Sunday, January 27, 2008

Subject of the day: The Speaking Voice, Part 2

After the last edition on the speaking voice, I received several excellent responses both here an on NFCS. Two issues stand out that I felt I should follow up on: 1) Pitch of he speaking voice and 2) "default phonation."

1) Several people wrote to suggest that speaking higher is not necessarily the desired result, and I agree. In my own case, I was speaking lower than was efficient for me. My correction required me to raise my pitch, but there are others who spoke higher than optimum pitch and consequently they had to lower pitch. There are many ways of finding optimum pitch. We do know however that average optimum pitch for males is around 110 Hz and for females around 220hz. However this is only an average and most people fall between a whole step below and a whole step above of these frequencies. NFCS member, Voixclaire, gives us resources regarding optimum pitch. Experimenting around these pitches is best. There is an accepted premise that when one instinctively says "um-huh" in agreement, he or she says it at optimum pitch. I believe this is less reliable with singers, who tend to be very aware of their desired speaking pitch.

2) Default phonation is a term I came up with. I believe that the way someone speaks will determine the default mode of phonation. Certainly when singing, the singer may alter the default mode to accomplish a desired sound. I believe that in those situations the singer will be struggling with his habitual speech phonation to accomplish the desired efficient singing phonation. In cases where the singer has little time between breathing and singing, the default (or habitual speech phonation) tends to kick in. When the singer's speaking voice is of optimum quality (matches the desired phonation mode) then the entire phonation process tends to be more automatic. In such a way we can explain natural singers who have extremely efficient phonation without having had any voice lesson.

Over the week I have found that my improved speaking voice makes for a much more reliable singing voice. As I complete the revival of BIO's Nozze di Figaro (my last baritone role, Count Almaviva), my colleagues and coaches have remarked on a noticeably clearer, more efficient sound that carries easily. Additionally, my tenor repertoire improves daily and the top of the voice no longer has that feeling that I have reached a ceiling when I sing B4 or C5. As the demands of the productions subside, I will be posting sample phrases and scales and eventually complete arias. As I experience this in my own voice, I must assert that an efficient, optimum speaking voice can save a lot of time in the pursuit of efficient phonation.

© 01/27/2008


Brooke said...

My own journey with pitching my speaking has led me to the opinion that one should speak with a technique similar to that with which one sings. By this I mean that one's speaking voice should be fully supported with minimal tension and maximum reasonable pharyngeal space.

For much of my young life, I was encouraged to pitch my voice higher but found it resulted in my own discomfort and self-consciousness. I have subsequently learned that my voice is naturally pitched a little low, so my healthy speaking voice is low.

I guess my comment is that it is more important to speak in a resonant, well-supported place than at a particular pitch-level. :)

Toreadorssong's Vocal Technique Blog said...

I agree. And that is the point of this post. Specific pitch levels are quite individual and each person has to find his/her optimum level.

However, just like it was harmful for you to speak too high and I too low, there is an optimum to be found. I believe that finding the individual correct pitch leads to natural resonance and support.

What is also misleading is that the speaking voice we learn to imitate as children may not be conducive to the natural make-up of our individual instruments. Often what feels "natural" is actual only "habitual" from before the singer was conscious of speech production. The habitual voice (unless it is truly the natural voice) has to be unlearned. And if the singer has personally identified with that sound, then it becomes difficult to let go.

To avoid another tangent, let me reiterate that I agree with your comment. It is not fundamentally about one pitch for everyone. If easy resonance is found, more than likely the correct pitch has been acquired.

Thank you for the comment.