vocal fold, underneath the epithelium. Cysts are not associated with voice misuse or overuse. Treatments for cysts include voice therapy and surgery. As always if experiencing vocal difficulty consult a medical professional.

Decibel (dB)

Term Category: Acoustics

Decibel (dB) measures sound intensity or the sound power per unit area on a logarithmic scale. Because of this logarithmic relationship, the overall sound pressure doubles every six decibels. Decibels were named after Alexander Graham Bell.


Term Category: Anatomy

The Diaphragm is a thin sheet of domed muscle extending across the bottom of the thoracic cavity. It is the primary muscle for inhalation as its contraction pulls it down, creating a vacuum in the thoracic cavity which causes the lungs to expand and fill with air. The diaphragm is passive during regular phonation.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Term Category: Techniques

Diaphragmatic Breathing or Abdominal Breathing is often referred to as the “correct way to breathing” while singing and does have many benefits for certain styles of singing, like western classical. During an inhalation the abdominal muscles are allowed to relax allowing the expansion of the abdomen caused by the lowering of the diaphragm. This method of breathing will cause the larynx to lower.

Dorsum of the Tongue

Term Category: Anatomy

The Dorsum of the Tongue is what many perceive as the middle and back of the tongue; it is the back part of the tongue that is visible in the mouth and sits above the root of the tongue. The Dorsum of the Tongue is important in the creation of vowel and consonants as well as serving a critical role in swallowing.

Dynamic Microphone

Term Category: Technology

A dynamic microphone is a type of microphone commonly used in singing and live sound applications. It operates based on electromagnetic induction. When sound waves hit the microphone's diaphragm, it causes a coil of wire to move within a magnetic field, generating an electrical current that represents the audio signal. Dynamic microphones are known for their durability, ability to handle high sound pressure levels, and resistance to moisture and dust. They are often preferred for live performances due to their reliability and suitability for capturing vocal and instrument sounds in various environments.


Term Category: Acoustics

An echo refers to the reflection of sound waves off surfaces back to the listener's ears. It occurs when sound waves encounter a hard, reflective surface and bounce back. The time delay between the original sound and its echo depends on the distance to the reflecting surface. Echos are commonly heard in large open spaces, mountains, canyons, or buildings with hard walls. They can add a sense of depth and spaciousness to the auditory environment. In music, echo effects are often used creatively to enhance certain passages or add a sense of ambiance to the sound.


Term Category: Voice Science

The Electroglottograph (EGG) is a device used in voice research to measure and analyze the contact and vibration patterns of the vocal folds during phonation. It consists of electrodes that are placed on the throat to detect changes in electrical conductivity as the vocal folds come together and separate during vocalization. The EGG provides valuable insights into vocal fold closure, vibratory behavior, and voice quality. It is a powerful tool for understanding and studying vocal production and can aid in diagnosing and treating voice disorders.


Term Category: Anatomy

The epiglottis is a flap-like cartilage structure located at the base of the tongue, near the entrance to the trachea. During swallowing, the epiglottis folds downward to cover the trachea, preventing food and liquids from entering the airway and lungs. When breathing and speaking, the epiglottis moves based on the position of the root of the tongue, narrowing or widening the pharynx.

Eustachian Tube

Term Category: Anatomy

The Eustachian Tube is a narrow canal connecting the middle ear to the nasopharynx. Its function is the equalization of air pressure on both sides of the eardrum and the draining of mucus or fluids from the middle ear. This structure plays a crucial role in maintaining ear health and preventing discomfort or hearing issues related to pressure changes.

Expiratory Reserve Volume

Term Category: Voice Science

Expiratory Reserve Volume (ERV) is the amount of air a person can forcibly exhale beyond the normal tidal volume. Expiratory Reserve Volume is used during any passage using greater volumes of air than tidal breathing and can be essential for maintaining consistent airflow, especially during long phrases or passages that require sustained exhalation.

