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0769 – Why African Elephants In Underpants May Be Hurting Your Voice

Season 3, Ep. 769

2023.02.08 – 0769 – Why African Elephants In Underpants May Be Hurting Your Voice  


Say the following phrase aloud, word by word: “African. Elephants. In. Our. Underpants”.


Each word begins with a vowel, A, E, I, O and U. And as we saw before, it’s these sounds that are made with a lot of potential pressure on the larynx. Say “African” again and you will feel that the initial sound is quite harsh (unlike, say “European” which is more of a gliding first sound), as the air that has for a split second been held back, now blasts past the vocal folds (‘pressed phonation’ or ‘hard onset’). The sense of holding back the air before these sounds is because of ‘sub-glottal pressure’, that is the pressure that is under (‘sub’) your vocal folds and it’s a small version of the extreme pressure that you use when you consciously close your vocal cords before you lift something heavy. Try it!


‘Aspirate phonation’ (or ‘balanced onset’) sends more air through the vocal folds and is kinder to them such as making a ‘sigh’ sound, a breathy, throaty ‘hum’. Now, try putting a ‘silent-h’ sound at the start of each word in our phrase above, so that you glide into each initial vowel rather than ‘attacking’ it. Give it breath rather than pressure: “(h)african. (h)elephants. (h)in. (h)our. (h)underpants”. Hear and feel how this is stopping your vocal folds slamming together.


Now obviously we have looked at the extremes of the spectrum from hard, stabbing attack to an airy, breathy and light sound. You will need to find and practice a happy balance between air and muscle, to help reduce the pressure and potential damage to your folds.