This is what happened at my second voice lesson. Before this lesson I also had a session with Dom. She noticed a change in my voice already! She was so excited by it, and so positive about it. That's so inspiring! That's such a huge motivation for me to keep working at all this.
This lesson focused more on one of the characteristics of speech that distinguish men from women: mumbling. Men tend to mumble more. So my voice coach focused on that for my work this week. She also spent a lot of time talking about the physiology of speech, which was interesting and good to know. I'll try to hit the high points of that here. Other things we did was to listen to a recording of one of her students at 1-month, 2-months and 3-months. This was a kind of 'ear training' technique, where she talked about the various qualities of this person's voice. The idea is to sharpen your ear so you start to hear the same things in your own voice, especially when you start recording yourself.
The vocal track really starts at the diaphragm and stops at your lips, but there are some interesting places in between. One of them is the pharynx.
As you can see in the picture, it's divided into three parts. Part of the pharynx is in your nose, partly in your Larynx or "voice-box" and partly in the back chamber of your mouth. This structure has a lot to do with "resonance", which I find to be a tricky concept as far as the voice goes. Here's how I think of it at the moment: If you were to make the "A3" sound I learned about in my last lesson at home and then make the same sound in a large room, such as a giant old church, it would sound quite different. The difference would be the "resonance". A man's pharynx is about 1.5 times larger than a woman's and so it produces more resonance. It's like the larger room of a big church. That's why woman and men can produce the same exact pitch, but the men will still sound 'masculine'. Obviously, we want to avoid just sounding like a man pitching his voice higher, we want to cure that. As you train your ear and your voice, you will be able to use the muscles that surround the pharynx to make it smaller. That will reduce the resonance and you will produce a more feminine voice. I found this all very fascinating.
The S.C.M. Muscle
There are two large muscles that run diagonally upwards along your neck, called the Sternocleidomastoid muscles, or S.C.M. muscles for short.
As you can see in the picture, they attach to the sternum and clavicle muscles at the bottom, and the mastoid process (behind the ear) at the top. You can see and feel them clearly if you turn your head and look over your shoulder. Turn your head as far as you can to the right, and you will see a 'ridge' jutting out from your neck on the left. That's the S.C.M. muscle. The importance of this muscle for speaking is that it can lift the larynx. If you put your hand on your larynx (voice-box) and swallow, you will feel it move upwards. That's the S.C.M. muscle. Yawning makes it move in the opposite direction. Voice training can be hard on the voice and you want to keep the S.C.M. muscle relaxed, so you don't overstress the larynx. One of the things I learned was to massage the S.C.M. muscle as part of my warm-up, so it relaxes and doesn't contribute to excess tension.
The larynx is what makes the 'noise'. It's easy to find. In men, there is a 'bump' on your neck, which is often called the larynx but is actually cartilage that covers the thyroid. If you put your index finger on that bump, for most people the larynx will be between that finger and the third finger below.
The larynx opens and closes to produce sound. When you are breathing quietly, the larynx is completely open. When you 'phonate', as you do when you make sounds like the 'ha, hee, who' sounds, it narrows and vibrates at a certain frequency. Things like colds or asthma can affect your voice and it's important not to push your voice if you are sick. You can also over-stress your larynx by practicing these exercises too hard and get cause it to get inflamed (laryngitis). So use caution when you practice. I tried to find a picture of the larynx that showed this, but I couldn't find a good one.
Incidentally, your Adam's apple sticks out because male vocal chords are thicker and require more room to vibrate. In general, they are about three-times thicker. As you grow up and your voice changes, the thyroid cartilage makes more room for them, which is what makes your Adam's apple. Some people have this shaved, I'm told, to get that perfect, feminine throat appearance.
The new assignment for this week is to continue to work on posture, belly-breathing and pitch while learning to speak more clearly. My teacher says there are four basic things to think about when you need to speak more clearly:
- When you talk, feel the air flowing through you on every single sound.
- Use your mouth more. She suggested pretending that you are talking to someone who is trying to read your lips. She said it won't look as weird as it feels to move your mouth more.
- Pay special attention the beginning and ends of words. If they begin or end in consonants, make sure you actually say them.
- As a general rule, pay more attention to consonants and work harder to enunciate them more clearly then usual.
Things to remember.
As you practice, remember to keep your head level. Especially as you work on pitch, it can be easy to raise your head. It's best to keep it level.
Also remember to speak from your 'belly'. It can help to occasionally put your hand on your diaphragm and make sure it is going in and out, to produce the air.
Finally (and this was slightly new), try to speak more from the 'head' than the chest. If you put your hand on your chest, you don't want it to vibrate. You want the vibration to be in your head. This will be a start at working at resonance, I think.
You want to practice now two or three times a day, for about 5-minutes. You first want to massage your S.C.M. muscle.
Turn your head slightly to the right so you can feel the S.C.M. muscle easily. Then gently massage and stretch it, working from the ear down to the collar bone and back up. Do this a few times on each side.
Put your hand on your belly and blow out. Then do the same thing but with an "S" sound, and once again with an "SH" sound.
Now do the third exercise from last time. To remind you: Start on A3 and go up to C#, the Bb-D, then B-D#, then C-E.
Do this three times, first on a "HA" sound, then a "HEE" sound and finally on a "WHO" sound.
Before each "sound", you want to do the blowing warm-up. So it will be: blow out, blow out with "S", blow out with "SH", then the thirds with "HA".
Then, blow out, blow out with "S", blow out with "SH, and the thirds with "HEE". And then the same thing for "WHO", first doing the blowing warm-up.
She gave me a new word list which she also doesn't want me to share. These are about 40-50 words of many syllables, with lots of consonants. I don' t see any particular design to these.
The idea is to practice saying them clearly. Since there are four basic points to remember, she suggested doing a few words with each. You'll notice which ones seem to make the most difference for you, and then you can focus on those for the remainder of the word list.
You can focus on the pitch of your voice if you wish, but that's not as important as paying attention to your breathing and the clear speaking principles.
The second exercise will add the element of pitch and saying complete phrases. There are two groups of eight phrases, and you want to re-tune your pitch with "ha he who" before each group.
In each group, the first four phrases all have five syllables, and the second four have six syllables. She includes some questions in the phrases as well.
Recording your voice.
She also wants me to start recording my voice. Once or twice a week is plenty, and you don't have to listen to it right away. Once you have done this, you want to rate it for pitch, quality, loudness, resonance, articulation, phrasing, pacing, melodic intonation and fluency. She suggests keeping track of your progress in this way.
So pretty interesting stuff. I've gotten more feedback from the last article than anything else I've written, so I know you are all interested in this. I'll try to answer any questions I get as best as I can, but I'm not a speech therapist. If you are serious about changing your voice and need more help, you might want to look in your city and see if you can find one. There might be some who would work with you on Skype as well. As always, feel free to message me on Twitter