External Intercostal Muscles

Term Category: Anatomy

The External Intercostal Muscles aid in inhalation; when contracted, they pull the ribs up and out. They originate from the inferior of one rib and insert into the superior of the rib immediately below. The anterior rami of spinal nerves from T1-T11 innervate the External Intercostal Muscles.


Term Category: Acoustics

Formant 2 (F2) is the second formant frequency. Like Formant 1 it is created by the shape of the tongue; however, its frequency directly related to the height of the Dorsum of the Tongue. That is to say the higher the Dorsum of the Tongue the higher the frequency of Formant 2.

False Folds

Term Category: Anatomy

The False Folds, or vestibular folds, sit above the true vocal folds. Despite many similarities, they are minimally used in normal phonation. Singers may employ them to add a level of growl or roughness to the sound. Some teachers believe that a narrowing or constriction of the False Folds can increase the chance of vocal injury.

False Ribs

Term Category: Anatomy

The false ribs are the ribs that are not directly attached to the sternum by their own costal cartilage. Instead, they are connected to the cartilage of the rib just above them, indirectly joining the sternum. There are typically five pairs of false ribs (ribs 8-12).


Term Category:

Falsetto is a rather poorly defined singing style often associated only with male singers. Depending on who is using it, falsetto can refer to a breathy production of sound caused by incomplete closure of the vocal folds or to a thinner vocal production caused by a cricothyroid dominant production. Falsetto is also commonly referred to as head voice.

Faucial Pillars

Term Category: Anatomy

The faucial pillars are structures in the throat that play a role in vocal tract resonance during singing and vocalization. They are located on each side of the tonsils and are part of the palatine tonsillar arches. There are two sets of pillars: the anterior (anterior faucial pillars) and the posterior (posterior faucial pillars). These structures can be visually observed in the oral cavity.

Five Layer Scheme

Term Category: Anatomy

The Five Layer Scheme is a breakdown of the different layers of the vocal folds. The innermost part is the thyroarytenoid muscle, then the three layers of the lamina propria (made up of the deep, intermediate, and superficial layers), and finally, the epithelium.


Term Category: Acoustics

Formant refers to a concentration of acoustic energy in the frequency spectrum of a sound. In the context of speech and singing, formants are resonant frequencies produced by the vocal tract when producing vowels and some consonants. Each vowel has its characteristic formant pattern, which distinguishes it from other vowels. By adjusting the shape and size of the vocal tract, speakers and singers can modify the formants and produce different vowels.

Formant 1 (F1)

Term Category: Acoustics

Formant 1 (F1) is a frequency of increased acoustic resonance caused by the position of the Blade of the Tongue. Formant 1, in conjunction with Formant 2, is responsible for creating vowels. Despite this, formants are excited by acoustic sources and are not the source themselves.

Formant Tuning

Term Category: Acoustics

Formant tuning refers to the process of adjusting the resonance frequencies, known as formants, in the vocal tract to achieve desired sounds and vowel qualities. By modifying the shape and positioning of the tongue, lips, and other articulatory structures, formant tuning affects the acoustic properties of the vocal output. Skilled singers and speakers use formant tuning to produce specific vowel sounds and achieve clarity, intelligibility, and expressive qualities in their speech or singing. It is an essential technique for controlling and manipulating the timbre and resonance of the voice.


Term Category: Anatomy

A frenulum is a thin band of tissue that connects two structures in the body. Most notable is the lingual frenulum is a small fold of tissue that attaches the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth. This structure impacts tongue movement and can sometimes be associated with speech and swallowing difficulties if it is unusually short or tight.


Term Category: Acoustics

Frequency refers to the number of cycles or vibrations a sound wave completes per unit of time, typically measured in Hertz (Hz). Frequency is directly related to the pitch of a sound: higher frequencies correspond to higher-pitched sounds, and lower frequencies correspond to lower-pitched sounds.

