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The Common Cold
The Common Head Cold:
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 Adenoid Problem

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 Voice And Speech

 Summary And Conclusions

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Voice And Speech

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

A word may be added as to the effect of cold on that part of the respiratory tract which is the seat of the voice. This is a matter of great importance to singers, public speakers, and actors, because a cold settling in these parts hits directly at their capital or means of livelihood.

There are some individuals, in whom a cold shows a predilection for the larynx, striking there first of all as a place of greatest weakness, but as a rule the cold begins above, either in the nose, or in the tonsils, and then spreads downward to involve the voice-producing organ.

There can be no doubt that straining the voice from excessive use, or bad methods of voice production have much to do with rendering the larynx susceptible to attack, for the congestion induced from such causes is added to the congestion from the usual cause of cold.

Any condition which obstructs nasal breathing is very harmful to all the lower parts of the respiratory tract, including the larynx, for in such cases the unfiltered and unpurified air comes directly in contact with these parts, bringing with it dust particles, and disease germs. Mouth breathers have nearly always irritated, dry throats and a rough hoarse voice,

The inhalation of irritant fumes and gases must be mentioned as a predisposing cause of colds of especial importance in laryngitis. The habit of inhalation in smoking is therefore carefully to be avoided with persons who value their voices

The larynx is that part of the respiratory tube which has undergone special modification in order that it may at the same time become the seat of the organ of phonation or the production of sound. In order to serve this latter purpose, the tract becomes narrowed, especially at the location of the vocal cords. At the moment of phonation there is almost complete closure so that during the act of phonation the respiratory functions are temporarily in abeyance.

As explained in Chapter III, the vocal cords do not open throughout their entire length, but remain fixed at one end, while the other two ends move away from each other. The opening thus produced which is naturally of a triangular shape, is called rima glottidis, or chink of the glottis, and is sufficient for the current passing to and fro in the act of respiration.

As respiration can take place only when the cords are open and as their approximation is essential to sound production, it is evident that the respiratory muscles are openers of the glottis, and must be regarded as antagonistic to the muscles of phonation, or the glottis closers. It is a remarkable fact that nature has depended upon one small pair of muscles for the former important function, while quite a number co-operate in the latter.

It is fortunate that it seldom, or never happens that both of the cord openers are paralysed at the same time, for if they should be, the glottis would keep closed from the ordinary tension of the phonation muscles and the patient would suffocate.

It is to be noted that there is an essential physiological difference in the acts of respiration and phonation, which involves an essential difference in the government of the muscles of the larynx connected with these two functions. Respiration is, like heart function, an involuntary one, which goes on night and day without any intervention from the conscious will. Phonation on the contrary is directly under the control of the conscious forces of the intellect and so we speak only when we will.

Now it is a well known physiological principle that involuntary processes of the organism de-rive their chief nervous control from centres situated not in the brain but in the upper spinal cord, while with the voluntary function the re-verse is true.

Therefore we understand that the chief centre for the muscles which open the glottis, a respira-tory act, are in the spinal cord or medulla, though since the will may intervene, as when we wish, for example, to take an extraordinary deep breath, or for a moment hold the breath, there exist also cerebral centres, though generally latent and inactive. On the contrary the chief centre for phonation is in the brain where originate the impulses which act upon the complex muscular mechanism of the larynx to produce the various vocal effects. In this view, voice production may be regarded as a mental process, the higher development and perfection of which can only be attained by intellectual training and education.

In the new-born babe, before the phonatory centres have become developed, the production of the voice is practically a mechanical process. One of the first things an infant does when he comes into the world is to use the vocal cords, and during its early years this exercise is practised to the utmost, for its sole language is the cry and this bursts forth spontaneously, in response to irritants of a thousand kinds. Thus in the new-born the spinal centres are most active and re-main paramount; the higher centres exerting but a feeble control at first and only later, as the intellect develops, coming to have a dominating influence. This relatively overwhelming rule on the part of the spinal cord explains why infants and young children have such a tendency toward-spasmodic croup, and laryngismus stridulus,—for mechanisms which operate thus through the spinal centres are known to be less stable and more liable to reflex, especially when the inhibitory influences from the cerebral cortex have not asserted their control.

It is of the utmost importance that we do net confuse in our mind the concept "voice" with the rather more inclusive concept "speech." Voice may be defined as the raw material out of which speech, the finished product, is manufactured. Originating in the vocal cords, it is through the intervention of the palate, tongue, lips and teeth that the simple elementary sounds become eventually moulded into articulate spech. Voice in its original state is composed of vowel sounds only; speech requires the addition of consonants, which are nothing more than various interruptions of the pure sounds by the organs of articulation.

Speech is an intellectual process, being the chief instrument for the communication of our ideas; voice expresses emotion only. Speech, some cynic has said, was made for the purpose of disguising our thoughts; few, however, can avoid being betrayed by the voice, for, as the old adage informs us, "the tongue may lie but the voice will tell the truth." In other words, though the lips speak falsely, the "tears in the voice" must betray the ill-concealed emotion of the speaker.

