You Can Improve Your Voice
WHEN you speak, do others listen? Do they get the right impression of you? If they do not, it may be due to your voice. A good voice is round and strong, with a suggestion of power. It is one that instills confidence and trust. It holds attention. A bad voice detracts from what is being said. It can give a wrong impression.
Your voice is influenced by your personality. When people hear you speak they draw conclusions as to what kind of person you are. In some instances the conclusions may mean the difference between getting a job and not getting it. There are employment agencies that prefer an applicant to telephone them rather than to write, so they can judge the applicant’s personality from the sound of his voice. But what a person’s voice seems to reveal about his personality may not be true.
At one time he may have had bad traits that affected the quality of his voice. Since voice production is a mechanical habit, that particular voice quality may have continued even though the person improved his personality, as Christians are admonished to do. (Eph. 4:22-24) Perhaps his voice is gruff and harsh, but he does not intend it to sound that way. Whatever the unpleasant impression is, it can be changed by voice improvement.
If you do public speaking, your voice can cause an audience to react favorably or unfavorably to you. Just think of the various speakers you have heard. Did the speaker with a weak and thin voice keep you attentive? Did the speaker with a trembling voice and shortness of breath instill confidence? Did the one with a constantly recurring inflection of his voice up and down make you feel that he was sincere? Or were you not more favorably impressed by the speaker with the clear, full, strong voice that had variety in inflection?
So if you do any public speaking you have an added reason for improving your voice. But first you must recognize the need for it.
Listen to Yourself Speak
Although you hear yourself speak every day you do not hear yourself as others hear you. The vibrations your voice sets up in your body make it have a different sound to you than it has for others who hear only the sound that comes to them through the air. If you have never heard your voice on a high-fidelity tape recording you would most likely be greatly surprised if you were to hear it. Usually a person, upon hearing a recording of his voice for the first time, will say in disbelief: “Is that my voice? I don’t sound like that!”
So to hear yourself as others really hear you, make a tape recording of your voice in situations that include conversation, reading aloud and a public talk, if you have an occasion to give one. See if the voice you hear reflects the personality you feel you have. Note whether it is pleasant and easy to listen to. Is it sufficiently loud or too loud? Are the tones and words clear? Is the range of pitch wide enough? Does it sound affected? Is it a voice you would like to listen to? After hearing it you will be better able to determine what to work on for improvement.
What Affects Voice Quality?
The column of air you send up from your lungs when you are speaking is the foundation of the sounds you produce. It enters the voice box, called the larynx, where there are two folds of muscle tissue, called vocal cords. These are set vibrating by the air passing them. Their tone changes as muscles tighten or relax them, just as the tone of a violin string changes when it is tightened or loosened. When they are widely separated, ordinary quiet breathing is permitted. But when they are brought together, you are able to make the sounds you use in speaking.
The sound from your vocal cords travels through the air in your throat to your mouth and sinus cavities. These help to amplify the sound coming from the vocal cords, just as the progressively widening tubes in many wind instruments do. The cavities are also resonators and are important factors in voice quality. Unlike a brass musical instrument, they can be modified through muscular contraction and relaxation, making them large or small and of various shapes according to what you do with your jaws and lips. The result is a change in tone quality.
These resonating cavities of your head and throat might be compared with the body of a violin. The sounds produced by the vibrating strings are reinforced by the hollow box or body under the strings and become easily heard even at a distance. The shape and size of that box affect the tone. Thus a violin has a different tone from what a viola or cello has. Your resonating cavities are just as important to the sounds coming from your vocal cords as the bodies of these instruments are to the sounds coming from their strings.
The way you use your lips, mouth, throat and breath affects the quality of your voice. That is why a trained singer who knows how to use his breath and resonating cavities to optimum advantage can produce sounds that are much more enjoyable to listen to than those coming from an untrained singer. The same is true of trained and untrained speakers.
If you do not open your mouth but speak through clenched teeth and tight lips you cannot have good resonance and a pleasant voice. This habit also makes it difficult for you to be understood. By opening your mouth you can become more audible with less effort and be able to produce clear, full tones.
Improving voice quality begins with breathing. For firm and smooth tones of adequate volume, a good, steady supply of air is needed with good control. This is achieved by breathing from the diaphragm, which is a muscular sheet under the lungs, rather than from the shallow, upper part of the lungs, as so many people do. Singers are often reminded to do this by being told to ‘pack their tones against their belt.’ By means of diaphragmatic breathing you fill your lungs right to their bottoms. When this is done you can feel the pressure of your belt or other clothing on your abdomen.
