Hi and thanks for requesting my tips on how to Master your Voice for Success.
We take in 20000 breaths every day to just breathe, imagine how much air you breathe in and how much you breathe out, and your voice is part of that system. Think of it as your own personal sound system or amplification system, except in your case, its not made of tin and metal and plastic but is made up flesh, muscles and blood pumping through it, and for most of us it is our primary way of communicating with the world and your life line for success.
The Perfect Pitch
I’m not speaking about a selling pitch here but speaking in a pitch range appropriate for you is not only more effortless, it’s healthier. People can get into real vocal trouble by imitating a voice that doesn’t “fit” their natural vocal makeup. Speaking unaturally low or high or forcing any sound isn’t healthy and people will notice, you may have picked up the habit of altering your natural voice for a variety of reasons. So, how do you find your natural pitch range?
The way you spontaneously say “mm-hmm” (as if you are agreeing with someone) is usually in about the middle of a person’s natural pitch range. Vocologists sometimes also recommend a natural yawn or laughter as a mid-point marker for a person’s range.
However, habitual pitch and natural pitch aren’t always the same. Habitual pitch is learned, while our natural voice is innate. We may move from natural pitches to a habitual range of pitches due to social upbringing or peer pressure. The natural way you “mm-hmm” is, rather, a springboard for your spectrum of vocal pitches. It is normal for your voice to vary pitches but it is healthiest if you do this within your natural range.
Pitch is powerful tool for adding meaning to your speech. Read the following question in a monotone:
She took that boy to the party?
Now, raise your pitch to put an emphasis on she.
She took that boy to the party?
Then, try reading the sentence repeatedly, emphasizing a different word each time in succession, playing with varying pitches.
Can you now hear how pitch can substantially change the meaning of the sentence? Think about how your vocal clues make your meaning clearer and easier for your listeners. How could this technique be used in your life, organisation, business, work, presentation, speaking events, play, leisure time or general conversation?
Resonance refers to the amplification, richness and quality of your voice. Think of your mouth and throat as the speakers of your stereo system. Are you projecting your voice poorly or is it fully resonant?
Exploiting your natural resonance spaces is a wonderful skill to develop. By using the nooks and crannies of your unique vocal structure for resonance, you will find that your voice carries well without increasing your volume. This takes the load off your vocal folds.
Resonant voice might be described as sounding “buzzy”, “nasal”, “stiffled”, etc.
To find resonance it originates in three sound-resonating areas: the nose (including the sinus cavaties), throat and mouth. Not surprisingly, these are the places where you feel vibration when you speak. Practically speaking, you can do little to alter the nasal cavity, but go for optimal resonance with your throat and mouth.
Alleviate tension in the throat, keeping the airspace open for your voice to pass seamlessly through. Open your lower jaw during speech to expand the mouth. Work with a sound and focus on using these areas for different resonance and notice how the sound changes when focused on the nasal, mouth or throat.
Stand up, Sound up
Poor posture not only causes back aches and shoulder pain: slumping affects your voice.
When your midsection droops, your lungs cannot fully inflate to give your vocal system a steady air stream to fuel your speech. Slouching also leads to unnecessary tension on muscles and joints, making them tired and poorly prepared to support your voice.
When you are standing, balance your body’s weight equally on both legs. Separate your feet slightly with one foot a bit in front of the other. Align hips below the shoulders. Slightly bend your knees to put more weight on the balls of your feet. Let your head “float.” Working? Crouch, or bend at the hips and knees. Don’t bend at the waist with your knees straight.
EXERCISE – Test Yourself:
Select a poem or a paragraph from a book or newspaper. Read the selection aloud to a friend or family member and have your partner evaluate your speech according to this checklist:
- How’s your posture?
- Do you prepare your body to speak (by settling into a voice friendly position), or do you mill around as you talk?
- Do rhythm, pitch and volume vary?
- Does the last word or two of every sentence “drop off?”
- Do your words float on your breath, or do they sound pushed out?
- Where do you pause?
- Are you relaxed?
- Are you emphasizing the important words?
The Fluid Factor
The relationship between drinking water and vocal health is complicated and not fully understood by scientists. Must we drink up to 3 litres of water per day?
- We don’t store excess water. It simply passes from the body as urine. You can’t super-saturate or preventatively hydrate body tissues.
- The water we drink travels down the esophagus. It does not pass by the vocal folds to directly hydrate them.
- While scientists don’t have all the answers, they suspect vocal folds are a low priority in terms of where the body directs fluid.
- A diet rich in water-based foods (fruits and vegetables) makes water drinking less important.
- People are not the same. We have varying hydration needs.
What is adequate hydration? The truth is, water does keep the mouth and throat lubricated, facilitating speaking. Therefore, thirst is a reasonable barometer of water need. Some people report that speaking is easier when they drink more water. Keep water close by to sip when needed, if only to keep the mouth and tongue moist.
Here’s a secret that singers use – munching an apple can ease your speech. Pectin, found in apple skin, has been reported to stimulate the salivary glands. The extra moisture in the mouth will likely make speaking easier.
Liquids to use with caution
Alcohol and caffeine: Some liquids, such as coffee, tea, colas and alcohol, dehydrate the body. In other words, they draw fluid from tissues. Research has shown that dehydrated vocal folds do not vibrate efficiently. So, if you enjoy your morning java, go ahead, but follow it up by refilling your mug with water.
Vocal Hygiene and Health
Vocal hygiene isn’t washing your mouth out with soap, rather, is a phrase used by voice specialists (vocologists) for behaviors individuals can do to maintain good vocal health.
Here’s a “what not to do” list:
- overuse dehydrating substances (antihistamines, alcohol, caffeine);
- persistently cough or clear the throat (sip water instead);
- habitually yell or shout;
- speak at an inappropriately low/high pitch for extended periods;
- excessively talk;
- talk or sing over background noise (reduce background noise instead);
- push the voice;
- “talk through” sickness.
Identify signs of vocal difficulty or problems
- Your voice loses range or just sounds different than normal;
- Hoarseness doesn’t clear up in 2-3 weeks;
- You routinely wake up with a low or groggy-sounding voice;
- Speaking seems to require excessive energy;
- Others ask you if you are sick.
Use your full vocal range, it’s good to flex your voice – not unlike a musical instrumentalist playing scales, it can be harmful to consistly use one end of the range (very high or very low).
It’s my hope that this has given you a greater insight into the tool that is your voice and given you the ability to think more deeply about it. In my work with singers, presenters or speakers my clients rely on their voice for their success and yet they often give it very little consideration. Take care of your voice and it will take care of you.
If you’d like to know more, book a free 20 minute Discovery Session to discuss your specific needs using the link below.
John J Norton
John is a professional singer and business presenter and speaker. He still loves to perform professionally and he now coaches singers to improve their voice, and he works with business professionals and Entrepreneurs to improve their vocal presentations and speaking skills. If you feel you could benefit from working with John book an appointment or a Discovery session using the button above.