The Singer's Spirit
©Lisa Houston 2022
By Lisa Houston
I taught a voice class for public speakers this morning, and most of the vocal issues were quite common, and not that difficult to fix. Below are the solutions I gave to these particular people today. They may not always be the right fix for the problem listed. Still, I thought you might benefit from seeing these examples.
In no particular order, here’s a list of my critiques with a possible solution.
Issue: Voice is pleasing, but in a way that puts the listener to sleep.
Solution: Make sure to practice variety, both of pitch and also emotion.
Issue: Over-serious tone and facial expression that dampens vocal resonance and just generally puts people off.
Solution: Lighten it up a bit. Smile occasionally, which lifts cheeks and warms tone, and generally breaks down walls between speaker and audience.
Issue: Genuine nerves resulting in temporary memory loss and flutter in voice.
Solution: Breathe! And practice, practice, practice speaking in front of people. This one can take some time, but in general, if you care about what you’re saying, or singing, you will eventually have most of your focus on that and the nerves will disappear. Don’t over-focus on nerves as the issue. That will only make things worse. And certainly DO NOT label yourself as having a problem with nerves. Stay focused on content (words or music) and forge ahead!
Issue: Getting over a cold but also perhaps a chronically tired voice.
Solution: Make sure you are not artificially lowering the pitch of your voice, especially women, into the “vocal fry” zone. Speaking in the wrong range is more tiring, and you will also get used to that rasp and gravel, and then you will gravitate towards it, so it becomes a vicious cycle. So play with pitch, especially by moving the ends of sentences upwards.
Issue: Difficult to understand.
Solutions: 1. Slow down. Pronounce every part of every word, consonants and vowels. 2. Do tongue agility exercises (la na ta da) as enunciation with the tongue is generally more easy to understand than when articulation is done with the jaw, or not at all. Also be sure to finish each word.
Issue: Tired voice.
Solution: Get enough rest. Hydrate more. Take some vocal rest, but warm up before you speak.
Issue: Tight sounding voice, bit of rasp.
Solution: This person had a dance background and like many dancers, had been trained to hold in her stomach, and secondly, like many people who work on a computer a lot, her head was forward out of alignment, causing a strain on the neck. The solution for dancers with this training is to soften the backs of the knees with a very slight bend, which creates a different position of the pelvis, and allows a deeper, fuller breath. And for the computer neck, I encouraged her to remember her dance training to elongate the back of the neck. This shortens the front of the neck providing a better position for the larynx.
Issue: Continuous rasp of the voice.
Solution: It turns out this person had a sports injury to the larynx and felt that perhaps the rasp was permanent due to this. But he was also a serious weight lifter, and many weight lifters continually re-injure their voices because the vocal cords come together when lifting weights. In fact, this is what vocal cords were originally for, to increase thoracic pressure in childbirth or heavy lifting. Because I thought there was a possibility that it was not permanent damage but rather a continuous re-injury, I instructed this person to be aware of his throat and keep his larynx relaxed when lifting weights.
Some people have a continuous rasp due to a previous injury or overuse that cannot be corrected, but it is important to track down the real cause, and if possible, correct it, or if it is permanent, you want to optimize the vocal technique so that the problem doesn't become worse over time. In the case of weight lifting, the damage can be done even without making sound, so many people don’t realize you can hurt your voice weightlifting, or in other similar forms of exertion.
With all of these students, I reminded them that a critique of the voice can be very personal, as we are often taught to believe that our voice just is the way it is and cannot be developed or changed. Think of the phrase “you have a nice voice,” as if that's that. But even if you are not a singer, there are ways to develop and improve your voice, and if you’re going to make your living talking, and others are going to pay you to do it, then it’s worth it to do a bit of self-examination on the subject, and find some ways to improve and develop. And besides, it’s fun!