Having a good supply of air and controlling its use with your diaphragm muscle rather than the muscles of your throat, you can give your voice adequate support without straining. Persons who have not learned to relax throat muscles and develop the habit of diaphragmatic breathing put such a strain on their voice muscles that they often become hoarse after speaking for a length of time. This is particularly true if they are trying to make their voice carry over an outside noise.
A trained speaker or singer can use his voice for hours without strain because he keeps the muscles of his throat relaxed. He gets the force he needs by relying upon the strong column of air resulting from using his powerful diaphragm muscle. By doing this an opera singer can sing intermittently for two or three hours with a volume that fills an auditorium and without getting hoarse.
How to Improve Your Voice
Learning to control your breathing is the first thing to work on. Make a conscious effort to avoid expanding the upper part of your chest when you inhale to speak or sing. Make your lower lungs expand. Pull in your abdomen to support the diaphragm. Then control the outflow of air by gradually letting your lungs breathe out with good diaphragmatic support maintained by abdominal muscles. At the same time try to keep your throat muscles relaxed. This can be practiced by counting as far as possible, without strain, on a single breath of air. Reading aloud is also good practice.
Resonance can be improved by getting the feel of it in your head. This can be done by exaggerating the vibrant tones and prolonging them. Humming and sounding the letters “m” and “n” will help to improve your resonance. Blend these letters with vowels in words such as men, mind, and, end, sun, and so forth. Hold the “n” and “m” sound twice as long as usual while practicing.
For the words you speak to come out full and distinct you need good articulation. This requires free movement of the lips, tongue and jaws, for they shape the sounds. If you have the habit of speaking through tight lips and jaws you need to practice exercises that will make them more flexible. By practice you can also improve articulation so your words come out distinctly. The sounds should not run together and become slurred. You may need to work at it patiently for many months. A good exercise is to read aloud. While doing so, pronounce each word correctly and make each sound carefully. But be careful not to overdo it and develop an affected manner of speaking.
Suppose you have the problem of habitually talking with your voice pitched too high. What can you do to overcome this? A high pitch is due to tenseness of the muscles controlling the vocal folds or cords. They tighten the folds and so raise the pitch of the voice. By relaxing the jaw and throat muscles and by using diaphragmatic breathing you can develop a more pleasing tone and bring the pitch of your voice down to a middle range, which is a more natural level and which sounds less strained. Then you will have a wider range for inflection.
A soft, mellow voice with clear tones is pleasing to hear, but the voice should not be too soft. When it is, people may have difficulty in hearing what you say. With proper breath control a person with a soft voice can control his volume, keeping it adequate in all kinds of situations.
On the other hand, some persons have voices that are always bombastic. Such voices are out of place in quiet surroundings and can be irritating to other persons. This is especially so when listening to such a person on a telephone. Sometimes it is necessary to hold the receiver several inches from one’s ear because the voice on the other end is inconsiderately loud. Learning to vary the volume of your voice to fit the circumstances is one of the factors that make for a good voice.
If a person with a perpetually loud voice will listen to himself on a tape recorder and hear how he sounds to others it will help him to see the need of lowering his volume. All that is necessary to improve such a voice, as far as volume is concerned, is a little conscious effort to speak more softly.
Temperament and Attitudes
What is particularly reflected in your voice that leads people to draw conclusions about you are your emotional temperament and attitudes. You can appreciate this when you think of various people in your neighborhood. Their emotions color their voices.
A quick-tempered woman, for example, may have a harsh, angry voice when emotionally upset. Another person may reveal his opinion of someone by speaking in a voice heavy with sarcasm. Still another may exude meanness in his voice like the venom of a snake. On the other hand, a person that is happy may show it by a sparkle in his voice, and the one in love may show it by a dreamy tone.
A chronic attitude of complaint might be reflected in a voice by a whine. A person with selfish indifference to others might have a voice with a tinge of hardness. A person who is sympathetic might reveal this attitude by a warm, understanding voice. So there are many emotions and attitudes that a voice may reflect. These cannot be improved by voice exercises but require a change in personality. By applying the upbuilding spiritual counsel in God’s Word such a change is possible.—Col. 3:5-10.
With this done, a person is in position to work on his voice so that it no longer reflects his old personality. Even if nothing else were achieved, this change in impression alone would make the effort at voice improvement worth all the effort involved.