Voice Improvement and Use of Microphones
1-3. What are some weaknesses in voice quality, and what can help in analyzing one’s personal problem?
1 “Who appointed a mouth for man?” is a question that was posed to Moses by the Creator, Jehovah God. (Ex. 4:10, 11) And we might well add, Who made all the marvelous equipment for the production of human speech? Moses learned eventually that, though he was “slow of mouth and slow of tongue,” God could and did aid him to improve his speaking voice. The prophet was enabled to speak effectively to the nation of Israel.
2 Today there are many of God’s servants who are well aware of their own speech weaknesses. Some have a weak voice, others a shrill voice, still others a raspy or hoarse voice. A whining voice, a nasal tone, or a gruff type of voice is not listened to with pleasure. A flat, lifeless tone inspires no one. If your voice tends to display one of these weaknesses, take courage. There is no need to resign yourself to the situation, as though there were no correction or improvement possible.
3 Of course, to make progress there must be an awareness on the individual’s part of the particular weakness he must work to improve. Here is where the Theocratic Ministry School, with its helpful counsel by the ministry school overseer, can aid you to analyze any voice weakness. Also, it is helpful to listen to a recording of your own voice. If you have not as yet done this, you may be in for a surprise. For when you speak you feel the vibrations of the bones in your own head and these vibrations favor the lower tones, whereas a tape recorder reveals how you sound to others. To lay a groundwork for voice improvement it is well to give some thought to your voice mechanism, which you usually use without thinking about it.
4-6. How is speech produced?
4 How speech is produced. The basis of all vocal utterances is the column of air that you send up from the lungs, which act as bellows. Up through the windpipe the air enters the larynx, often called the voice box, which is in the middle of your throat. Inside your voice box are two tiny folds of muscles called vocal cords. These are our main sound producers. These cords or “vocal folds,” as they are also called, are something like movable shelves in the sidewall of your voice box. Their main purpose is to open and close to let air in and out, as well as to keep unwanted objects out of the lungs. Breath from your lungs makes these cords move. When they thus vibrate as air is forced past them, they make sound. To illustrate: If you blow up a balloon, pinch the neck and then let air out through the neck, the rubber vibrates, producing sound. So, when you speak, the folds or cords in your larynx come firmly together. The V-shaped gap between them is closed. The tighter these cords are stretched, the faster they vibrate and the higher the tones of the sounds produced. On the other hand, the more relaxed they are, the lower are the tones produced.
5 After leaving the larynx the air wave enters the upper part of your throat, called the pharynx. Then it goes on into your mouth and your nasal passages. Here overtones are added to the fundamental tone. These overtones modify, amplify and reinforce the tone. The roof of the mouth, the tongue, teeth, gums, jaw and lips combine to break up the vibrating waves of sound and mold them into vowels and consonants so as to make the sound come out in the form of understandable speech.
6 Certainly the human voice is a marvel, unequaled as to versatility by any man-made instrument. It has the ability to express feelings and emotions ranging from tender, gentle love to harsh and violent hatred. Even in imperfection the human voice can cover a range of as much as three octaves and deliver, not only beautiful musical sounds, but also heart-stirring patterns of speech when properly developed and trained. For voice improvement, as we shall see, there are two main essentials.
7-10. How should one’s air supply be controlled, and why?
7 Controlling the air supply. For best results a speaker needs a good, steady supply of air along with proper breath control. Many persons do not know how to inhale and exhale properly when speaking. As a result they use only the upper part of the lungs, so that when they speak rapidly they have to pant for air. Contrary to the general conception, the largest part of the lungs is not at the top of the chest; this area merely appears larger because of our shoulder bones. Rather the lungs are widest just above the diaphragm. This is a strong, curved muscle that acts like a pump, helping your lungs pull in fresh air and push out used air. Attached to the lower ribs, the diaphragm separates the chest from the abdominal cavity. This dome-shaped muscle is the main one used in breathing. When the dome of the diaphragm moves up, it pushes air out of your lungs. When it moves down, air flows into your lungs.
8 Learning to control your air supply is the first thing to work on to improve your voice. Make a conscious effort to avoid expanding the shallow, upper part of your chest when you inhale to speak. Make your lower lungs expand. Then control the outflow of air, gradually letting it out by means of gentle diaphragmatic pressure supported by the abdominal muscles. This will prevent the air from escaping with a rush. If it is uncontrolled, the speaker soon runs out of breath and his tone becomes breathy and muffled.
9 The tendency of many is to try to control the air supply by a tightening of the throat, but this only produces hoarseness and fatigue of voice. To avoid that, try to keep your throat muscles relaxed.
10 Just as a runner trains for a race, so a speaker should develop diaphragmatic control by exercise. He can stand erect, take a deep breath, gradually exhale, slowly and smoothly saying as many letters of the alphabet as possible or counting as high as he can on a single breath. Also he can practice by reading aloud.
11-15. In what way is muscular tension related to shrillness, nasality and muffled quality of speech?
