When people judge your voice, they often comment on the quality of your tone. The concept of how tone is defined can be easily misinterpreted. On a technical and scientific level, vocal tone is described as the way the vocal cords vibrate together to create sound. For a non-technical person, pitch is often perceived as how the voice sounds. For example, the tone is too high, low, wavering, or sounds thin or weak. Learning to speak in your ideal tone range is important to present strong, rich tones that are aesthetically pleasing to your listener. Describe your current tone style to strengthen your awareness.
Voice therapists describe two different types of tone, habitual and optimal. The usual tone is your regular and constant tone of voice. This is the tone you automatically use to speak, but it may not necessarily be your best vocal quality. Optimal pitch produces a rich, pure tone where the muscles of the vocal mechanism work at their best to produce an ideal quality voice with natural projection. Speaking in its optimal pitch range would be preferable for professional speech and voice, as this is where the most vibrant and resonant tones are produced.
If there is a significant difference between your usual and optimal tone, it is probably due to the fact that it is easier and more comfortable for you to speak in your usual tone range. This is the tone level that most people use automatically. Many speakers with a high, thin, or nasal tone speak from their usual pitch range. Learning to speak from your optimal pitch level is an easy adjustment to make and the benefits will significantly enhance your professional voice and image.
Finding Your Optimal Tone Range
The Uh-Huh Trick
Produce the word “Uh-Huh” naturally and comfortably. Move down on your tone when you say it. Say it 3 times. When you say the word “Uh-Huh” you are producing your optimal and ideal pitch range. The “Uh” is the upper limit for optimal tone and the “Huh” is the lower limit for this range. Note that this is a pitch range and should fluctuate.
The key is to speak consistently and comfortably within your optimal tone range. The most resonant voice with good tone quality will come from the “Uh-Huh” range. When people speak below their optimal pitch limit, a low tone or strained voice may be heard. When people speak above their optimal pitch limit, the result is a higher pitched voice, a thinner sounding pitch with more nasal resonance that can be unpleasant to the listener. Speaking from your optimal pitch will allow you to produce a rich tone quality with natural projection that gives you control of your voice to persuade, lead and radiate confidence.
Using a piano
Another method to find your optimal pitch is to use a piano. With the throat open and relaxed, the sound “Ah” is produced. Play each note on the scale until you have reached the lowest, most comfortable note that you can easily produce. From that note, go up 3 to 4 notes. The 3-4 note range is your optimal pitch range. You will recognize your optimal tone because the quality of your tone will be strong, resonant, and physically comfortable to produce.
Initial pitch practice
Now that you are familiar with your optimal tone range, experiment with your new tone. Say “ummm-hmmm” with deliberate intensity and volume. This hum produces its optimal, natural tone as does the “uh-huh” tone pattern. Producing this sound will create a vibrant buzz in your nose and around your lips. Touch your lips and nose with your fingers to feel the buzzing sound. Produce this hum several times to become familiar with the tone. When speaking in your optimal tone range, a subtle hum will always be present.
Note: Producing “ummm-hmmm” has the same effect on finding your ideal voice as the “uh-huh” trick. This is another quick and subtle technique to find your optimal pitch range before you start speaking.
Single Word Throwing Practice
Start practicing producing single words in their optimal pitch range.
o We have a full breath from your diaphragm, count out loud:
Aha one, aha two, aha three … until 10
This will help you pronounce single words in your ideal pitch range.
o Produce the following words in your pitch range. Place your fingers around your lips and nose.
If you are in your optimal tone range, a subtle hum should be detected.
Hello no monopoly experiment
Properly Operating Minnesota Refrigerator
Beautiful Happy Private Apartment
o Select a word and insert it into the counting pattern “Uh-Huh
Right-one, Right-two, Right-three … to 10
Beautiful-one, Beautiful-two, Beautiful-three ….. until 10
Sentence-level tone practice
o Practice with connected speech. Remember diaphragm breathing!
Select a word above and say it in a sentence you create.
For example, “I am happy to speak in my ideal voice.” Creating your own phrases will help you keep your practice more spontaneous and simulate natural conversation.
Spontaneous speech practice
o Using your ideal voice and proper diaphragm breathing, produce a short story with 2 or 3 sentences about:
-A New York City Taxi Driver and An Eager Tourist
-A sea lion and a diver
-China Town and a fighting lobster
-A lottery ticket and a cold day in winter.
-A corrupt chef and a clever FBI agent
Note: Notice how the breathing and speech of the diaphragm in its optimal pitch range generates natural projection and richer vocal tones.
Do not be alarmed! Do these new voice habits make you feel like you are speaking at an excessive volume? Do not worry. Your volume is appropriate. You are receiving internal feedback on how your sound waves resonate in your throat and oral cavity. This can create the perception that you are speaking too loud when in fact you are speaking in rich, full tones that project naturally. This is your new voice, which may take some getting used to. If you still have concerns, ask a friend if they feel like you’re talking too loud. They will most likely report that you sound great.
Real world practice
Listed below are suggested activities in which you can practice speaking in your new optimal and ideal pitch range. When speaking at the sentence level, remember to speak with a diaphragm breath, keep your throat relaxed, and speak in your perfect tone.
1. Produce your ideal voice with proper breathing during all your morning greetings to your co-workers or anyone you would like to say hello.
2. Produce your ideal voice with adequate breathing while talking on the phone. Put a note near the phone to let you know. This is a great opportunity to speak at a conversational level while incorporating your new voice skills.
3. Order coffee or any food using your ideal voice. Lunch is a great time
4. Talk using your new voice at every meal you share with someone.
5. Establish a partnership where you can associate a practice opportunity with a simple daily activity, such as speaking in a meeting, greeting a certain co-worker or customer, speaking with an employee at the dry cleaner or convenience store. Organize a regularly occurring event or person in your mind where you can take that opportunity to remind yourself to practice.
Identify 3 opportunities where you can associate a practice opportunity with your regular routine.