Amplitude and frequency modulation control of sound production in a mechanical model of the avian syrinx

C.P.H. Elemans, M. Muller, O.N. Larsen, J.L. van Leeuwen

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Birdsong has developed into one of the important models for motor control of learned behaviour and shows many parallels with speech acquisition in humans. However, there are several experimental limitations to studying the vocal organ – the syrinx – in vivo. The multidisciplinary approach of combining experimental data and mathematical modelling has greatly improved the understanding of neural control and peripheral motor dynamics of sound generation in birds. Here, we present a simple mechanical model of the syrinx that facilitates detailed study of vibrations and sound production. Our model resembles the `starling resistor', a collapsible tube model, and consists of a tube with a single membrane in its casing, suspended in an external pressure chamber and driven by various pressure patterns. With this design, we can separately control `bronchial' pressure and tension in the oscillating membrane and generate a wide variety of `syllables' with simple sweeps of the control parameters. We show that the membrane exhibits high frequency, self-sustained oscillations in the audio range (>600 Hz fundamental frequency) using laser Doppler vibrometry, and systematically explore the conditions for sound production of the model in its control space. The fundamental frequency of the sound increases with tension in three membranes with different stiffness and mass. The lower-bound fundamental frequency increases with membrane mass. The membrane vibrations are strongly coupled to the resonance properties of the distal tube, most likely because of its reflective properties to sound waves. Our model is a gross simplification of the complex morphology found in birds, and more closely resembles mathematical models of the syrinx. Our results confirm several assumptions underlying existing mathematical models in a complex geometry
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1212-1224
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • voice-producing element
  • self-excited oscillations
  • vocal-fold vibration
  • collapsible tubes
  • nonlinear dynamics
  • numerical-simulation
  • 2-mass model
  • flow-through
  • zebra finch
  • laryngectomized patients

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