Voice Skills

by Judy Apps

The basics of voice production

The sound we produce consists of four elements:

  1. Air that, flowing under pressure, acts on the vocal cords to produce vibrations
  2. The vocal cords themselves, which function as a vibratory instrument
  3. The resonating cavities of our body that magnify the sound
  4. Lips, jaw and palate, which shape and articulate the sound.

Breathing

Breathing is the heart of the matter – the core skill for speaking well. Most of us could do with improving our breathing if we want to have a better speaking voice and, indeed, more energy and better health.

First, something to avoid

Avoid using only the muscles around your upper chest, shoulders and neck for breathing. This is the area that easily becomes tense, constricting the voice. If you spend much time immobile in front of a computer screen, you are quite likely to have tension in this area.

In addition, you cannot take big breaths in this way, so your sentences will be shorter and you will have to talk faster to compensate. If you find you always talk in short bursts, it is quite likely that you are breathing in this restricted way.

Breathe deeply

Watch someone when they are asleep. Their chest rises and falls naturally as they breathe. It’s as if their whole body is involved in the process in an easy, gentle way.

Exercise

Breathe out and, as your lungs refill with air, imagine that the air is coming into you up out of the ground via the soles of your feet. Notice how the air feels fresh, and seems to fill you from the bottom upwards.

Breathe like this again and this time; when you have taken in air, count out loud slowly from one to ten, enjoying the long sentence that emerges from a good breath.

The sigh of relief

You will take a better in-breath if you get rid of the old air first, so breathe out before you start. A good way to do this is to sigh with relief:

Think of a time when you felt sudden relief – the sound of the key in the door when a long-awaited loved one arrives home, or the receipt of good news when you half expected bad. Sigh with all the pleasure of relief. Then consciously observe the involuntary in-breath that replaces the sigh.

If you are free of tension, you will find that the in-breath is felt quite deep in your body. This is the perfect breath for speech.

The vocal wheel

Having practised breathing – consciously – you can now start to consider the different elements that combine to make the way you speak, and which you can use to make your speaking voice more dynamic, more interesting, more authoritative and so on. But first...

Exercise

What do I sound like?

To really listen to your voice, cup your right hand around your right ear and gently pull the ear forward. Next, cup your left hand around your mouth and direct the sound straight into your ear. This helps you to hear your voice as others hear it... and it might be completely different to the voice you thought you possessed!

Each of the various spokes of the wheel contributes to the total impact of your voice, and we will be considering how you can use each to best effect, but first it’s important to recognise that your vocal chords are part of your body, working in tandem with the other parts. So, to get the best from your voice, you need to learn Relaxation.