The voice has been called the mirror of the soul, so truly does it reflect its inward workings. Anger, sadness, modesty, joy, sympathy, how exquisitely and unfailingly are these emotions ex-pressed. The dramatic artist understands this well enough, and is as careful to impress the audience by the voice suited to the part as by the facial make-up. The gruff voice of the hardened tyrant, the soft, gentle voice of the heroine, the drawl of the comedian, and the sweet silvery tones of the lover are familiar enough to us all; and in the old-fashioned melodrama, too, you will surely not fail to hear the hissing voice that escapes between the closed teeth of the detested villain.

A good speaking voice is without doubt one of the most valuable assets a man can possess, no matter what may be his occupation or main pur-pose in life. To the lawyer, lecturer, actor, teacher, clergyman, legislator, it is of course an absolute and indispensable requisite, but to persons in all walks of life, it is a highly desirable endowment that has much to do in determining a successful career. In the world of business, science, education and politics alike a pleasing address is acknowledged to count for much. The persuasive voice will overcome opposition; confident tones convince adversaries; a sympathetic accent will make friends, where timid, unfeeling and uncertain speech, using the same words and advancing the same arguments, would fail.

It cannot be denied that the harsh, rasping voices of some men repel, and the shrill, strident voices of some women, "get on the nerves." That we judge men and women by their voices is too well known and accepted to require insistence. This being so, we have only to insist that the voice be preserved in all its original purity and pre-vented from deterioration; that its disorders be quickly corrected, and the causes leading thereto promptly and thoroughly removed. For, while it is a great advantage to have a normal voice, flexible, expressive and capable of conveying the very ideas, and producing the very impression that is desired, on the other hand it must be counted a great misfortune if it be so altered by diseased conditions that it not only fails to do this but actually does the reverse, misrepresenting the sentiments, belying the disposition, and giving false impression of one's mental and moral attributes.

To understand the defects to which the voice may be subject, it is necessary thoroughly to understand the mechanism of its production; and to arrive at the causes which can produce these defects we must be familiar with both those influences which operate from without as well as with the pathological alterations which exist in the vocal organs themselves. In considering the local causes of voice troubles, it may not be out of place to correct a misapprehension on the part of some, at least, who are in the habit of regarding the larynx as the sole organ of the voice.

If we compare the larynx to a violin, the strings must be represented by the vocal cords, and the body of the violin which gives character to the instrument, by the pneumatic spaces below and above, including the oral and nasal cavities. The motive power, which in the case of the violin is the bow drawn across the strings by the skilled hand of the artist, is represented in the human organ by the expiratory blasts proceeding from the lungs. Corresponding with this three-fold composition of the vocal organ, we have a trinity of voice qualities, which form a natural basis for our study of its defects.

First, intensity, or the dynamic quality, is de-rived from the force and power of the lungs, or bellows. That a proper development of the lungs is essential to a voice of normal intensity is manifest and need not detain us long. Those who have to use their voices for prolonged discourse, or in singing, need a full chest capacity not compromised by any pathological conditions within or without which compress the lungs. Any disease of the lungs, as tuberculosis, soon makes itself felt in shortness of breath, when this is called upon for the function of phonation in addition to respiration. Out of breath, out of voice, is a self-evident proposition. We witness it in asthma, tuberculosis, pneumonia and various other affections.

Second, pitch is a quality which originates in the varying tensity of the vocal bands opposed to this expiratory air current. The quality of pitch is almost, if not quite wholly, a function of the larynx and it is, therefore, in the larynx that we must look for the cause of its disorders. Pitch depends upon the number of vibrations which reach the ear within a given time; the more numerous the sound waves the higher the pitch, and vice versa. The vocal cords by a wonderful arrangement of muscles are capable of undergoing modifications in thickness, length, and tension, whereby vibrations of greater or less amplitude and frequency are produced. This is done chiefly by the intrinsic muscles, while certain others situated outside the larynx may modify the shape, position and tension of the larynx as a whole, in such a way as to produce the different registers of the voice.

Third, timbre, a quality which is given it by the adjacent cavities. The timbre of the voice is that which gives it character and enables us to distinguish the voice of one individual from that of another. This function is performed to some ex-tent by the cavity below the glottis, but to a much greater extent by the supraglottic cavities, the nose, throat, mouth and accessory sinuses. Acting as resonating chambers, they serve to rein-force the vibration emanating from the cords, and by their different size and conformation give to the voice its individual character.

Inflammation of the larynx, resulting from a cold, will be attended with a congestion of the parts, with occasionally a swelling of the mucous membrane surrounding the cord. The cords them-selves are lined by a very thin transparent layer of mucous membrane, and in violent inflammation the cords will lose their normal white color and become pink or even deeply red.

When the larynx becomes acutely inflamed from a cold it is usually tender and sore, and painful on use of the voice, but the chief symptom indicating trouble there is hoarseness, of more or less degree.

If there is so much swelling between the cords that they cannot come together at all, there can be complete loss of tonal character to the voice which is reduced to a whisper.

Sometimes there occurs a dropsical swelling of the membrane (edema of the larynx) which closes the glottis and produces suffocation.

It must be obvious, from what has been said of the special cause of laryngitis, that to prevent its occurrence it is most important to get rid of any obstructive disease of the nose and to remove diseased tonsils.

The inhalation of irritant fumes, and improper and excessive use of the voice must be carefully guarded against in the case of individuals with a special predisposition to laryngitis, and when one is suffering from an attack it is imperative that the voice be spared as much as possible unless you want to run the danger of. having it permanently injured.

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