University of Utah Researcher Explores The Highs and Lows Of Animal Vocal Range | KUER 90.1

University of Utah Researcher Explores The Highs and Lows Of Animal Vocal Range

Jun 16, 2016

New research from the National Center for Voice and Speech at the University of Utah reveals some interesting insights into how our voices work.

Illustration by Lisa A. Clark, MA, CMI, based on original art concept by Kanako Omichi and Tobias Riede. Copyright 2016 Ingo R. Titze, Tobias Riede, and Ted Mau

Researchers have known for some time that body size correlates with with the average pitch an animal can produce. So elephants produce low sounds, and mice produce sounds much higher.

“But the range over which they can make sound, how high and how low, that has not been predictable by size at all.”

That’s Ingo Titze. He’s the director of the National Center for Voice and Speech. When he and his colleagues began to look deeper into why this is the case, they found that an animal’s vocal range is determined largely by the stretchiness and stiffness of ligaments in vocal cords and not by size.

“Here we took the anatomy of a tiger, in terms of that size, and a baby’s in that size and here’s a, this is all simulated now tiger growl."

<Tiger Growl>

"And this is a baby cry."

<Baby Cry>

"What do they have in common. If you take all the frequencies of the baby and move them down by a factor of five because of size. You’d get this."

<Baby Growl>

"You hear the same growl and the roughness in it,” Titze says.

So what does that mean for you and me? Well, Titze says he hopes his research will help doctors who repair vocal cords

“What they have to figure out is how to we preserve that little band, that little string that’s in the vocal folds so that someone, if they want to, in a repaired system, can still produce the range that they’re interested in, like singing in a choir.”

Titze says these ligaments also need to be exercised and because humans mostly just talk these days, they could be losing the full range of sound they once could make.