Singing vs. Speaking

I have recently subscribed to Netflix and ever since I have been addicted to a show called Orange is the New Black. One of the characters on the show never speaks because of a severe speech impediment, but she is a fantastic singer. I am curious about the difference in mechanisms between what it takes to speak, and what it takes to sing. My voice is not particularly unpleasant, but it is a whole different story when I sing. Singing is a skill, while normal speech tends to comes easy, but we the voice for both actions.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology explains well how the voice is produced. To talk, obviously air is needed. During a breath, that air goes through the larynx and makes the vocal folds in the larynx vibrate. Those vibrations make the sound needed for speech, but that is not the only component. Every person has an individual shape of their nose, mouth, and throat, which that changes the sound of our voice. That is why everyone has a different voice. The process for speaking is pretty straight forward.



Singing is not much different. According to The National Center for Voice and Speech (NCVS) there are only two differences. The first one is that more air is needed to sing. You can feel that just from doing each. Before singing, I naturally take a deep breath in, whereas I barely even notice the breaths I take in order to speak. NCVS also says there is more supraglottis space needed to sing. Frank Gaillard says the supraglottis is just another part of the larynx, the same place where those vocal folds are. The same mechanism is used for singing and speaking.

One study at the Institute of Experimental Psychology compared singing and speaking. There were 24 participants and they were between the ages of 21 and 33. First, they were instructed to speak a word with no specific pitch, then they had to match pitch with a note that was played prior to their singing. The pitch of the note was based on the gender on the participant, all of the females had the same frequency and all of the males had the same frequency. In doing this, the researchers excluded gender as a confounding variable by blocking the frequencies. A major finding of the study was that the data showed it takes more control over your voice to sing in comparison to just speaking. Physical structure and experimental data support the fact that singing takes more vocal control than speaking.

My findings have left me a little bit more confused about the character in Orange is the New Black, but I guess that is okay. If more control is needed to sing, I would think that it would be harder to sing with a speech impediment, but that does not prove to be true in the instance of that specific character. On the other hand, I am not totally sure if the character represents an actual person and their situation.



2 thoughts on “Singing vs. Speaking

  1. Dana Corinne Pirrotta

    Hhi Erin! This is a really interesting blog because one of my cousins had to use this technique given to him by his speech therapist. I never had stuttering issues, but I read that if children suck their thumbs for too long during development that they increase themselves to stutter.

  2. Jackie Michelle Tremblay

    I actually have a little brother with a stutter, and when he was very young and he couldn’t get the words out he would sing them instead.
    As a singer myself I always wondered if having a good singing voice is hereditary or not. I suppose in a way it is because you inherit physical features like the width of your nose, which like you said in your post, can affect how your voice sounds. I think however it must of skipped a generation because my parents can’t sing well at all!

Leave a Reply