Resonance and articulation

An educational institution has asked you to teach a 10-week course (10x1hr) in resonance and articulation to a group of 16-22 acting students who have a good understanding of alignment and breathing. Provide the rationale (what and why) and an overview (how) of the course (3,500 words).

Resonance and articulation are produced at the last stages of vocal progression. The vibrations are produced by true vocal folds and are generated by resonating spaces within the throat, mouth and the nose. As a result, initial sound is reformed into vowels and consonants of language. The concept is similar to how string instruments such as violin and cello induce sound where the initial sound is amplified into various pitch and tone. The final music assembled from the instruments depends on the surface area of the instrument and the skills of the player.

Just like in music, actors require strong articulation skills where their performances are dependent on the ability to 1) deliver the true and deep meaning of texts, 2) apply additional qualities such as emotion and feelings that ‘re-shape' the communication between the audience and the actors (Shewell 2010:203).

This essay will cover fundamental aspects of vocal resonance and articulation such as anatomy physiology and will critically discuss resonance and articulation. Additionally one possible approach will be suggested that may contribute to an effective strategy for training acting students.


The literal meaning of resonance is ‘re-sound' and the resonance of human voice can be anatomically explained. Initial sound waves from true vocal folds pass through spaces of vocal tract and vibrations results from air molecules trapped within these spaces. Vibration can be categorized into sympathetic and harmonic vibrations. As a result, the initial sound is louder and presented with various textures (Houseman 2002: 162). The vocal tract operates as an acoustic resonator, an air filled cavity, where vibrations that travel through are either maximised or dampened. The vibrations are comprised of natural and multiple resonating frequencies, which occur when the vocal folds open and close per second, and form harmonics. Vowel sounds, also known, as formants are directly dependent on vocal organs of vocal tract. Usually lower frequencies are generated by larger spaces and higher frequencies by smaller spaces in the vocal tract. The resonance in this form is called ‘primary resonance', which is air-conducted (Lawrence 2007:106) (The diagram of Source Filter Theory can be found in Appendix 1- A, B). Vibrations occur in other parts of the body and are referred as ‘secondary resonance' or ‘indirect resonance'. Anatomically, the sound is conducted through bones, including teeth, hard plate, nasal bone, cheekbones, sinuses, forehead, and cranium and secondarily in the spinal vertebrae and the rib cage (Lessac 1997:16-17). Christina describes the process, what actually happens in our body:

If you intone a long aah as fully and loudly possible, you may feel as if you have a good strong head resonance, and that you voice is echoing in your nasal and frontal sinus spaces. But what is actually happening is that the bony structures of your hard palate, teeth and cheekbones are picking up the vibrations, and you feel them in the front of your skull. As your soft palate is probably up against the back wall of your pharynx, there is no column of sounded air vibrating in your nose, as your nose and upper head are closed off from the voice vibrations. (Shewell 2010:176-7)

Sundberg (1987) describes 40 different places on the body where people can feel vibrations as they speak. As a result, people misunderstand that these sympathetic vibrations are caused by resonance chambers in the top of the head, above the eyes, and in the chest, where most distinct vibrations occur in the body. However, the spontaneous resonating chambers only include airways above the larynx from glottis to the lips.

The vocal resonators consist of three sections; the pharyngeal, oral, and nasal. Seikel (1997) defines the chambers within vocal resonators into oral, buccal, nasal, and pharyngeal cavities. The buccal cavity is at lips, between the teeth and the cheeks, which is the oral section of the vocal resonator. (An illustration of the vocal tract can be found in Appendix 2). The complex features of these cavities are what make resonance of human voice unique and balanced (Carey 2008:115). Actors require prerequisite skills of controlling these cavities and master voice techniques to perform various roles.

The ‘blend' feature of resonance rose from nasal cavity. Despite its small, fixed and limited structure, it has a vital role in resonance. The vibration produced from nasal cavity is at high frequencies and pitch, which often add power. In contrast, the tube-shaped pharyngeal cavity in three regions; laryngopharynx, oropharynx, and nasopharynx have flexibility by adjusting the height of the larynx and the width of the pharynx. The most significant chamber in resonance is oral cavity where speech is produced. The vowels and the consonants are formed by the muscle movement of tongue, located on the floor of oral cavity that created space. The anatomy of hard plate, the roof of the mouth extends to the soft palate and velum. The velum is the movable muscle separating the oral and the nasal cavities (An illustration of the anterior view of oral cavity can be found in Appendix 3).


Articulation takes place in the oral cavity, where resonated sound waves are transformed into spoken words that has different meanings and tones. Two types of articulators exist and consist of fixed structures, e.g. teeth, alveolar ridges and the hard palate. The soft palate is known as a movable articulator as broad muscle movement between the pharynx and the nasal cavities produce different vowel sounds and consonants. However, three distinct nasal consonants are excluded (IPA charts can be found in Appendix 4). It is also an essential element necessary to add emotional factors to express vowels and consonants. Its vital role is evident in many voice practitioners including myself (An illustration of 3 positions of soft palate can be found in Appendix 5).

The tongue has three distinctive muscular movements; up and back, down and back, and up and forward (Raphael 2005:108). Vowel sound formants consist of the position of the tongue and the lip rounding (An illustration of cardinal vowel tongue position can be found in Appendix 6). The clarity and precision of speech are decided by various facial muscles from lips to jaw line.

Consonants are formed by a complete or partial closure of the vocal tract, interrupting the air stream by articulators. Therefore, the muscles of the articulators impact directly on resonance and articulation by its diverse effects on resonating spaces. (The Diagrams of the place of articulation of each sound can be found in Appendix 7)

The anatomical and physiological aspects of resonance and articulation illustrate the complex interaction between the two elements. Specializing and mastering both elements is the key to voice training and often present challenges to the actors.

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