11 Relaxing tense muscles. Another essential in overcoming most voice problems is a simple prescription—relax! Very little can be done to help anyone to improve his voice unless he learns how to relax. But it is really amazing what improvement you can make by learning to relax when speaking. The mind must be relaxed as well as the body, for mental tension causes muscular tension. Relax mental tension by getting the right view of your audience, which, in most cases, will be made up of Jehovah’s people. Do your friends, just because they are sitting in rows, suddenly become your foes? Of course not. No people on earth face such a friendly and loving audience as we regularly do.
12 At first you may need to relax consciously. You may find that, just before speaking, breathing is shallow and jerky due to nervousness. This can be corrected by deliberate, slow, rhythmical breathing, all the while endeavoring to relax your throat muscles.
13 As we have learned, increasing tension on the vocal cords raises the pitch, so the more tightly you stretch them the higher are the sounds you produce. This can result in a shrill voice, one that sounds tense and that makes the hearers feel tense. What can be done to overcome this? Well, remember that your vocal cords 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 you relax the vocal cords, the tone lowers. So the thing to do is to relax the throat muscles. Tension may also cause the swallowing muscles to work against those that control the vocal cords, producing a harsh voice. Improvement results when you consciously relax.
14 Sometimes in tensing of the muscles of the throat and mouth a person closes off the nasal passage so that air cannot freely pass through. This results in a nasal twang. To avoid this, again there is need to relax. In some cases, however, the problem may be due to nasal obstruction.
15 The jaw also needs to be relaxed. If it is tense, the mouth does not open properly and sound is forced through the teeth. This results in gruffness and muffled, indistinct speech. Relaxing of the jaw, however, does not mean becoming lazy in speech habits. It needs to be balanced with the habit of forming sounds so that there is good enunciation.
16, 17. What will help to improve one’s resonance, and why is it so important?
16 Relaxing of general muscular tension does much to aid resonance. Once clear tones are being produced by a relaxed throat, resonant overtones must reinforce them to give the voice carrying ability. Resonance is produced by using the entire body as a sounding board, but this is hindered by tension. The tone, produced in the larynx, reverberates not only in the nasal cavities, but also against the bony structure of the chest, the teeth, the roof of the mouth and the sinuses. All of these can contribute to the quality of resonance. If one places a weight on the soundboard of a violin, the sound is deadened; it must be free to vibrate. So, too, with the bony structures of our body, which are held firm by the muscles. With resonance you will be able to reach a large audience with ease, without great effort, without straining your voice. Without resonance it is difficult to make the voice carry, to modulate it properly or to express shades of feeling.
17 Resonance can be improved by humming exercises coupled with conscious relaxing of the body. The lips should only be touching lightly, not pressed hard together. In that manner the tonal vibrations will not be obstructed by tight muscles or forced through the nose. Repeating certain words and dwelling with prolonged resonance on the sounds represented by ng, m, n and l will be found helpful. Another exercise that is helpful in improving voice quality is to sound out the vowels, lengthening them with throat open, jaw relaxed and little volume.
18-22. What advice should we keep in mind as to effective use of microphones?
18 Using microphones properly. In large meeting places it becomes needful to amplify the human voice electronically, both to ease the burden upon the speaker and to make it pleasant for the audience. Thus the speaker does not need to exert much effort to achieve volume, and the hearers do not need to strain their ears to catch what is said. Microphones are used in many congregations, not only on the platform, but also by those commenting from the audience, so all comments can be heard well. Even if microphones are not used in a local Kingdom Hall, they are usually used on the program at assemblies. So we need to know how to use them properly.
19 How close should your mouth be to the microphone? Usually four to six inches. The most frequent problem with the use of a microphone is that the speaker is too far from it. So watch the distance. Also direct your voice toward the microphone and within its pattern of pickup. Unless this is done, it is difficult for the sound operator to make adjustments in favor of good, clear reception by the audience. Coughing, sneezing or clearing the throat close to the microphone, of course, must be avoided.
20 When using a microphone, listen to how your voice sounds as it comes through the loudspeaker. Then you can gauge the volume and adjust your position, if necessary. Correction can be made by stepping closer to the microphone or withdrawing an inch or two from it. Some speakers need to avoid excessive volume, as it will only distort their voice, and prove to be irritating and unpleasant to the audience. Keep in mind, too, that if you want to drop your voice for effect here and there throughout the talk, your audience can hear even a whisper, thanks to this modern marvel of amplification.
21 There are other cautions on use of the microphone that also need attention. Have you noticed that the “p” sometimes makes a popping sound? This happens when a person speaks directly into the microphone from too close a range. Sharp “s” sounds can cause problems too. They need to be muted, because they are exaggerated by amplification and come out as hisses. When you are aware of how to cope with the problem, it is not hard to do.
22 Our voice mechanism is a wonderful gift from our Creator. Electricity and the inventive mind are also his gifts, and they have made microphone speaking possible. Whenever we use our voice, with or without amplifying equipment, let us do so in a manner that honors the Originator of speech.