Announcing/Five Steps to Building a Better Voice
One of the most valuable assets of an announcer is a pleasant voice. Of course, what sounds pleasant to some people may not sound pleasant to others. So it's important to keep in mind what a specific culture values in a speaking voice. I'm going to focus on American culture, since that's what I'm most familiar with, and the culture where most of my students will find employment. While some of the general qualities of a pleasant voice in our culture may extend to other cultures, it's likely that there may be some significant voice differences among professional announcers in other parts of the world, as well as regional variations within America.
Breathing[edit | edit source]
The human voice is very much like a musical instrument. And just like any instrument, the sound produced by one's voice reflects both the characteristics of the instrument and the skill of the musician playing it. The sound of your voice is unique, reflecting your individual vocal qualities. But with practice, you can learn how to play your "instrument" better.
Your voice belongs to the family of instruments known as wind instruments. A wind instrument produces sounds with a vibrating column of air. Consider the clarinet, for example. I used to play the clarinet, and it took a lot of practice to get the column of air inside of the instrument to vibrate so that it produces a sound. It took even more practice to make a pleasant sound. I had to learn how to force air through a small opening past a semi-rigid wooden reed attached to the clarinet's mouthpiece. As I blew into the mouthpiece, the reed would vibrate rapidly, causing the column of air inside the clarinet to vibrate. By pushing buttons and closing holes on the barrel of the clarinet, I could change the length and shape of this column of air, thus adjusting the resulting tones.
In the case of your voice, the vibrating column of air is inside of you, extending from your chest, through your throat and up through the nasal cavities in your head. You make sound by exerting upward air pressure through a small opening in your throat called the larynx and past a semi-rigid reed-like membrane called the vocal folds. By varying the length of the vocal folds and the position of your jaw, lips and tongue, you are able to change the shape of the column of air, thus changing the tone of your voice.
So perhaps the best place to start learning how to improve your voice is by learning how to control the wind in your wind instrument: your breath. Of course, breathing and producing vocal sounds aren't the same, but breathing is necessary for producing voice. You can breathe without making a sound, and unless you are a non-stop talker, that's what you do most of the time, breathing in and out without making much of a sound. But you can't produce vocal sound without your breath. You can make other sounds, like snapping your fingers or clicking your tongue, but you need breath to produce voice.
Breathing is certainly something that most people take for granted. You probably don't think about it much. After all, you must already know how to breathe; otherwise, you wouldn't be alive to read this. But are you breathing in a way that contributes to a better voice? Are you using your breath in a way that helps you produce clear, clean, pleasant sounds with your voice? Are you taking full advantage of your natural breathing mechanism to produce a full, rich vibrating column of air? In short, are you breathing from the diaphragm?
When you were just a baby, chances are you breathed from the diaphragm. If you get a chance, take a close look at some infants in a nursery. Watch as they breathe while lying in their cribs. You should see their little tummies rise as they inhale, and fall as they exhale. But you probably won't see a whole lot of motion in the upper part of their chests. Almost all of the movement associated with breathing is centered around the lower chest and abdomen. They are breathing not by expanding the top of their chests, but by expanding their diaphragms at the bottom of their chests.
The diaphragm is a flexible, muscular membrane. It's like a curved, flexible "shelf" near the bottom of your rib cage that separates your chest cavity from your abdominal cavity. The diaphragm is rather unusual in that most people don't have a lot of direct control over it. Instead, you indirectly control the motion of the diaphragm by using the muscles attached to it: the intercoastal muscles that are attached to your rib cage, and the abdominal muscles that hold in your gut.
A healthy diaphragm has a lot of "spring" to it. It might help to think of it like the top half of a hollow rubber ball. If you cut a rubber ball in half, placed the top half on a table, and gently pressed down on it, it would expand outward as your pressure flattened it. When you released the pressure, the rubber ball half would quickly spring back to its original curved shape.
In a similar fashion, when you inhale, your diaphragm flattens and expands outward. Your rib cage expands, pulling the diaphragm downward toward your abdomen, drawing air into your lungs. When you exhale, your muscles relax, allowing the diaphragm to return to its normal, upwardly curved shape. Your rib cage contracts, and your diaphragm springs upward to help push the air out from the bottom of the lungs.
Your lungs are shaped like triangles, with a narrow end at the top and a wide base at the bottom. Because the lungs are narrower at the top and wider at the bottom, your lungs hold most of the air you breathe near the bottom. At least that is the case if you fill your lungs by breathing from the diaphragm. But over time, people develop poor breathing habits. Rather than fill their lungs to capacity by breathing from the diaphragm, many people use only a portion of the lung's capacity. They become "shallow breathers," using only a small portion of their lungs' capacity.
Breathing from the diaphragm helps you maximize your lungs' capacity. It can fill up your lungs fully and quickly. It can also help reduce the sound of your breathing, which is an important consideration when you are using a microphone. Diaphragmatic breathing can also help relax you. Taking a deep, deliberate breath from the diaphragm is an excellent way to reduce "mic fright" or "stage fright."
