We speak much more than we sing, yet while we work to have a dynamic singing voice, we can often neglect these qualities in our speech.
By utilizing the concepts of music in speech, we can be more convincing and exciting to our listeners.
In this episode, John discusses the elements of great speakers and how you can develop these qualities in your voice.
Episode 159 – Your Dynamic Speaking Voice
Hey there. This is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. Oh man, I have been up since 4:00 a.m. and I’m starting to see a pattern now. I just started writing my third book, and this happened with my first two books. When I get into the writing process, I don’t know what it is but my brain just wakes me up early. I do my best work, seems to be in the very early morning hours, and maybe it’s just the excitement of getting the words out of my brain and into the computer. But oh my goodness, man, that is early! And to top it off, I am continuing my breakup or my time out with coffee.
So I am now– I am still getting a bit of caffeine, the drug that enslaves 90% of the world’s population, but I’m getting it through black and green tea. And I gotta tell you, man, tea is not quite the party that coffee is. Tea is this nice, genteel, somewhat relaxing cup, and coffee is just a punch in the face. A welcome punch in the face at 4:00 a.m. and tea doesn’t quite have that, but I am finding that the tea buzz, if you will, seems more measured. Coffee just seems to be this rocket ship, and especially the amount I was drinking. But this rocket ship you get tied to and you go flying up and then you come crashing down, which of course means you need more coffee. Whereas tea, it seems that the buzz is more subtle, the energy lasts longer. My focus seems to be better, consuming less caffeine. I seem to be more hydrated. I’ve got to look into that. I’ve read some things about how tea is not as dehydrating as coffee. Well, even coffee being dehydrating I have seen debated, but it’d be interesting to look into this. But I’m finding tea probably suits me better, although I enjoy it nowhere near as much, which is probably a good thing.
Man, do I love coffee. Ah, and I roast my own coffee, and I just roasted a batch for my brother-in-law and some of my employees here. Actually roasted a few batches and some coffee for my caffeine addicted employees at my Music Academy, and oh man, it just it smells so good. Ah, it’s a bad breakup, and coffee keeps calling my name but I think I’m gonna resist for the time being. I feel a little clearer and a little less hyper. You can be the judge if I’m more clear, but I certainly feel less hyper.
Ah, now, today in my lightly caffeinated state, I want to talk about your speaking voice and having a dynamic speaking voice. Way back, one of my early podcasts was on having a healthy speaking voice, and as a singer, you certainly want your speaking voice to be healthy. You don’t want to get into those bad habits. It’s usually speaking too low. Now, the new thing is vocal fry, that kind of talking like this, and the problem with vocal fry is that, in and of itself, it’s not necessarily unhealthy.
As a matter of fact, it can be a nice warm up to get a little vocal fry going. But if you’re talking down there all the time, there’s not a lot of energy in that voice. And there’s not a lot of carry in the sound wave. And if you are trying to speak over people, you are going to really, really struggle. When you have to speak, I believe it’s 20 decibels louder than the noise environment that you are in, in order to be understood.
So if you’re in a fairly noisy environment, a loud restaurant, etc, and you’re down here speaking and it’s vocal fry, you’re just going to start jamming up your cords to be heard. And you’re just going to wear yourself out. You’re going to tire yourself out. And when you speak too low, and this is really becoming a problem for women, and there are debates as to why this is, but women are taking on greater roles of authority, and there is perhaps a perception issue where they want to sound more authoritative, and they’re speaking a little too low and so they’re having to use a little too much muscle in order to be heard. And they just start to get this real clamp down on the vocal folds, which is just stressful and people are just beating their voices up.
So you want a healthy voice, but I want to talk about having a dynamic speaking voice. You’re going to be spending more time speaking than singing. And you need to be convincing. You want people to listen to you. You don’t want to be that person that’s just talking and no one wants to hear you. And in order to hold people’s interest, and for them to really listen and for you to get your point across, you need to grab their attention, and the rules of good singing and good songwriting carry over into good speaking. And I’m talking primarily about constantly recapturing the listeners’ attention.
We have minds that love to wander. We have brains that are constantly filtering all kinds of input and looking for what’s important. Although now we don’t necessarily do such a great job of finding what’s important, but just what stimulates the brain. And I’ve gone on about the stimulus-addicted brain and I need to be very careful about that in myself. My brain, if I keep feeding it constant input from my electronic devices, it will want constant input. So I really have to be careful with that. But you need to reawaken the listeners’ attention and tell their brain what you are saying is important. And the way to do this is by using variety. If you just start to drone on and on and on in a monotone voice, very quickly, you will find yourself starting to wander, and we don’t want that. I mean, it’s great for comedy movies. “Bueller. Bueller.” But not so good when you’re trying to get your point across.
So the first thing I want to talk about is having some range in your speaking voice. Just as a great melody needs to move around, your speaking voice needs to move around and you want to watch that you’re not getting into this monotone voice. You also want to watch your tone. Now, one of the primary controllers of tone is the position of your larynx, and I’ve demonstrated before. It’s the Patrick versus SpongeBob effect, whereas Patrick, the larynx is quite low – “Hey, SpongeBob” – and SpongeBob, the larynx comes up high – “Hey, Patrick.” And that drastically affects your tone, and what you want is a nice stable neutral larynx.
