Many of us are dissatisfied with how our voices sound, or worried about how they perform when speaking to groups, or for a long time. Basic knowledge about how the voice works, and therefore how it can work better, is not commonly held. For this reason we can feel stuck with our voice, even if it sounds thin, flat, too high, too low, unexpressive, husky, tired and breathless, even if it gets caught in the throat and tires after only a few hours use.
In fact, the voice, like any other physical function, works in a simple way that can be improved with understanding and the practice of some simple physical techniques. These tips will start you on the process to understand how to improve your alignment, breathing, voice production and speech so that your voice becomes a much loved friend, rather than a faulty tool. Look out for further blog posts when I will go into each tip more thoroughly.
If you’d like to print the 10 tips out to remind yourself, you can do so in a handy poster form here.
1. Breathe before you speak
Voice/speech is made on an out-breath, so take in sufficient air before you speak. Many people completely forget to breathe so have nothing to turn into sound in the first place. This leads to squeezing the voice from the throat, or trying to push out sound with the back of the tongue. A lot of tense, thin sounding voices are caused by lack of breath. As are most hoarse, tired voices.
2. Breathe low in the body
However, don’t tense the upper chest muscles when you breathe, as this negatively affects the voice. Breathe out without seeing/feeling any change in the chest muscles and allow the breath to drop back in silently, expanding the belly. This soft belly expansion is the natural resting breath of the body and the best kind of breath to use for speech. The connection of big muscles low in the body to the voice brings deeper, richer tones to the sound.
3. Use all of your feet – drop the lower body down
How you stand is important too. Don’t lean back on the heels, it tenses the legs and prevents belly breathing. Three points balance your weight through the feet – the big toe joint, the little toe joint and the heel. Divide your weight equally between these points & relax the weight of your legs and hips into the floor.
4. Stand up tall – extend the upper body up
Lengthen your spine/back, but don’t lift or tense your chest. Tuck in the ribs just below your breast-bone, this will allow your ribs to widen in your back, and also widen across the collarbones. Shoulders are soft, wide and low. A released spine and good alignment can transform your voice.
5. Make space for the sounds
The more toned and stretched the vocal tract (mouth and throat), the better the voice will resonate. Yawn 5-10 times to stretch this area. And really move your speech muscles to form the different sounds. No sounds = no speech!
6. Loosen your jaw
A tense jaw makes the voice sound thin and tight. Massage your jaw muscles, particularly the ‘jaw-clenching’ muscle 5 cms in front of your ear lobe. Allow your bottom jaw to hang low, with space for 2 fingers between your teeth.
7. Let the voice come forwards
A tense back tongue muffles the voice. Say a poem with your tongue sticking out to release it. Let the voice come fully out over the tongue, allowing sound to resonate in your face, right behind the eyes. Focus your voice here to project the sound. It will be brighter and much clearer.
8. Use your speech muscles
Make faces and stretch out your face muscles. Chew a huge, imaginary toffee. Blow 100 kisses. Grin and pout 50 times. Use your face muscles when you speak (although don’t heavily ‘chew’ or ‘mouthe’ the sounds, you need to be both light and active with the speech muscles). Be animated and smile – it really lifts the voice.
9. Balance your voice
Find the pitch that makes both your head and your chest vibrate, marrying the bass and high notes together. You’ll then get the maximum richness in your voice.
10. Use more high and low notes
Use more tune. If you normally start speaking right at the bottom of your range, you will just stay there and be very flat. Start nearer the middle and use different notes to highlight the important words.