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Vocal Cords 101

If Jessica Simpson has taught us anything recently it's that vocal cords are a delicate instrument. One false move and you could be like Jessica, spending her album's launch party looking poutie and holding a sign that says "I can't talk". Here are the goods on the operation, care and keeping of the most portable instrument there is!

Vocal Cords - How They Work

Vocal cords aren't actually chords but are folds comprised of sets of mucus membranes stretched across the larynx. The larynx is the "voice box" and is located where the trachea (breathing tube) and esophagus (eating tube) diverge. The vocal cords regulate the flow of air from the lungs during speaking and singing. The size of the space between the cords (called the "glottic chink") is important for breathing and speech. The vocal cords remain open (with a larger glottic chink) during inhalation, closed when you hold your breath, and held apart just a little for speech or singing. The vagus nerve controls the movement.

Vocal Cords - Your Cords, Your Voice

The pitch of a persons voice pitch is controlled by the resonant frequency (vibration) of the vocal folds. The average adult male has a frequency of about 125 Hz, the frequency is about 210 Hz in adult women and about 300 Hz or more in children. The higher the frequency, the higher the voice. You can change the frequency of your voice by tightening or loosening the space between the vocal cords using the vagus nerve.

Vocal Cords - Proper Care and Feeding

If you don't want a disappearing voice - a la Jessica (and a ton of American Idol contestants) - you need to take it easy on the little fellas. Step one is keeping hydrated, so avoid caffeine and arid places like deserts. Drink plenty of water. Don't smoke (as if you needed another reason not to smoke!). Overuse can cause your vocal cords to become strained, tired and even bruised, so keep your screaming to a minimum when Justin brings Sexy Back to your town. Voice lessons can be a great way to train your vocal chords if you're musically inclined. And - as a bonus - they're a lot lighter to carry around than a piano!

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