Fundamental Frequency

Term Category: Acoustics

The Fundamental Frequency, or Fo, is more commonly referred to as pitch. The difference between the fundamental frequency and a pitch is that a pitch created by a singer, or most instruments, contains multiple frequencies including the fundamental frequency and overtones. The fundamental frequency is typically the lowest frequency that is being produced as seen in the image below the fundamental frequency was approximately 250Hz.

In singers, the frequency corresponds with the speed that the true vocal folds open and close. To sing A440 the true vocal folds open and close 440 times per second.


Term Category: Anatomy

The genioglossues is a fan-shaped muscle that forms most of the tongue mass and is the primary muscle for protruding the tongue. The Genioglossus is one of the extrinsic muscles of the tongue originating from the mandible and inserting into the hyoid bone and the bottom of the tongue.


Term Category: Anatomy

The Geniohyoid muscle is a pair of narrow muscles running from the chin to the hyoid bone. It helps to move the hyoid bone up and forwards. The geniohyoid originates from the inferior mental spine and inserts into the anterior surface of the hyoid bone.


Term Category: Techniques

A Glottal is a type of onset and offset. To do a glottal onset a singer adducts the vocal folds before the start of expiration. This type of onset tends towards increased vocal fold closure and may not be ideal for singers that wish to sing lighter, higher, or breathier phrases. For glottal offsets a singer stops the airflow before allowing the vocal folds to abduct.


Term Category: Anatomy

The glottis is a critical anatomical feature within the larynx that plays a fundamental role in the production of sound, breathing, and protecting the airway. The glottis is the space between the true vocal folds.

Function and Importance:

1. Sound Production (Phonation): The glottis is essential in phonation, the process of producing vocal sounds. When the vocal folds come close together and vibrate, sound is produced. The tension, length, and mass of the vocal folds, as well as the size and shape of the glottal opening, determine the pitch and quality of the sound produced.

2. Breathing: During normal breathing, the vocal folds are apart, which keeps the glottis open, allowing air to pass freely into and out of the lungs. The glottis is closed between each breath phase.

3. Airway Protection: The glottis plays a crucial role in protecting the airway during swallowing. The vocal folds close tightly to prevent food and liquid from entering the trachea and lungs.

Impact on Singing and Vocalization:

- Control over the glottis is a fundamental aspect of vocal technique for singers and speakers. The ability to manipulate the tension and position of the vocal folds, and thereby the size of the glottal opening, allows for the production of a wide range of sounds and pitches.

- Techniques such as glottal onset (the vocal folds start close together and then open), glottal offset (a brief closure of the vocal folds during phonation), and control over glottal width (for breathy or clear tone production) are all essential skills for vocalists.

In summary, the glottis is a vital anatomical structure in the larynx, primarily responsible for the production of sound, breathing, and protecting the respiratory tract. Its proper function is crucial for effective and healthy vocalization, making its control a key aspect of vocal training and technique.

Hard Palate

Term Category: Anatomy

The hard palate refers to the bony structure that forms the front portion of the roof of the mouth in humans. It is composed of the maxilla and palatine bones. The hard palate separates the oral cavity from the nasal cavity and plays a crucial role in speech production and swallowing. It provides a firm surface against which the tongue and other oral structures can press during speech sounds. The hard palate also helps to direct food and liquids towards the throat during swallowing.

Head Voice

Term Category: Techniques

Head Voice is a common term for Cricothyroid dominant vocal production or Mode 2. In this style of singing the vocal folds are thinned and frequently stretched producing less harmonic intensity and allowing for higher pitches to be produced more easily. A traditional head voice is not a breathy voice quality and so falsetto may or may not be an example of head voice.

Hering-Breuer Reflex

Term Category: Voice Science

The Hering-Breuer Reflex, discovered by physiologists Ewald Hering and Josef Breuer in the 19th century, is a reflex mechanism that plays a critical role in regulating the rhythm of breathing. It is essentially a protective reflex that prevents over-inflation of the lungs.

