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Do You Hear Yourself? Resonance is Confusing Part I

Woman's Head (1)

A few weeks ago Sam Litzinger, a news correspondent at CBS Radio News, called my attention to a New York Times article, “Why Do Our Recorded Voices Sound Weird to Us?” by Jonah Engel Bromwich, January 13, 2017.  First of all, I was amazed that the New York Times would spend space to print an article on resonance. It’s not normally something in which the public is  interested.

Secondly, I was delighted because the article solved a mystery that has plagued me since I started working with voice about 45 years ago. That is, why when people listen to their recorded voices do some say it sounds higher than what they expected and a few say the opposite?

Just to explain resonance briefly, sound waves are only audible because they create vibrations in air and everything they strike. That’s true of thunder, for example, which we hear because it makes our ear drums vibrate, but it also makes everything from wood to glass vibrate. These vibrations determine the resonance of the sound we hear.

For speech, the vibrating cavities are traditionally considered to be the nasal passages, sinus cavities, and the oral cavity. The other cavities and bones in the head vibrate as well.

The way I explain the reason we think recordings of our voices are fuller and richer than they really are is that we usually only hear them resonated once when recorded. When we hear our voices in our heads, we hear “double” resonance compared to what others hear. We hear the sound vibrating in the bones and cavities of our body as well as hearing the sound as it comes into our ears after resonating in the air.  Because of this I always think I sound like Minnie Mouse when I hear my recorded voice (check out this post on the subject). It sounds so different. In my head, it sounds rich and full.

But it seems there are more factors in play. A more scientific expansion of this is given in the New York Times article. I am going to quote a short bit from an interview source in the article because this is as new to me as it is to you.

“‘There are multiple paths that these vibrations take to get to the skull,’ Dr. Rosowski said. ‘They include the vibrations of the skull itself, which can vary.’

He says other factors influencing the way vibrations of the voice could travel to the brain included interaction with cerebrospinal fluid, the clear liquid in the brain and spine, and variations in sound pressure in the ear canal.”

So there you have it!  The answer to the question that has plagued me for so many years.  It’s a complex one, but it seems to say that even the liquid in our brains can make a difference.  Some of us have more cerebrospinal fluid and the pressure varies in the ear canal; therefore the resonance can be different.

If you’d like to improve your resonance, check out this blog post as well as the one linked to above.

And if you want to improve your voice, download the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. It contains advice on resonance and every other area of vocal production.


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