But perhaps most importantly, breathing from the diaphragm can help you achieve a dramatic improvement in the quality of your voice. It is the foundation upon which rests all of the other "building blocks to a polished voice" discussed below.
Posture[edit | edit source]
Stop for a moment and take a good look at yourself. Are you sitting up straight? Or are you hunched over, with your back curved and your head drooping? If you're like most people, chances are your posture is not the greatest.
It's easy to develop bad posture habits. But there are many reasons why you should try to have good posture habits. A chiropractor will probably tell you that poor posture is one of the primary causes of back pain. Your mother probably told you that you will appear smarter and more attractive when you sit up straight. A good friend may have pointed out to you that you'll look taller if you stand up straight. But I'm going to give you another reason for good posture: it can help your voice sound better.
That's because your body is the container that holds the vibrating column of air that produces your voice. When your body position is well-balanced, the muscles and membranes that hold this column of air are best able to produce a full, rich sound. But If you slouch or hunch over, your body position will be out of balance, and your voice will not sound its best.
So try to keep your upper body upright, with your shoulders in line with your hips. Think about a string pulling up the top of your head as if you were a marionette. If your upper body is excessively curved forward, it will restrict your breathing and your ability to support your voice from your diaphragm. You don't want to cave in your chest. Try to keep your shoulders from hunching forward.
On the other hand, you don’t need to stand or sit as “stiff as a board.” In fact, your back is naturally curved a bit, almost like a tall skinny letter "s" with a gentle curve forward near the top and gentle curve back at the bottom. You shouldn't try to force it to be uncomfortably straight. Instead, try to stand or sit in a relaxed, confident manner, head up, shoulders back, eyes ahead. Try to find a posture that feels comfortable, natural and balanced.
You may have heard Yoga and Pilates instructors refer to this balanced posture as the neutral spine. As noted Pilates instructor Margarette Ogle describes it, the neutral spine is "the natural position of the spine when all 3 curves of the spine -- cervical (neck), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) -- are present and in good alignment." Yoga and Pilates exercises are excellent ways to help you achieve better posture.
Poor posture can make it harder to fill your lungs completely, reducing your ability to breathe from the diaphragm. Poor posture can make your breathing more audible, especially when you're using a microphone. Poor posture can reduce your alertness and concentration, making it difficult to visualize the meaning of your message. And poor posture can even have a negative affect on your mood, which in turn can affect the enthusiasm of your vocal delivery.
On the other hand, good posture can make it easier to breathe fully from the diaphragm. Good posture can help you breathe more quietly, as your body position contributes to a solid column of air free from unnatural physical blockages. Good posture enables easy and decisive movement of your primary articulators: the jaw, the lips, and the tongue. Good posture helps you maximize your vocal resonance. And good posture can even help you feel good about yourself, helping you to relax, and feel less stressed.
So do yourself—and your voice—a favor. Practice good posture.
Resonance[edit | edit source]
Resonance is one of the most vivid qualities of a good voice. Voice consists of vibrating air; resonance refers to the degree the body effectively contributes to this vocal reverberation.
Vocal sounds originate when your vocal folds (vocal cords) rapidly vibrate. Vocal folds (chords) are small flaps of tissue that stretch across the larynx (voice box) at the top of the trachea (windpipe). The vibration created by the vocal folds is very weak, little more than a soft whisper. This sound must be amplified in the resonating chambers of your body.
There are three primary resonators - the mouth, the nose, and the pharynx. A good-sounding voice will take advantage of all three.
To increase the resonance in your voice, the muscles surrounding the resonating chambers must be relaxed. Try to find your optimum pitch, where you achieve the most natural resonance. The optimum pitch is about 1/3 of the way up your total pitch range.
You can also increase your apparent resonance by speaking at an angle to the “sweet spot” of a mic (2 to 8 inches away).
Vocal Variety[edit | edit source]
A good-sounding voice is interesting and distinctive, conveying meaning through the skillful use of vocal variety. Effective vocal variety sounds natural, not forced or fake.
There are at least four kinds of vocal variety: pitch variety, rate variety, volume variety and force variety.
Pitch variety, or inflection, is the skillful use of a variety of pitches (vocal “notes”) to convey meaning. Monotone is too little inflection. Sing-song is too much inflection.
Rate variety, or tempo, is the skillful use of speed of delivery and pauses to convey meaning. Most people speak too rapidly most of time. Learn the value of the pause!
Volume variety is the skillful use of loud and soft vocal delivery to convey meaning. A conversational level is usually best. Mic positioning and amplification also affect volume.
Force variety is the skillful use of vitality, intensity and energy to convey meaning. Use a natural level of enthusiasm: be yourself without being subdued.
Style[edit | edit source]
A good-sounding voice is unique, distinctive, unmistakable. Vocal style is your trademark: it sets you apart from the rest. Skillful announcers are keenly aware of the value of style.
Think about your style...
What are your strongest vocal qualities? Play to your strengths.
What kind of copy do you enjoy reading? Why?
Describe your “vocal persona.” What does your voice say about you? What do you want it to say?
Notes[edit | edit source]
- How To Find Neutral Spine Position, http://pilates.about.com/od/pilatesexercises/ht/NeutralSpine.htm