Definition and Mechanism:

The Hering-Breuer Reflex is initiated by stretch receptors located within the smooth muscles of the bronchi and bronchioles in the lungs. These receptors are sensitive to the stretching of the lung tissue caused by the lungs filling with air. When the lungs inflate to a certain volume, these receptors send inhibitory signals via the vagus nerve to the brainstem's respiratory center. This action triggers the end of the inhalation phase and promotes the start of exhalation, thereby preventing over-expansion of the lungs which could potentially lead to lung damage.

There are two components of the Hering-Breuer Reflex:

  • Inflation Reflex (Hering-Breuer Inspiration Reflex): This inhibits inspiratory muscles to stop inhalation, thus avoiding over-inflation.
  • Deflation Reflex: Less well understood, it supposedly encourages the onset of inspiration, preventing lung collapse by maintaining a certain minimal volume of air in the lungs.

Impact on Singing and Singing Teaching:

In singing and teaching, breath control is a fundamental aspect of technique, and understanding the Hering-Breuer Reflex can have practical implications.

  • Breath Management: Singers must learn to manage their breath efficiently to sustain phrases and control dynamics. Recognizing the body's natural impulse to exhale when the lungs reach maximum inflation can help singers plan their breaths to coincide with the natural rhythm of their body, avoiding the tension that might arise from resisting this reflex. During the majority of singing there is no reason to reach this state of maximal inflation.
  • Phrasing: Understanding this reflex allows singers and teachers to structure musical phrases that work with, rather than against, the body’s natural breathing reflexes. This could mean breaking longer phrases into shorter segments that align with comfortable breath cycles.
  • Breathing Exercises: Singing teachers may incorporate specific breathing exercises into training to enhance singers’ control over their inhalation and exhalation phases. By doing so, they can train singers to gently extend the capacity and flexibility of their lungs, improving their ability to control the timing of breath release for optimal singing performance.
  • Preventing Vocal Fatigue: Overriding the Hering-Breuer Reflex consistently can lead to increased tension in the muscles of respiration, which may contribute to vocal fatigue. Singers need to develop a breathing technique that acknowledges the body's cues for inhalation and exhalation to maintain vocal health.
  • Relaxation and Support: A singing technique that respects the natural ebb and flow of the breath cycle will lead to a more relaxed posture and support system. Teachers often stress the importance of a relaxed approach to inhalation, which can be facilitated by an understanding of the Hering-Breuer Reflex and its role in signaling the end of the inhalation phase.

Hertz (Hz)

Term Category: Acoustics

Hertz (Hz), named after Heinrich Hertz, measures the frequency of a sound by indicating the number of cycles per second that pass a given location. In singing, it is also the number of compressions generated by the vocal folds closing and is used to measure the rate of vibrato.

Hooke's Law

Term Category: Voice Science

Hooke's Law is a fundamental principle in physics that describes the relationship between the force applied to a spring or elastic material and the resulting deformation or change in length of the material. According to Hooke's Law, the force required to stretch or compress a spring is directly proportional to the displacement or extension of the spring from its equilibrium position. In singing, think of lungs and vocal folds.


Term Category: Anatomy

The Hyoglossus is one of the four extrinsic muscles of the tongue. It is responsible for the depression and retraction of the tongue. Originating from the hyoid bone and inserts into the lateral aspect of the tongue, it is innervated by the hyoglossus nerve.

Hyoid Bone

Term Category: Anatomy

The hyoid bone is a U-shaped bone located in the neck, above the larynx and beneath the root of the tongue. It is unique in that it does not articulate directly with any other bone in the body. The hyoid bone serves as a point of attachment for various muscles involved in swallowing and speech production. It plays a crucial role in supporting the tongue and larynx, aiding in their movement and coordination during vocalization and swallowing.


