Role of syringeal muscles in controlling the phonology of bird song

J Neurophysiol. 1996 Jul;76(1):287-300. doi: 10.1152/jn.1996.76.1.287.


1. The contribution of syringeal muscles to controlling the phonology of song was studied by recording bilateral airflow, subsyringeal air sac pressure, electromyograms (EMGs) of six syringeal muscles, and vocal output in spontaneously singing brown thrashers (Toxostoma rufum). 2. EMG activity in musculus syringealis ventralis (vS), the largest syringeal muscle, increases exponentially with the fundamental frequency of the ipsilaterally generated sound and closely parallels frequency modulation. 3. The EMG activity of other syringeal muscles is also positively correlated with sound frequency, but the amplitude of their EMGs changes only a small amount compared with variation in the amplitude of their EMGs correlated with changing syringeal resistance. The elevated activity in all syringeal muscles during high-frequency sounds may reflect an increased need for structural stability during the strong contractions of the largest syringeal muscle (vS). 4. Several syringeal mechanisms are used to generate amplitude modulation (AM). The most common of these involves modulating the rate of syringeal airflow, through activity by adductor (m. syringealis dorsalis and m. tracheobronchialis dorsalis) and abductor (m. tracheobronchialis ventralis) muscles, which change syringeal resistance, switch sound production from one side of the syrinx to the other, or produce rapid oscillatory flow changes. Variation in the phase relationship between AM and EMG bursts during oscillatory airflow suggests complex biomechanical interaction between antagonistic muscles. 5. AM can also arise from acoustic interactions of two independently generated sounds (beat notes) including cross talk signals between the two syringeal halves. In this latter mechanism, sound generated on one side radiates slightly out of phase with the source from the contralateral side, resulting in lateralized AM generation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Male
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Pulmonary Ventilation / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Respiratory Muscles / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*