Acute and chronic electromyographic (EMG) recordings from individual syringeal muscles were used to study syringeal participation in respiration and vocalization. In anesthetized birds, all syringeal muscles recorded were active to some degree during the expiratory phase of respiration, following activity in the abdominal musculature and preceding the emergence of breath from the nostril. In awake birds, the ventralis (V) muscle fired a strong, consistent burst, but the dorsalis (D) was variable both in strength and timing. Denervation of V is sufficient to produce the wheezing respiration originally seen in birds with complete bilateral section of the tracheosyringeal nerve. Complete syringeal denervation also removed almost all the acoustic features that distinguish individual song syllables, but had a minor effect on the temporal structure of song. When activity in V and D was recorded in awake, vocalizing birds, D was active before and during sound production, and V showed a small burst before sound onset and a vigorous burst timed to the termination of sound. During song, V was consistently active at sound offset, but also participated during sound for narrow bandwidth syllables. For some syllables (simple harmonic stacks), neither muscle was active. These data suggest that V contributes to syllable termination during vocalization and may silence the syrinx during normal respiration. D contributes to the acoustic structure of most syllables, and V may contribute to a special subset of syllables. In summary, the syringeal muscles show different activity patterns during respiration and vocalization and can be independently activated during vocalization, depending on the syllable produced.