How To Improve The Tone Of Your Voice
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Now you are ready to use your voice. With your throat completely relaxed inhale a deep breath and hold it while you shape the lips for oo as in moon. Then begin stroking inward with your diaphragm, and as this muscle pumps the air through the opening of your lips, you get a sustained oo sound. Do you understand that this oo is projected not from your throat but by means of the inward strokes of your diaphragm? If you have done this properly, you have just made the purest tone in the easiest way possible.
Repeat the oo ten times, making ten continuous inward strokes of the diaphragm. Now for further breath control, repeat the exercise, pausing two beats between each two oo sounds. Do this exercise (ten oo's) on one out-going breath. Think of your throat only as a hall or passageway through which the air is pumped and expelled by your diaphragm.
These sounds are made, of course, by the vibrations created by the air being pumped through the vocal cords, but that is so automatic that you need not be aware of it. The chief point to remember now is that the secret of pure tone is breath control by means of the diaphragm.
The average American's voice is flat and thin; that is, it lacks resonance. When you walk on a concrete sidewall, you hear the sound distinctly, but it is flat and hard. When you walk through an empty corridor, your footsteps resound; the sound is amplified and enriched; that is resonance.
Resonance in the voice is produced by reverberations in the windpipe (trachea), the mouth, the pharynx, and the nasal cavities, and is increased by sympathetic vibration in the bones of the chest, jaw, hard palate, and cranium. As the violin box amplifies and enriches the thin sounds produced by the vibration of the strings, so do the resonators of the body give strength and quality to the human voice.
For good resonance one must have good breath control, which implies an open, relaxed throat and an active diaphragm; and one must place the tone properly.
Placement, for all practical purposes, signifies the focusing of the tone created by the vibrations in the larynx.
For the best oral resonance, that is resonance in the mouth cavity, the tone is placed, or focused, behind the upper front teeth. Run your tongue upward behind the upper front teeth. It will strike a ridge which runs across the hard palate. This is the upper dental ridge. It is the center of the natural sounding board of the voice, and most words should be formed very near it. If you place your hand before your lips, shaping it like the mouthpiece of a trumpet, you will make word formations properly forward in the mouth.
The purest nasal resonance is obtained when the tone is placed behind the bridge of the nose. To acquire good nasal resonance you must keep your nasopharynx from pinching off the air as it is directed through the nose. Nasal resonance should be distinguished from nasality or "talking through the nose." When we say that a person is talking through his nose we actually mean that the nasal passages are so obstructed that he cannot talk through his nose. Open nasal passages are essential for a clear, pleasing, rich voice.
We Americans tend to pinch the delicate muscle membranes in the nasopharynx and nasal passages so that when the air is pumped through for m, n, or ng, the sound lacks proper overtones and resonance. Focus a hum in the front of the nose, approximately between the eyes. If you can do this, there is a clear passage for air in all your nasal cavities.
Try to make a pure m or humming sound, sustaining it as you exhale smoothly. Be careful that your throat muscles are not tense. When you can achieve a clear, humming sound that buzzes in your nose, alternate this nasal sound with vowel sounds as follows:
Sustain the long Italian a (a) and the long e (e). Don't cut off the air abruptly. Now pause one beat between each pair of sounds, using a natural speaking tone.
Try the same sequence of vowels without the m in speaking tones. Here is a trap, because you will probably try to form the vowels in the throat and push them out. The result will be what is known as "glottic shock." This shock hap-pens with words beginning with a vowel. The glottis is the fissure or space between the vocal cords, and when you squeeze the air in trying to say oo, and attempt to force the voice from the throat you make an unpleasant click. If this is done habitually, it is very hard on the vocal cords, as well as on the ears of your listeners. The remedy, of course, is to pump from the diaphragm, relax the throat, and make the vowel sound in your mouth with lips, tongue, and jaw.
To overcome the habit of constricting the glottis, chant the following words on one smooth, regulated outgoing breath: up, ice, air, eat, am, art, end, is, ate, out. Then try this series on one smooth outgoing breath: lullaby, velvet flower, silver moonlight, wind in the pine, London on a rainy night. Now try the same technique on some colloquial bits—Hello! Good morning! How are you? What is it? Are you actually here? Is Ann going out?—all on one smooth exhalation. Form each vowel clearly and smoothly and maintain clear nasal resonance on the m's and n's.
Avoid Nasalization of Vowels
There are only three nasal sounds in the English language: m, n, and ng. Americans tend to nasalize not only these sounds, but also all sounds that come before and after them. Practice saying the following words until you are sure you pronounce the vowels in your mouth, not through your nose:
To avoid nasalization of vowels your velum, or soft palate, must be very flexible, for it acts as a valve, opening and closing the passage to the nasal cavities, and thus directing the nasal sounds through the nose and the vowel sounds through the mouth. This fault of nasalizing vowels is some-times called "positive nasality," whereas cutting off nasal resonance or talking through the nose is called "negative nasality." Both are common American faults.