voice, sound produced by living beings. The source of the sound in human speaking and singing is the vibration of the vocal cords, which are inside the larynx, and the production of the sounds is called phonation. The vocal cords are set into vibration by air from the lungs that moves through the windpipe passing over them, and they in turn produce resonance in the column of air enclosed by the pharynx. The mouth and throat are variable in size and shape, thus permitting alteration of vowel sound and pitch. At puberty the vocal cords of the male become approximately double their original length, with the result that the average adult male voice is about an octave lower in pitch than the female.

The Voice in Music

Not only is the voice the principal means of human communication, but it was undoubtedly the first musical instrument. The principal difference between singing and speaking is that in singing the vowel sounds are sustained and given definite pitch. Despite the innate and natural quality of singing, the training of the singing voice for artistic purposes is among the most subtle and difficult branches of music pedagogy. The instrument is within the performer, and the condition of the vocal apparatus, and thus the quality of the voice, is strictly dependent on the physical and mental condition of the singer. Since the vocal impulse cannot actually be described, the teacher's task is to provide the pupil with concepts, usually systematized into a vocal "method," that will free the vocal apparatus from restrictive tensions and lead ultimately to the complete coordination of all the faculties involved. The foundation of the scientific study of the voice was laid in the middle of the 19th cent. by Manuel Patricio Rodríguez García, a successful voice teacher and writer, who invented the laryngoscope (used to examine the interior of the larynx).

Because of the great changes that have taken place in the art of singing within Western musical culture, modern singers can only approximate the vocal timbre of previous eras. Gregorian chant may have been sung with a nasal timbre resembling Oriental technique. The Neapolitan operatic school developed the virtuoso art of bel canto, in which brilliance of vocal technique was stressed rather than romantic expression or dramatic interpretation. The sound of the castrato (see eunuch), for which many 17th- and 18th-century soprano and alto roles were intended, is approached by several contemporary countertenors using falsetto techniques. The electronic microphone has, in recent times, had an enormous impact on the voice and on styles of singing, through its ability to project very quiet, intimate sounds, and to magnify exciting sounds to a feverish intensity.

Singing voices are classified according to range as soprano and contralto, the high and low female voices, with mezzo-soprano as an intermediate classification; and as tenor and bass, the high and low male voices, with baritone as an intermediate classification. Within these ranges there are specific designations of the quality of a voice, e.g., coloratura soprano. Choral music generally requires a range of about an octave and a half for each voice; a solo singer must have at least two octaves, and some have been known to possess ranges of three, even three and a half, octaves. See also song.


See D. Stevens, ed., A History of Song (1960); R. Luchsinger and G. E. Arnold, Voice, Speech, Language (1965); R. Rushmore, The Singing Voice (1971); S. Butenschon and H. Borchgrevink, Voice and Song (1982).

voice, grammatical category according to which an action is referred to as done by the subject (active, e.g., men shoot bears) or to the subject (passive, e.g., bears are shot by men). In Latin, voice is a category of inflection like mood or tense. In ancient Greek, verbs were conjugated in three voices: active, passive, and middle (reflexive).
The term voice-over refers to a production technique where a non-diagetic voice is broadcast live or pre-recorded in radio, television, film, theater and/or presentation. The voice-over may be spoken by someone who also appears on-screen in other segments or it may be performed by a specialist voice actor. Voice-over is also commonly referred to as "off camera" commentary.

The term voice-over can also refer to the actual voice actor who performed the recording. The terms voice actor, narrator, voice artist, announcer are all similarly used.

Types and uses of voice-over

As a character device

In the 1956 film version of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, Richard Basehart, as Ishmael, narrates the story and sometimes comments on the action in voice-over, as does William Holden in the films Sunset Boulevard and The Counterfeit Traitor, as well as John Mills in David Lean's Great Expectations (based on Charles Dickens's novel) and Michael York in a television remake of the book.

Voice-over technique is likewise used to give voices and personalities to animated characters. The most noteworthy and versatile of whom include Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Don Messick and June Foray.

As a creative device

In film, the filmmaker places the sound of a human voice (or voices) over images shown on the screen that may or may not be related to the images being shown. Consequently, voiceovers are sometimes used to create ironic counterpoint. Also, sometimes they can be random voices not directly connected to the people seen on the screen. In works of fiction, the voice-over is often by a character reflecting back on his or her past, or by a person external to the story who usually has a more complete knowledge of the events in the film than the other characters.

Voice-overs are often used to create the effect of storytelling by a character/omniscient narrator. For example, in The Usual Suspects, the character of Verbal Kint has voice-over segments as he is recounting details of a crime. Other examples of storytelling voice overs can be heard The Shawshank Redemption and Big Fish.

Sometimes, voiceover can be used to aid continuity in edited versions of films, in order for the audience to gain a better understanding of what has gone on between scenes. This was done when the 1948 Joan of Arc , starring Ingrid Bergman, turned out to be far from the box-office and critical hit that was expected, and was edited down from 145 minutes to 100 minutes for its second run in theatres. The edited version, which circulated for years, used narration to conceal the fact that large chunks of the film had been cut. In the full-length version, restored in 1998 and released on DVD in 2004, the voiceover narration is heard only at the beginning of the film.

The genre of film noir is especially associated with the voice-over technique.

In radio, voice-overs are an integral part of the success of the radio programme. Although the announcer holds the prestige and claims all the glory, it is the voice-over artist that is the real drive behind the show. For example, David M. Green's Summer Pow-Wow and his voice-over artist, Tim Wray.

As an educational or descriptive device

The voice-over has many applications in non-fiction as well. Television news is often presented as a series of video clips of newsworthy events, with voice-over by the reporters describing the significance of the scenes being presented; these are interspersed with straight video of the news anchors describing stories for which video is not shown.

Television networks such as The History Channel and the Discovery Channel make extensive use of voice-overs.

Live sports broadcasts are usually shown as extensive voice-overs by expert announcers over video of the sporting event.

Game shows formerly made extensive use of voice-overs to introduce contestants and describe available or awarded prizes, but this technique has diminished as shows have moved toward predominantly cash prizes.

Voice-over commentary by a leading critic, historian, or by the production personnel themselves is often a prominent feature of the release of feature films or documentaries on DVDs.

As a commercial device

The commercial use of voice-over in advertising has been popular since the beginning of radio broadcasting.

In the early years, before effective sound recording and mixing, announcements were produced "live" and at-once in a studio with the entire cast, crew and, usually, orchestra. A corporate sponsor hired a producer, who hired writers and voice actors to perform comedy or drama.

The industry expanded very rapidly with the advent of television in the 1950s and the age of highly produced serial radio shows ended. The ability to record high-quality sound on magnetic tape also created opportunities, as has the proliferation of home computers capable of recording, often using inexpensive (even free) software and a microphone of reasonable quality.

As a translation device

In some countries, such as Russia and Poland, a voice-over provided by a single artist is commonly used on television as a localization technique, as an alternative to full dubbing. See Gavrilov translation.

Prominent or iconic voice-over artists


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