Improving Vocal Attributes for Communicating Well
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The human voice is incredibly complex – for instance, did you know it’s able to make in the region of 800+ unique sounds? From a technical perspective, sound is produced when air is blown over the vocal folds at about 110 cycles per second in men, 180-220 cycles in women and 300 cycles or more in children. Combine this with rich words and language, and the result is our ability to communicate vocally with others. That being said, some people are naturally better communicators than others. So, what can we do to improve our vocal communications skills? Let’s talk about improving some…
Vocal Attributes For Communication
It’s important to understand that there is a huge range of vocal attributes that can come into play here, often described differently depending on who’s referring to them and in what context, and they can also change depending on lots of different factors. However, here’s a basic overview of some of the more common vocal qualities that you could be thinking about:
- Aphonic – Whisper
- Biphonic – Two pitches at the same time
- Breathy – Air in the voice is heard
- Covered – Muffled
- Creaky – Sound of friction between surfaces
- Flutter Or Bleat – Sounds like the bleating of a lamb
- Glottalised – Low clicking, seen in Kim Kardashian’s voice
- Raspy – Dry and grating
- Pressed – Loud and harsh
- Twangy – Sharp
- Wobble – Variations in sound
- Yawny – Sounds like a yawn in the voice
As a vocal performer, you don’t need to know about all of these and other attributes, but you should at least have a basic understanding of the most important attributes when it comes to vocal communication. By understanding these, you can work on developing and improving them to ultimately improve your craft. Here are some key vocal attributes to consider:
When you speak to people and convey a message, the tone of voice you use applies meaning to words. For example, the phrase “I don’t know” can have many meanings. Emphasis on the “I” could suggest defensiveness or that you know somebody else does know. Going pointedly down at the end of “know” could suggest that you are putting an end to the point and you really don’t know. If you go higher on “don’t” and then slope down on “know” from high to low, it could be more of a questioning sentence, that suggests whilst you don’t know, you’re curious to know who does know.
Understanding how tone of voice impacts the words you say gives you huge control over the meanings you apply to your words.
This might seem like an obvious one, but it really is so important. Speak too loudly and you’ll come across as brash, harsh and overly confident or perhaps even aggressive. Speak too quietly and you could sound not very confident, sheepish and unsure. Listening back to your voice will help you understand microphone control and where to position yourself for the very best volume. Playback features in professional voice recording studios are also useful for this practice.
If you’re struggling to project you might want to work on breathing from the pelvic floor, which can help a lot with getting your voice out clearly so your audience can hear you better.
Generally, lower-pitched voices are considered nicer or easier on the ear. Whilst this doesn’t mean you need to radically change your voice, it does allow you to be mindful of placing your voice within lower AND MID ranges so that it might appeal to your listeners/audience than if you constantly speak in your higher range.
“We often refuse to accept an idea merely because the tone of voice in which it has been expressed is unsympathetic to us.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
The topic of vocal attributes is a complex one, but one that it’s important to get your head around if you plan to pursue a career as an actor, voiceover artist, podcaster, singer or one of the many hundreds of professions that rely heavily on the voice and vocal communication. Once you understand the key vocal attributes and how they can be used and modified to help you communicate, you’ll realize you have the power to improve how you come across to your listeners and ultimately present your message. This is particularly the case if English isn’t your native language – many of the attributes noted above will be used entirely differently in other languages such as French or Spanish so it’s important to make sure your approach is appropriate for the message you’re trying to convey.
Ultimately, understanding how to better use your vocal attributes is a skill that won’t just benefit you in your career, but ultimately all aspects of your life. Think about it… almost all of us use our voices for reasons – every single day!