Music & the Voice: Giraffes & Singing


Do giraffes have vocal cords?

Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club 

Many children are fascinated with giraffes and they are very interesting animals! Their long necks have evolved over time and there are some interesting facts about why giraffes don't have much of a voice. I found an informative site called, "Tetrapod Zoology" from Daren Naish who is a writer & technical editor at Scientific American Publications, and a palaeo-zoologist from the University of Portsmouth, UK. (Click the links to learn more)

Here is some information from the article about giraffe anatomy from his recent studies and dissection of a giraffe who was killed by poachers:

"Perhaps the most memorable scene involved the dissection of the recurrent laryngeal nerve: the branch of the vagus nerve that travels from the brain to the larynx. Rather than going directly for all of 50 mm or so, it needlessly travels all the way down to the heart, loops round the aorta, and then comes all the way back up to the larynx. This is more pronounced in a giraffe than any other living animal, of course. This is illogical 'bad design' and apparently the result of historical legacy: in the earliest vertebrates, the nerve was taking the most direct route, but once necks evolved the nerve found itself in the middle of a complex vascular junction, and had to remain tangled with the aorta even when the aorta and the brain became widely separated. 'Bad design', whatever it means and whatever significance you want to give it, does demonstrate the contingent nature of evolution..."This might explain the debate about whether giraffes have vocal cords or not. They indeed don't have a "voice" to speak of, but the reason is because of the long journey the laryngeal nerve must take to function in the modern day giraffe.

For me, I find it interesting that the nerves of the larynx  need to travel from the brain to the heart before ending up at the throat where vocal cords reside. This supports the old Cherokee belief that the voice is connected to the heart. American Cherokee teachings say that it is possible to strengthen the voice by strengthening the heart and also strengthening the heart strengthens the voice. So, singing is a healthy activity in every way! This is probably why so many people say that music is healing, especially singing.

Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

You might be interested to know the various stages of vocal development according to Joanne Rutkowski from "Exploring the Many Voices of Children"(Kindermusik International Notes, Feb/March, 2001) 

"What a joy to hear young children sing. Each child's voice is his or her own instrument and brings much pleasure....The following five terms can be used to identify children's voices:
  • Pre-Singer: These children generally use a talking voice no matter what type of voice they are asked to use. They 'sing' by talking.
  • Speaker Range Singer: These children talk when asked to talk and they "sing" when asked to sing, but they use the same limited range for singing as they do for talking.
  • Limited Range Singer: These children use at least two voice ranges. They talk in their normal speaking range, but when asked to sing they use a little higher range (generally from D above middle C to around F-sharp or G)
  • Initial Range Singer: These children speak in their speaking range, but they also use a voice range from D above middle C to A when singing.
  • Singer: These children use all their voice. They sing in a wide range, using much vocal inflection when talking and produce a wide variety of sounds." 

 Photo from the artists at Dollar Photo Club

This information can be very helpful and seems to go along with developmental milestones in young children. The older Preschoolers are beginning to sing in a wider range, while the younger Preschoolers are just learning to distinguish their singing voice from their speaking voice. Where is your child's singing voice these days? Singing a lot is a great way to help your child develop musically.

Hope you get lots of time to sing this week!

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