Happy World Voice Day! In honour of this celebration of all things vocal, I’ve compiled a few tips to help you achieve better voice production.
A clear, commanding voice is the result of proper breathing, good posture, varied modulation and adequate preparation. These 5 easy tips will help you get to know your voice, and how to get the best sound from it.
- Get a belly full – of air. As any voice or singing coach will tell you, breath is the fuel for the voice. Breathing from the belly causes the diaphragm (the muscle that separates your chest from your stomach cavity) to drop so you can get more air in, to power your voice, than if you breathe from your chest. Think yoga-style deep breathing, where you push your tummy out as you inhale and draw it back in as you exhale. Belly-breathing also helps calm you if you’re feeling stressed. So fill those lungs up – but keep that chest and those shoulders down!
- Pace yourself. A well-paced voice is not too fast or slow, but juuuust right – to ensure you are understood by your audience. If you’re excited, nervous or anxious, you probably speak faster than if you are tired. One way to gauge your pace is if people are constantly asking you to slow down or repeat yourself, then you’re probably speaking too fast. If the listener is nodding off or tapping their feet, eyes darting around the room, chances are you need to speed up a tad. How can you know for sure? Well, that leads us to…
- Testing, testing… is this mic on? Use your smartphone or computer to record yourself speaking, then listen back. This can be confronting, because how you sound to yourself as you speak is different to how others hear you (because your voice travels through your skull before reaching your ears), but it’s a useful exercise. You’ll get a better impression of your natural voice and pace if you record yourself during a phone call or meeting, rather than, say, reading the newspaper out loud. (And to be courteous, let the other person know you’re recording, and your reason for it. They can even offer feedback!) You could even import your mp3 into some recording software like GarageBand or Audacity to check out how your voice looks – the waveform pattern of your voice. Don’t be too critical of how you sound though. But observe these qualities: is your breathing audible? Is your voice high or low pitched? Too soft or too loud? Do you speak fast and run words into each other? If you feel you need help with some vocal issues, seek out a professional voice coach or speech pathologist.
- Speak up! If you’re going to be speaking for extended periods, try a few minutes of these voice warm ups and warm downs:
- Deep breathing: from the diaphragm, to help open the ribs and fill the lungs.
- Limber up that posture with stretches, spinal rolls and shoulder shrugs. And keep breathing!
- Loosen your jaw, tongue and lips: make the biggest smile you can, the biggest O shape you can. Yawn. Hum softly, while vocalising scales up and down your normal voice range. Your sinus area and lips may tingle with this, as you “wake up your facial mask”. Pout your lips and blow air through them (AKA lip trill or lip bubble). Again, you can sing through scales with this. Poke your tongue out, up and down as far as you can. And try some saying some tongue twisters for fun.
- YouTube has plenty of singing and speaking vocal warm up examples.
- After that long speaking spell, don’t forget to warm down your voice. Soft humming is great.
- Give it a rest! Your voice needs time out now and again, just like you do. Zip it for a while, and drink plenty of water and warm drinks to stay hydrated.