Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Some years ago a friend asked why I was having singing lessons. I stared in disbelief at this normally intelligent person, who tried to explain the question. “Don’t you just open your mouth and out it comes?” I gaped. “Your singing voice is just there like your speaking voice right?” I replied that this was a bit like asking Roger Federer why he had a tennis coach. My point was sound, but comparing myself to the tennis legend was not, and it was me who wound up looking an idiot.
My friend’s ignorance is not so unusual. For those of us who are ‘voice aware’, the way people sound it is a matter of interest and importance. We understand that your voice exerts a huge influence on the impression you create, and on your ability to communicate. Voice is every bit as important as looks and dress sense, charm and intelligence. In fact it’s vital for certain professions. Those who succeed in sales, teaching, politics, religion, the defence forces, management and the law nearly always use their voices well. It’s one of the qualities that enables them to command attention. Voice a vital leadership tool.
Who do you like to listen to? I bet they are easy to understand. I bet their voice is melodious, resonant, pleasing to the ear. They have clear diction, their voice carries. They speak at a pace which is easy to follow, and if they speak at length, they do so with enough variety to be interesting.
The opposite is also true. Who do you dislike listening to? Do they mumble, or have a squeaky, strained voice or a light one that doesn’t cut through? Are they missing the instinct to raise their voices in a large space? Do they speak too softly to be heard? These poor people are literally wasting their breath. Whatever it is they want to communicate remains unknown to their listeners.
As my friend revealed, many people are not ‘voice aware’. My friend wasn’t trying to insult me, it was just something she’d never thought about. To speak well you need to make the most of your voice, and to make the most of your voice you need to know a bit about how it works.
In some ways my friend was correct. You are born with your voice. It’s part of your anatomy, and each voice is distinctive – like your body. Your voice has its own individual timbre (that’s colour and texture). If you happen to sound like Marilyn Monroe, or you can round up a paddock of cattle with a single shout, you have an advantage. Most of us have the vocal equivalent of the family sedan. A voice that’s not too remarkable, but can do the job.
You can’t grow a new voice or change it completely. But the way you sound depends on a range of things, some of which are within your control. The reason you recognize your mother on the phone, or your best friend calling you from behind, is that everyone develops a unique blend of timbre, tone, pitch, pronunciation, accent, and inflection which make us sound like us. This blend is partly a result of our physical vocal characteristics, and also of our personality and life experience – but it’s ours to develop and play with.
I often read things that say a good voice is deep voice. Tosh. It would be a grave mistake to think that because you speak somewhere north of basso profundo you are disadvantaged. I meet plenty of people with low voices who aren’t worth listening to.
It’s true that certain timbres are more penetrating, or sound better in a microphone. It’s also true that your voice can probably become sound more like one of those. A good voice is just one which, whatever its natural size and timbre, is produced well. And that’s where my singing lessons come in. We understand that daily exercise keeps your body looking good and moving well. Learning how to produce your voice properly will keep it sounding good and working well.
Watch for more posts on this subject...