If you are awake for about 15 hours each day, that is a lot of time that you can use your voice for talking and singing. Our muscles respond and form patterns based on how they are used. Your voice is a muscle.
The most problematic speaking patterns that I see include the excessive use of glottal fry, speaking at a pitch that is too low and pressed phonation. I see it more in females than males, but there are always exceptions.
Effective use of the speaking voice is closely tied to breath, alignment and how rested you are, but I’ve covered those issues already. So, assuming you’ve sorted those out, or at least know where your growing edges are on those topics, I want to address specific ways you can improve your speaking voice.
1. Find your optimal pitch.
There are a few ways of doing this. You can have someone ask you a simple question to which you will respond with uh-huh. The kind of noise you make without thinking to respond to a simple question. Find where that pitch is on the piano and that is a good indication of your optimal pitch.
Or, you (if you are female, men can try humming in the octave below middle C) can hum on middle C, the B below and the B-flat below. Hum with your teeth apart, lips barely touching. See if you feel vibration on your lips or in the mask area – bridge of the nose, cheekbones. The one that vibrates the most is your optimal pitch. Typically, the higher the voice type, the higher the optimal pitch. There are always exceptions to the rules too – you may not feel vibration and in that case use the uh-huh exercise above.
Now, I’m not advocating talking in a monotone like a robot, but if we were to average out all of your pitches, that pitch that vibrates easily is where we’d want to be. Most often, the average pitch is much, much lower.
2. Find a resonant speaking voice
A resonant voice is ‘placed’ well, easily produced and can be used for an extended time without getting fatigued. Now that you’ve identified your optimal pitch begin gently humming it, feeling warm air escape through your nose and vibration on your lips.
Begin to open from the hum to different vowel sounds hmmm-aaaaaa, hmmm-eeeeee, hmmmm-oooooo etc. Move through all 5 vowel sounds.
Make up sentences that begin with resonant consonants like m, n, or v (Dr. Seuss is a handy help in this…Verna Vera Vin’s Violet Violin!). Chant the sentences on that vibrational pitch…. My Mom May Marry….Name Nine Names Now…. etc.
After you’ve intoned the sentences, try speaking them again in a regular speaking voice, using your breath well and exploring this new pitch range.
3. Explore your range while counting
Count in groups of 5 from 1 to 50. Pause between each group to take an easy breath where the belly and ribcage release. Let the pitch of the voice rise and fall to explore your full vocal range as you count – don’t ever go so low that you fall into the gravelly, vocal fry place.
Of course, just doing these once won’t undo your habits of many years. Try doing them in the morning while you are in the shower or while commuting (unless you take public transportation in which case you will get a serious case of side eye from fellow passengers) to set yourself up for efficient voice use throughout the day.
Be mindful of when you slip into your old habits of speaking too low or in fry. Your level of fatigue and hydration as well as how connected you are to the breath will all influence the quality of your speaking voice. If you catch yourself slipping into your old habits, just pause, take a breath and start over again.