How Your Instrument Works


  • Four elements of an instrument
  • Vocal anatomy of the instrument
  • Cycle of Phonation

The Four Elements of an Instrument

  1. Actuator – Puts an object into motion
  2. Vibrator – Surface that moves at a consistent and intentional speed, which pushes air around into a sound wave
  3. Resonator – A chamber or space that enhances and amplifies the sound wave, making it more audible and identifiable
  4. Articulator – Adjustable or fixed parts that further shape the sound and give it character

How The Vocal Instrument Works

Mental exercise: Fill in the missing labels in the Cycle of Phonation below

The Cycle of Phonation begins when the brain sends the signal to inhale. Then, it follows and repeats the following:


Air is released through a controlled relaxation of the inhalation muscles, forcing air (our breath) upwards from the lungs and through the larynx at the top of the trachea.


The moving air passes through the larynx where the vocal folds are housed. When the folds are brought together against the air, they vibrate at varying speeds, depending on how tight or loose the folds are.

The movement of the vocal folds changes the way the air molecules are moved, forming a sound wave (fundamental frequency). This wave is then enhanced and molded into desired tones in the resonating chambers of space, known as the vocal tract. The vocal tract includes the pharynx (throat), oral cavities and nasal cavities.

The enhanced frequency is then further refined and can be intentionally disrupted to create identifiable shapes and sounds (vowels and consonants) by adjusting the muscles related to the tongue, jaw and lips.


Name an instrument other than the voice and identify its Actuator, Vibrator, Resonator and Articulator

What Did You Learn?

  • What the four elements of an instrument are
  • What the Cycle of Phonation is and how it begins
  • The vocal anatomy that plays a role in the Cycle of Phonation

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