We’ve all done it. Inhaling helium from a balloon and then speak in a funny voice is a “must” in every children’s party. But why? Why does helium change your voice?
A lot of people believe that helium changes the pitch of their voice. However, this is not the case. It all has to do with the speed sound waves travel through a given gas.
Here’s how it works. (the article continues after the ad)
When you speak, you basically push air through your lungs. When this air passes through your larynx, your vocal chords vibrate and create pulses of air that go through your throat, your mouth, tongue and lips. This is what creates your distinctive voice.
SOUND TRAVELS FASTER THROUGH HELIUM
The air we breathe is mainly made up of nitrogen and oxygen and is significantly heavier than helium (this is also why helium balloons float). Due to its lower density, sound waves travelling through helium are faster than the same sound waves travelling through air. By inhaling helium and using it to produce sound, your voice will travel faster across your vocal chords and that’s why you’ll talk in that funny voice!
So, even though the pitch of your voice is exactly the same, the frequency of the sound you produce and is heard by others is increased as the sound travels way faster through helium than through air. As soon as regular air replaces the helium in your lungs, your voice will return to normal again.
But what happens if you inhale a gas that is heavier than air? (the article continues after the ad)
If you inhale a gas that is heavier than air, such as xenon, your voice will sound deeper as this will have the exact opposite effect of helium. However, inhaling gasses that are heavier than air is extremely dangerous as it may cause suffocation!
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Sources: Why does inhaling helium change your voice? | Why does inhaling helium make one’s voice sound strange? | Why does helium change your voice? | Physics in Speech | What is the physics behind the voice change which occurs when one inhales Helium?