That Marvelous Gift—Your Voice
‘BUILT into your respiratory system are the essentials of many musical instruments. Your diaphragm is a resonating drumhead. Your vocal cords, vibrating when you speak or sing, are violin strings. Your breathing system, involving air passing from lungs through windpipe, larynx, nose, teeth and lips, produces the sounds of wind instruments. Your body encases an orchestra.’
Our voice teacher, in her precisely articulated words and richly resonant tones, always talks to us like that. ‘Think of your voice as an incomparable musical instrument as we explore some of the complexities that go into its production.’ She points to a large illustration on the wall.
Protected by the rib cage are two spongelike lungs. They are closed off from the abdomen underneath by a dome-shaped muscle, the diaphragm. ‘The diaphragm.’ She draws a deep breath and kneads stiff fingers into her midriff. ‘Feel it,’ she puffs. ‘Feel your diaphragm expand when you breathe deep down. It’s important to know where your diaphragm is and what it is.’
When we breathe, we learn, our diaphragm draws down and flattens horizontally. At the same time, the muscles between the ribs lift and open the rib cage front and back. Air pressure inside our lungs is lowered. Outside air pushes in. We have inhaled.
Then the diaphragm relaxes. Organs underneath it press upward. Rib-cage muscles relax. Ribs press inward. The lungs are squeezed. Air is forced out. We have exhaled.
How does that exhaling air produce voice sounds?
‘When the doctor peers inside your mouth with his examiner’s mirror,’ says our teacher, ‘he sees deep in the pit of your throat a kind of triangle. Two sides of it are bordered by free-standing membranes called vocal cords. They vibrate during breathing. The sounds they make is your voice. That triangular structure is your voice box, your larynx.’
The length and breadth of our individual vocal cords account in part for each voice differing from another. The cords can adjust for variations in pitch. Volume depends on how we amplify the vibrations. We speak and breathe without conscious effort. But the more we understand this wonderfully designed “valve,” and how it is served by our entire respiratory system, the better we can use and control our voice.
Is your voice naturally pleasing to listen to? Is it vibrant? Resonant? Varied? If it lacks some desired quality or is flawed by some unpleasant characteristic, chances are that by conscious effort you can make improvements. Voice control involves breath control, posture and conscious training of vital muscle areas in the face, jaw, tongue, lips, neck, shoulders, in fact the entire body.
For instance, strain on the larynx, as from a tense jaw, or tense neck or shoulder muscles, can distort tone quality. Couple that with faulty breathing and poor posture and your voice can suffer in countless ways.
Good “orchestration” involves attention to the entire respiratory system. But let’s begin with the role of the diaphragm. In ordinary breathing we inhale about a pint of air, about one eighth of our lung capacity. How can we make use of the remaining capacity?
Well, we must literally get to the bottom of it. That is, we must breathe deep down to the bottom of the lungs. The larger areas of the lungs extend below the rib cage. Throwing out the chest and swelling the shoulder area has little to do with deep breathing. Deep breathing means to feel our midriff area swell first, with the chest area merely expanding along with it. That is diaphragm breathing. The air is allowed to reach the base of the lungs and remains there as reserve breath, allowing for an easy, balanced flow of air in and out. Cushioned by this reserve of air, the diaphragm can swing up and down freely. The air cushion helps maintain an easy lift in the entire upper body. But to keep it there we must maintain a good upright posture. Correct posture may require some exercises.
Bernice Loren, in her book Effective Speaking, says exercises for correct posture and speech training are strikingly similar to those “recommended in beauty magazines for double chins, poor shoulder lines,” and so forth. Her initial lesson for correct body alignment and breathing requires, not effort, but a simple “letting go.” “Let the head fall forward and rebound eight times from the point at which the base of the skull meets the spine.” Then let it fall farther forward from the junction of neck and shoulders; then let the head and upper chest fall forward from a point between the shoulder blades; then let the head and rib cage fall from the waistline; then bounce the body, hanging loose, at the knees; and finally come up slowly from the ankles, then knees, thighs, to a total standing position, unfolding every vertebra in the spinal column.
An excellent way to relax jaw and facial muscles is to smile freely. Keep the tongue soft and down in the back. Think of the tongue as though it were connected to and extending from the diaphragm. That frees tension in the jaw, neck and shoulder muscles.
The Lips and the Tongue
A special word about the tongue. It is the most active member in speech making. It is a complex mass of muscles. It can move in many directions, change into many shapes. It can adjust to a different position for every vowel, and it forms more than half the consonants.
This should not, however, mean that the lips remain stiff and as motionless as a duck’s bill. The upper lip especially should be performing constant gymnastics, shaping arches, circles, expanses, now exploding, then imploding. Lip movements round out or complete many vowels. The lips are the “end of a trumpet,” forming the finishing touches to several consonants. They, too, must be relaxed, flexible and agile.
The Making of Resonance
With our posture corrected so as not to obstruct free and easy breathing, deep down into the diaphragm, let us check to make sure we are not in any other way obstructing our voice production. We draw a ‘diaphragm breath.’ Jaw, neck and shoulders are totally relaxed. We begin releasing breath, making an hhhhhhhh sound, then combining it with an mmmmmmmm sound. Imagine the hhhmmm is passing all the way up the throat and over the roof of the mouth, full range into the bridge of the nose. Lightly the tips of the fingers trace the vibrations in the collarbone, the throat, the nasal area. We are producing resonance.
As our voice teacher vibrantly illustrates, ‘A free and pleasant voice is the orchestration of all the speech-making body. Its owner visualizes the action of the diaphragm as though it were attached to the facial muscles with nothing in between. He speaks from the diaphragm right up to the eyes.’
Our marvelously intricate voice system may embody the principles behind a whole array of musical instruments. But each man-made instrument is a product of design. Would it be reasonable to think that our voice came about without a Designer? “Who gives man his mouth?” Jehovah once asked a man and then answered, “It is I.” Our voice and the ability to communicate by speech is indeed a marvelous gift from God. (Exodus 4:11, Today’s English Version)—Contributed.
[Blurb on page 15]
One way to listen to yourself is to speak into a corner with both hands cupping your ears. A tape recorder would be even better
[Box/Pictures on page 14]
YOU CAN IMPROVE YOUR VOICE
Make good posture a habit
Fill the lower part of your lungs first. Do not simply throw out your chest
Practice diaphragm breathing
Relax your jaw, neck and shoulder muscles
Keep the tongue soft and down in the back. Lips must be relaxed, flexible, agile
Train your tongue and your lips
[Picture on page 13]