In general, you want your range to be moving around, but you know you don’t want to be talking really high with a high larynx. You’re going to be annoying very, very quickly. And if your larynx is too low, there’s not going to be enough acoustic energy for it to carry, and so that kind of relaxed low voice, if you try to be heard in a louder environment, you’re going to end up constricting your voice. Accents are incredibly important. Man, accents are so important in singing. Oh, I’m sorry. My mic seems to want to move. I hope that wasn’t a loud bonk on the podcast, but man, somebody’s been messing with this thing. I got to do some mic triage after this episode. But accents are so vitally important, and I have been talking quite a bit to students about accents, and not just keeping their singing in a rhythmically dull place. And the demonstration I often use is, I will just go ahead and clap eighth notes and then I’ll add accents.
Suddenly very different even though I never stopped doing straight eighth notes. And your voice, if it doesn’t have accents, there’s no excitement. There’s no urgency. There’s no passion. And when I’m talking, if I talk without any accents, even though of I keep moving my voice up and down, it’s just a little bit duller than if I have little pops, little areas of excitement where I pull back and push, that reawakens, restirs the interest and the attention of the listener. And it also reads as passion, as enthusiasm, as excitement. If you’re trying to sell something, if you’re trying to convince somebody, a little bit of enthusiasm and excitement goes a long way.
The other thing is varying your tempo, so that you’re not just talking really, really fast all the time or just talking slow, but your pace will push and then pull back a little bit. Give them a little time to think, and then you can make your point again. Get a little more excitement going. So think about tempo. And finally, your pitch, where your voice sits. Now this is possibly the most important one because people generally speak too low. I know I did before I studied singing. I kind of sounded a bit like Sylvester Stallone. I mean, my speaking voice was kind of here and I would just talk and wasn’t very excited and when I first started teaching I got tired a lot.
Because I still– even though my voice was better, and I had studied singing, obviously, for a while, my singing voice had greatly improved. My speaking voice was still not quite there, and I was really getting beat up by the end of the day. And what I did over a weekend is I just practice getting my voice into the right place. And a good way to find it is just agree with me. Say, “mm-hmm,” and feel that that second inflection up. Mm hmm, and then hold that hmm, and you’ll feel a spot as you move that up and down where everything really starts to budge. You can even bring your teeth together lightly and you feel– I feel it right there. Right there. And that’s where my voice has a lot of acoustic energy.
So before I would answer the phone, I would just, “Mm-hmm. This is John.” Before I would talk to somebody, I just very quietly to myself, “Hmm… Yeah, that’s right.” And say things that have natural enthusiasm. Saying, “Yes, that’s right,” is a great one. You can just “Mm-hmm, hmm, yes, that’s right!” “Absolutely!” “I would be happy to!” And you kind of get in that happy voice and your voice will feel lighter. It will be more energetic. It will have more upper frequency content, which hits a more sensitive part of the listeners’ hearing. It will keep restimulating their interests so that you don’t get this kind of dull, dopey voice. Now obviously, we don’t want to talk too high. I mean, I don’t want to talk up in SpongeBob land, but when I do that ‘mm-hmm’ I’m finding the resonance. I don’t really get a great buzz up there. Oh. Buzz Coffee, I miss you. But, mm, there it is. See, that’s not too high and that’s not annoying.
Now, there are those, especially on YouTube, who’ve let me know my talking is annoying. But for the most part, people enjoy my voice. I get compliments on my speaking voice. I seem to be rather persuasive. I at least have people listen to me babble 15 to 20 minutes to stretch on this podcast. So thank you for that. Again, I always appreciate it.
But don’t worry about sounding too high, and at first it’ll feel weird, and you’re going to think like you’re talking like you just sucked down a lung full of helium. But it’ll be fine, and people will hear you so much better. It will be so much easier for you to cut over the ambient noise because those high frequencies will hit the more sensitive part of their hearing and people will be better able to understand you. And you’re not going to be that person that you go to the restaurant with that just mumbles and you’re going, ‘Oh my gosh, what are they saying?’ And you just kind of nod and smile like an idiot because you just can’t hear them and you can’t keep asking them, ‘What? What did you say? What?’ So, work on that. Again, your range, vary the range. Your tone, this is going to be a laryngeal position, find just a nice pleasing tone. Get some accents, get some pop in your voice. Play with the tempo. Don’t speak a mile a minute and don’t be a slow talker. Vary that, and then find that optimal speaking pitch where your voice is going to work easily and efficiently.
Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website johnhenny.com and be sure to sign up for my email list. My newest book will be available to my email list before anyone else. I will have test readers that go through my book who will see the manuscript before anyone else, so if you’re interested in things like that. I’ve done exclusive webinars for my email list. So you want to be on that. And if you’re interested in becoming a voice teacher, even if you’ve never taught a lesson before, my Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy is a really good option. Just click on teacher training in the upper menu and you can get all the info on that. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.