Term Category: Anatomy

Hyperpnea is an increase in the depth and rate of breathing in response to a higher demand for oxygen. This physiological response occurs during activities that require enhanced oxygen delivery to body tissues, such as exercise or physical exertion. Unlike hyperventilation, which often involves rapid breathing without increased oxygen demand, hyperpnea is a controlled adaptation to supply the body with the necessary oxygen and remove excess carbon dioxide.


Term Category: Voice Science

Hyperventilation is a condition of breathing more rapidly and deeply than the body requires, leading to a reduction in the carbon dioxide (CO2) level in the blood. This can result in various symptoms, including dizziness, lightheadedness, tingling sensations, and shortness of breath. Hyperventilation can be caused by anxiety, stress, asthma, exercise, and a whole host of other reasons.

In Ear Monitors

Term Category: Technology

In-ear monitors (IEMs) are personal audio devices used by musicians, performers, and audio professionals to monitor their live audio or recorded sound. They consist of earpieces that fit directly into the ears, providing individualized sound feeds to the user. In-ear monitors offer several benefits, including isolation from ambient noise, clear and balanced sound reproduction, and protection of hearing by reducing the need for high stage volumes.


Term Category: Anatomy

The Incus is one of the three small bones in the middle ear, also known as the auditory ossicles. The incus is located between the malleus (hammer) and the stapes (stirrup). Its primary function is to transmit and amplify vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. This process plays a crucial role in the conversion of sound waves into mechanical vibrations, which are then translated into neural signals for the brain to interpret as sound.

The incus bone is essential for the auditory system's ability to efficiently transmit sound waves, allowing for the perception of a wide range of frequencies and volumes. Its unique shape and positioning enable it to effectively relay and modulate the vibrations received from the malleus to the stapes, contributing to the overall sensitivity and accuracy of the hearing process.


Term Category: Anatomy

Inferior is a reference to below, the opposite of Superior. It is not an indication of the importance, simply the position of a piece of anatomy.


Term Category: Anatomy

Muscle insertion refers to the point on a muscle where it attaches to a bone, a tendon, or another structure that it moves. This attachment site is typically the more movable part when the muscle contracts. Muscle insertion plays a vital role in generating movement; when a muscle contracts, it pulls on its insertion point, causing the joint to move. 

Internal Intercostal Muscles

Term Category: Anatomy

The Internal Intercostal Muscles are located between the ribs on the inside of the ribcage, They serve as primary expiratory muscles during active expiration by pulling the rib above in and down increasing pressure in the thorax. They are not regularly used during relaxed exhalation.

Involuntary Muscles

Term Category: Anatomy

Involuntary muscles are muscles that work automatically without conscious control. They are found in various parts of the body, including the digestive system, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. In singing, the most discussed involuntary muscle is the diaphragm.


Term Category: Anatomy

The jaw, also known as the mandible, is the bone that forms the lower part of the face and the lower jawline. It is the largest and strongest bone in the human skull and plays a crucial role in various functions. The jawbone houses the lower teeth and provides support for chewing and biting food. It is also involved in speaking and facial expressions. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ), located near the ears, connects the jaw to the skull, enabling the jaw's movement for talking and eating.

Lamina Propria

Term Category: Anatomy

Lamina propria is a layer of connective tissue found within the vocal folds, located beneath the epithelium. The lamina propria consists of three layers: the superficial, intermediate, and deep layers. Each layer has distinct properties related to elasticity, flexibility, and stiffness, contributing to vocal fold vibration and sound production. The lamina propria plays a vital role in vocal fold function and is of significant importance in the study of voice physiology and vocal health.


Term Category: Anatomy

The laryngopharynx is the lower part of the pharynx, or throat, situated between the superior border of the epiglottis and the inferior border of the cricoid cartilage. It serves as a shared passageway for both air and food.


