What Is Tone?


  • Why tone is important and how it relates to the Cycle of Phonation
  • The function of the muscles and spaces that create tone
  • Why your voice sounds unique to you

Dimension Five: Tone

Tone refers to the quality of sound.

Improving tone is important because it will help you:

  • Project your voice with less effort
  • Tell a better emotional story when singing
  • Create more intentional sounds, textures and tonal options

Anatomy of Tone

Vocal tone is dependent on the muscles of the pharynx and chambers of space within the vocal tract.

1: Resonator

Our instrument’s resonator consists of several adjustable spaces that reflect, absorb, and amplify frequencies, which create unique shapes and sounds:

  • Pharynx – the portion of the throat most affiliated with the dimension of tone, which extends from the larynx to the nasal cavity and can be divided into three regions: laryngopharynx, oropharynx and nasopharynx
  • Oral Cavity – open space created by the tongue, oropharynx, soft palate, teeth, cheeks and hard palate as part of the vocal tract; associated more with the dimension of articulation than tone
  • Nasal Cavity- pathways made of cartilage, between the nasopharynx and nostrils, as part of the vocal instrument’s resonator


2: Muscles of the Pharynx

Our instrument’s resonator starts inside the larynx, just above the folds, and extends upwards into a moldable space created by cylindrically shaped constrictor muscles called the pharynx, which can be divided into three sections:

  • Laryngopharynx – lowest section of the pharynx, just above the larynx
  • Oropharynx – middle section of the pharynx, which opens up into the oral cavity
  • Nasopharynx – highest section of the pharynx, which opens up to the nasal cavities

How do the Resonating Spaces of the Vocal Tract Affect the Dimension of Tone?

  • Manipulation of the pharyngeal muscles will determine which frequencies are cultivated and amplified, projecting the voice with acoustics rather than force
  • The shaping of the vocal tract plays a significant role in cueing a listener into the emotional intent. By highlighting and absorbing certain frequencies, sounds can be made to sound “dark”, “happy”, “light”, “sad”, etc.
  • Strategically allowing more or less air into the nasal cavities, lifting the larynx, and narrowing the spaces just above the larynx, are some examples of how to create additional textures and vocal imbalances based on the singer’s intention

Why Don’t You Sound Like Anyone Else?

The shape and size of your larynx, vocal folds and vocal tract are all determined by your genetics. This creates a strong foundation for creating a unique sound. However, there are only very subtle differences between the shape and size of your instrument (genetically) and the other billions of people on the planet. So how is it possible that your voice can be identified from everyone else’s? The answer is simple: your life experiences, the languages you speak, the home you grew up in, and the music you listen to all heavily influence the behaviors of your vocal tract. This is due to exploring, mimicking, and experimenting with your voice when speaking and singing, both consciously and subconsciously, over the course of many years.


What are five things, or experiences, in your life that heavily influenced the sound of your voice?

What did you Learn?

  • How tone relates to the Cycle of Phonation
  • How developing tone will enhance your singing
  • What the function of the pharynx is
  • Why the sound of your voice is unique

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