Poor voice types and how to fix them – part 3

Following our series on identifying poor voice types and describing ways to fix them, here are three more fun exercises to try!

The pained speaker

Some speakers find they are unable to talk for short periods of time without going red in the face. Others simply lose their voices after speaking for a small amount of time. Yet, why is it a baby can scream for hours on end? Well, a baby has yet to learn poor techniques and isn’t engaging in a conscious straining of the vocal cords as adults do!

Solution

To help you to speak for long periods of time, you need to ensure you are using diaphragmatic breaths rather than chest breaths. A chest breath places great strain upon the vocal cords due to the limited amount of air being made available. Here’s a simple exercise to identify the difference between a diaphragmatic and chest breath:

  • Stand before a mirror
  • Take a deep, quick breath
  • If you see your shoulders jerk upwards, that’s a chest breath.
  • If you see your stomach expand, that’s a diaphragmatic breath.

Correcting your breathing can often solve most vocal problems. However, even if you have fine breathing, over-projecting will only strain your vocal cords and cause pain. Ideally you should never have a long conversation louder than you would over the telephone. However if you need to teach or present to a class, you need to build up core diaphragmatic strength to aid in projecting your voice naturally.

If you struggle with this exercise due to tension, attempt to add a silent ‘h’ to the beginning of certain words, reminiscent of the old American accent which vocalised ‘(h)when’ or ‘(h)Wednesday’. This is especially important for strong words which utilise a glottal attack, such as ‘at’, ‘and’, and the movie directors favourite: ‘action!’

The ‘mask’ speaker

There is much debate amongst voice and acting tutors as to the benefit or detriment of ‘speaking from the mask’. You can find the ‘mask’ by humming ‘mmm‘ until you feel the area between your nose and lips (named the philtrum) beginning to vibrate. At this point, you will notice if you shift your voice from the back of your throat to the mask, the pitch will increase due to a lack of chest resonance. In my view, speaking from the mask can be hindrance to both breath control and pleasant speech as it is reliant on nasal speaking and should ideally be avoided.

Solution

As mentioned, speaking from the mask is often caused by forcing the larynx to rise in the throat and adopting a nasal voice. However, mask speaking can also be the result of stress, a forced high pitch or a lack of breath support. To prevent yourself from speaking from the mask it is vital you learn to relax the muscles in your larynx, neck and throat.

Initially taking several slow, deep breaths as if meditating would be your first point of call. You can also supplement this by saying ‘uh-huh‘. In this, the ‘uh‘ is your natural relaxed tone. Keeping this in mind, hum that ‘uh‘ tone for a few seconds, release and repeat for 30 seconds.

The nasal speaker

Have you ever heard someone who sounds similar to a train conductor speaking over a hailer with a voice lacking any richness, warmth or depth? This is a ‘nasal’ voice and is the result of the air in the speakers’ voice being expelled through their nose rather than the mouth.

Nasal voices often have two qualities, either shrill or weak dependent on the volume. Male nasal voices are often considered as juvenile or effeminate and conjure images of Pee-wee Herman. Whereas female nasal voices are often considered as shrill due to the ear-splitting frequencies they produce, especially if the owner has a strong set of lungs behind them such as the actress Fran Drescher. It is impossible to have a warm and sonorous nasal voice as there simply isn’t enough resonance in the nasal cavity to produce pleasant tones.

Solution

Hold your nose and read this paragraph out loud, but rather than pushing your voice towards your nasal cavity, try and make all the air exit your mouth. (Note; this will not be possible with words which utilize the nasal cavity to form closed mouthed sounds such as ‘m‘ and ‘p‘).

Once you can ascertain the difference between your nasal and oral voice, release your fingers from your nose and try to speak naturally. You should feel less pressure behind your nose, as a majority of the air and sound is now exiting your mouth. This is known in some circles as speaking with the aforementioned ‘chest voice’ and is vital for a warm, sonorous tone.

There are many more of these lessons, along with a comprehensive diction improvement guide available in: Speak and Be Heard – 101 Vocal Exercises for Voice Actors, Public Speakers and Professionals. Richard Di Britannia also offers private online voice coaching and free consultations on building vocal strength and confidence via his contact form 🙂

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