Term Category: Voice Science

Laryngoscopy is a medical procedure involving the examination of the larynx, or voice box, using a device called a laryngoscope. This instrument may be a flexible or rigid tube with a light and camera, inserted through the mouth or nose. Laryngoscopy allows healthcare professionals to visualize the vocal folds, surrounding structures, and mucous membranes. This procedure aids in diagnosing various conditions such as vocal fold disorders, laryngitis, tumors, and voice-related issues. Laryngoscopy is a crucial tool for ENT specialists and speech-language pathologists to assess and treat vocal and respiratory health.


Term Category: Anatomy

Lateral describes a position, direction, or structure that is situated away from the midline or the center of the body or an object. In anatomical terms, it refers to the side or outer area of a structure. For instance, the ears are located on the lateral sides of the head. Understanding the concept of lateral is essential for describing the spatial relationships between different body parts and for accurately communicating anatomical positions.

Lateral Cricoarytenoid Muscles (LCA)

Term Category: Anatomy

The Lateral Cricoarytenoid muscles (LCA) are intrinsic muscles of the larynx functioning with the oblique arytenoid muscles and the transverse arytenoid muscle to adduct the vocal folds. The LCAs originate from the arch of the cricoid cartilage and are inserted into the muscular process of the arytenoid cartilage.

Latissimi Dorsi

Term Category: Anatomy

Latissimi Dorsi, more commonly called “lats” are a large flat muscle on the back and sides that partially covers the trapezius. The lats are a secondary expiratory muscle. The Latissimi Dorsi has multiple points of origin but inserts into the humerus, and is innervated by the Thoracodorsal nerve.


Term Category: Techniques

Legit is a style of singing used occasionally in musical theatre or other contemporary commercial music styles. The term is typically used to describe a classically influenced singing style for female vocalists featuring a more cricothyroid-dominant (head voice or thin fold) voice production of sound with taller and rounder vowel shapes. This might also be accompanied by more legato, consistent vibrato, and longer phrase lengths.

Levator Labii Superioris

Term Category: Anatomy

The Levator Labii Superioris elevates the upper lip and is used for speech and facial expressions.

Origin: medial infra-orbital margin.

Insertion: the muscle and skin of the upper lip.

Innervation: buccal branch of the facial nerve.

Levator Scapulae

Term Category: Anatomy

The levator scapulae is a muscle in the neck and shoulder region. It originates from the upper cervical vertebrae and attaches to the scapula (shoulder blade). The levator scapulae is involved in various movements of the scapula, such as elevating and retracting it. The levator scapulae are two of the many muscles involved in body alignment.

Levator Veli Palatini

Term Category: Anatomy

The Levator Veli Palatini lifts the soft palate (also known as velum) and pulls it slightly backward, closing the nasopharyngeal (velopharyngeal) port. This closes off the nose (nasopharynx), directing sound out through the mouth. This is a preferred condition in classical singing and many styles of contemporary commercial music. The levator veli palatini is both a superior and inferior muscle.


Lombard Effect

Term Category: Voice Science

The Lombard Effect, named after the French scientist Étienne Lombard, is a phenomenon where individuals automatically adjust their vocal intensity, pitch, diction, & rate when speaking in noisy environments. While this can be beneficial it can also increase strain on the vocal mechanism or cause singers to push to be heard.

Lung Capacity

Term Category: Anatomy

Lung Capacity is a term that encompasses four different measurements of volume, typically measured in liters.

Total Lung Capacity - the total capacity of the lungs, typically between 4-7 liters of air in adults.
Vital Lung Capacity - the maximum amount of air that can be expelled from the lungs, typically between 3-5 liters in healthy adults.
Residual Lung Capacity - the leftover volume of air after exhalation.
Tidal Lung Capacity - the volume of air expelled during normal resting respiration.

So What?
Total Lung Capacity is largely a fixed amount for a healthy individual and is unlikely to be increased, total lung capacity also has little practical effect on maximum phonation duration.
Vital lung capacity is a more important measure for singers and speakers, providing the maximum volume of air available for use during a single breath. In healthy singers, an increase in vital lung capacity is also unlikely to make a noticeable difference during the majority of repertoire.

