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This lesson goes over the anatomy of the vocal tract, the amazing part of our body responsible for producing human speech.

We will cover the larynx and the pharynx, the major components of our vocal tract.

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Definition of the Vocal Tract

This morning as you were singing in the shower (it’s okay, no one heard), did you stop to think about how that sound was produced? Our vocal tract, although a relatively small part of the human anatomy, is an amazing part of our body. The vocal tract is the cavity found in humans that is responsible for producing sounds, without which we couldn’t speak! Many scientists believe that our ability to communicate in such a sophisticated way sets us far apart from other mammals.So, how does the vocal tract work? Let’s go over its function and providing a diagram to help you understand how our bodies produce a fundamental process: human speech.

Anatomy of the Vocal Tract

In order for humans (and non-humans, but we won’t go there in this lesson) to produce sounds, a combination of body parts need to work together. Let’s start by identifying the major parts of the vocal tract. In humans, this means the oral cavity, the nasal cavity, larynx, and the pharynx.

Each of these four components is composed of smaller components within, and we need all of these pieces to produce sound!Now, let’s start with the easiest part of our anatomy lesson, and also the least complicated. The oral cavity is your mouth, lips, teeth, and cheeks. The nasal cavity is the space behind your nose.

The intricate details of these cavities are beyond the scope of this lesson, but just remember those basics. Next let’s talk about some of the more complicated pieces of anatomy.

The Pharynx

The pharynx is a fancy way of saying the upper portion of your throat. The pharynx is a cavity which connects the nasal and oral cavities to the larynx, which we’ll talk about next. As you’ll see, the larynx is what produces sound, in the form of vibration, but you can think of the pharynx as amplifying or resonating this sound.

The shape of the throat, oral, and nasal cavities changes the vibration sounds produced by the larynx into sounds humans understand!The pharynx branches off into two parts:

  1. the esophagus, which goes down into your stomach, and
  2. the trachea, which goes down into your lungs.

As a result of this, the pharynx is very important in digestion and respiration.

pharynx, anatomy, vocal tract

The Larynx

The larynx or, as you may have heard of it referred to as, your ‘voice box’, is a muscular organ that holds your vocal cords. It also serves to form an air passage down to your lungs.

The larynx is made up of bone and cartilage, and is found on top of your trachea (your windpipe), which connects down into your lungs.Also inside of the larynx are your vocal cords, also called vocal folds for the way they are shaped. This is what is responsible for producing your voice. When these two flaps of tissue vibrate against one another, sound is produced! Ever have trouble speaking because of laryngitis? This is caused by an inflammation of your vocal cords, which makes talking difficult and painful.The larynx is also important in the production of breath and sound and also manipulates volume and pitch. Pitch is the quality of sound, or how nice a signing voice is to listen to, as well as how high or low a voice sounds to us. When the vocal folds rub together faster or slower, pitch is changed.

The shape of your particular vocal tract impacts the quality of your voice. This is what explains why some people are great singers, while others? Not as much.


The larynx is divided into three sections: supraglottis, glottis, and subglottis.

  1. The supraglottis is the part of your larynx that contains your epiglottis, or the flap that covers the entrance of the larynx, as well as your false vocal cords.

    Your false vocal cords are basically thick membranes that sit above your true vocal cords to protect them.

  2. The glottis is the part of your larynx that contains your true vocal cords, which actually produce speech. Depending on whether the glottis is opened or closed, our voice will produce different types of sound.

  3. The subglottis is the area just below your vocal cords. It is responsible for regulating breath temperature.

Lesson Summary

In order to speak, we need several pieces of our anatomy to work together. The nasal cavity is the open space behind your nose, and the oral cavitiy contains your mouth, lips, cheeks, and teeth.

The pharynx, or your upper throat, is key in respiration and digestion. The pharynx is a cavity that connects your oral cavity to your larynx. The larynx, or your voice box, houses your vocal cords, which vibrate together to produce your voice. The larynx is an organ that forms a passageway for air to get down to your lungs. The larynx is divided into the supraglottis, the glottis, and the subglottis.

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