Rebecca Sherburn - voice expert

How the Voice Works

Start learning the basics of singing with this very basic, yet important, lesson

In this video, we introduce Dr. Rebecca Sherburn, Director of Vocal Studies and Associate Professor of Voice at Chapman University in Southern California. Starting from this video, she'll take care of giving us fantastic voice lessons for the months to come. In this first video, Rebecca gives you a primer on mastering the voice.

Released on October 4, 2017

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Have you ever thought about how your voice works? We can all talk, and most of us can sing, but how do we do it? The voice is a musical instrument, but you can't see most of it, and that makes it pretty mysterious. And everyone's voice is different. No two are alike.

I've thought about this a lot because I'm the Director of Vocal Studies at Chapman University in Southern California, and it's my job. My name is Dr. Rebecca Sherburn. This is the first in a series of talks on singing presented by

I am a classically trained singer, but this information applies to any kind of singing. So here's a fairly basic explanation, without a lot of science, just from a practical standpoint. How do we make this musical instrument work? We inhale, and as we exhale, the airstream gets chopped up by the vibrating vocal folds. There are two of them located at the top of the trachea, fixed in the front, and they open in the back like this.

So the air we're exhaling, now, is cut into a pattern by the vocal folds, which indicates pitch. Our exhalation now has pitch, but there's no sound until that patterned air stream hits an open space and is amplified. And that happens directly above the vocal folds in the throat and the mouth, and sometimes in the nose, like this. "Waaa!"

Take a breath and sing, "Waaa." Ready?


Great. Wasn't that fun? But there's more.

One of the attributes that makes the voice so special is our ability to articulate, to sing words. When you superimpose text onto music, it reaches out and grabs us on an intellectual and emotional level. So the complete process with text goes like this. We inhale, and as we exhale, the airstream gets chopped up into a pattern which includes pitch by the vocal folds. This patterned airstream hits the open throat and mouth, and is amplified, and now we have sound. Then, we move our jaw, tongue, lips, and the soft palate to sing words as we're exhaling this amplified sound, like this. "And I love you, too."

Take a breath and sing this with me. Ready?

"And I love you, too."

Sing it again, just for fun. Ready?

"And I love you, too."

So sweet. Let's change pitch, like this. "And I love you, too." Ready?

"And I love you, too."

Text makes it even more fun.

So no other instrument has this direct communicative ability. Instrumentalists actually go to great lengths to humanize their sound by adding vibrato, or sometimes wind instruments will shape vowels in the mouth to color their tone and try to sound more human. They all want to be us. So no matter what you may have heard, the voice is the Queen of Instruments. The title of King was taken by the organ, sorry.

And one more thing about singing, it's good for you. It's good for the soul. The vibrations we produce as we sing connect our head, our heart, and our body all together. And when we sing with others, we feel their vibrations, and that connects us to them, which helps us remember that, yes, we are all connected.

And finally, breathing well for singing is like a massage for your internal organs, so watch for the breathing chat coming soon, and you'll feel what I mean. If you can breathe, chances are good that you can sing. Give it a try.

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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tim Wessley on February 24, 2021 @8:29 am PST
Thank you for the video. Looking forward to learning more.
Mikayla Feldman on October 16, 2017 @1:11 pm PST
What a wonderful video, I've never seen anything like it! Looking forward to learning more from you!!
Stephen Coker on October 5, 2017 @1:21 pm PST
Utterly delightful way of delivering important information!
Sarah on October 4, 2017 @5:53 pm PST
Awesome video!
Amy Rausch on October 4, 2017 @5:47 pm PST
I can sing!! Bring on more lessons. Love your voice and the confidence you instill in me. Look forward to more!
Amy Rausch
artisto on October 4, 2017 @3:03 pm PST
Great intro
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