Several things can negatively affect a singer's total and vital lung capacities. Some of the most common are age and medical conditions such as COPD, Asthma, and obesity.

As previously mentioned there is little that can be done to increase Total Lung Capacity in healthy singers. Vital lung capacity can be improved through various exercises, but the most effective will be cardio-vascular exercise. However, effort is likely better spent improving air efficiency instead.

To improve efficiency:
- Torso Anchoring Practice
- Thinner Fold Mass - may reduce required airflow
- Use More Twang - increased intensity without a need for more air
- Use a microphone (most styles use one to perform anyway)
- Duration Exercises - voiced or unvoiced
- Vocal Function Exercises


Term Category: Anatomy

The Malleus is one of the three tiny bones located in the middle ear, collectively known as the ossicles, which are essential for hearing. The malleus is attached to the eardrum and transmits sound vibrations from the eardrum to the other ossicles (the incus and stapes). This chain of ossicles, in turn, amplifies and transmits the vibrations to the inner ear, allowing for the perception of sound.


Term Category: Anatomy

Medial refers to a position or direction toward the midline or center of the body. It signifies a location closer to the body's central axis. For example, when discussing vocal fold function, the term "medial compression" refers to the vocal folds coming closer together at their midline during phonation.

Messa di voce

Term Category: Techniques

Messa di voce or ‘mass of voice’ is a vocal technique where the singer phonates a single pitch and increases then decrease the intensity gradually. When done correctly, the vocal folds increase and decrease in thickness throughout this exercise.

Mixed Voice

Term Category: Techniques

Mixed Voice is a misleading term arising out of a balancing of Chest and Head voice. All phonation is a balancing act between thyroarytenoid dominant production and cricothyroid dominant production. Practically the concept of mixing is to increase or reduce thyroarytenoid activation more than one might naturally do.

Term Category: Techniques

Modal Voice is another term for Thyroarytenoid Dominant Production or Chest Voice. Modal voice is characterized by a harmonically rich sound and lower pitch range as the true vocal folds thicken and the closed quotient is increased.

Mode 1

Term Category: Techniques

Mode 1 describes singing with a thyroarytenoid dominant production or chest voice. In this production, the vocal folds are thickened, creating a strong sound with increased overtone intensity. This term has surfaced in contemporary commercial music and among voice teachers as a more accurate replacement for the term chest voice.

Mode 2

Term Category: Techniques

Mode 2 is another term for Cricothyroid dominant production, head voice, or falsetto. Mode 2 means that the vocal folds have been lengthened and stretched producing weaker harmonics. This vocal fold configuration allows for easier singing of higher fundamental frequencies.

Mucosal Wave

Term Category: Voice Science

The mucosal wave is the undulating motion of the mucous membrane (mucosa) that covers the vocal folds. During phonation, when air passes between the vocal folds, the vibratory motion of the vocal folds sets the mucosal wave in motion. This wave-like movement travels along the length of the vocal folds. The mucosal wave contributes to the complexity of vocal sound production, affecting the quality and timbre of the voice.

Muscle Insertion

Term Category: Anatomy

Muscle insertion refers to the attachment point of a muscle where it connects to a bone, usually a tendon or a ligament. This connection is essential for the muscle's function, as it allows the muscle to exert force on the bone, resulting in movement towards the muscle’s origin.

Muscle Origin

Term Category: Anatomy

The Origin of a Muscle is the attachment point where the muscle connects to a bone. When a muscle contracts the muscle insertion moves towards the origin and the origin does not move. Typically, but not always, the origin is located nearest to the center of the body.

Our goal at VoSci is to provide the most accurate and up to date information available on the internet for singers and teachers. While we strive for perfection, there is a lot of misinformation available and new information that becomes available every day. If you find information on this page or any page on VoSci that you believe is out of date please let us know using our contact form so we can look into it.