Where Do You Start?

The question “where do you start” with regard to training the voice, has to be preceded by another question, “why would you start?”

It’s a simple fact that nobody thinks about voice training unless something occurs to make them suspect their voice is inadequate, or unhealthy.

If there is any pain experienced while speaking, at all, the first step is not training, but some form of medical intervention. Get referred by the GP to a specialist, and make sure there is nothing physically amiss. If there is nothing actually wrong with the larynx (voice box) then therapy is usually advised to address the behaviour that is causing the pain.

Two common problems that bring people to the idea of voice training are quiet voice, and mumbling. While they are caused by specific and different behaviours, they also have much in common.

Someone who speaks so quietly that you have to constantly ask them to repeat what they are saying, is failing to apply adequate muscular effort to aspects of their voice, so that they create insufficient sound waves to be easily audible. It’s like trying to pick up an object with the hand, but leaving the fingers so floppy that the object slips through them. This is not because that person is lazy, or doesn’t care if you can hear them or not. It’s much more likely that they don’t have a strong physical sense of the energy needed to make themselves heard.

Often there’s a background of criticism, (possibly self criticism) in their lives that makes them reluctant to fully voice their thoughts. They may speak “off voice”, a kind of breathy sound such as we hear a lot in film and tv these days. That’s fine when there are powerful microphones and sound systems picking up and transmitting that soft sound – although I admit I find it intensely irritating and monotonous, even if I can make out what they are saying – but that’s another story.

When someone speaks consistently in this breathy, semi-whispered manner, not only do they fail to be heard properly, they are also potentially damaging their vocal apparatus.

Just speaking quietly is not dangerous to the voice, but it’s not good if you need people to hear you for your work. It’s a fairly simple matter to learn how to provide a more consistent supply of air pressure to the vocal folds, and to keep the upper chest, throat and neck muscles relaxed so that they don’t provide a barrier to sound waves leaving the body. Learning to relax the jaw, and open the throat more allows for more sound waves to be created for no more effort, and that means more volume.

Then, of course, the new behaviour patterns associated with making more sound have to be gotten used to. Learning to listen to oneself without judgement, observing the physical sensations of making a full-bodied sound, and being mindful of those sensations as well as the actual sound itself gives the speaker control over their means of vocal expression. When you know how to do it, you can modify your own behaviour, getting louder or softer at will.

Next time, I’ll talk about how to address mumbling.