When individuals judge their voice they are usually commenting on the quality of their pitch. The concept of how pitch is defined can be easily misunderstood. On a technical and scientific level, vocal pitch is described as how the vocal chords vibrate together to create sound. For a non-technical individual, pitch is often perceived as how the voice sounds. For example, the pitch being too high, low, wavering or sounding thin or weak. Learning to speak in your ideal pitch range is important for presenting with strong, rich tones that are aesthetically pleasing for your listener. Describe your current pitch style to strengthen your awareness.
Voice therapists describe two different types of pitch, habitual and optimal. Habitual pitch is your regular and consistent tone of voice. It is the pitch you use automatically for speaking but it may not necessarily be your best vocal quality. Optimal pitch produces a rich and pure tone where the muscles of the vocal mechanism function at their best to produce an ideal quality voice with natural projection. Speaking in your optimal pitch range would be preferred for professional speech and voice since that is where the most vibrant and resonant tones are produced.
If there is a significant difference between your habitual and optimal pitch it is most likely due to the fact that you find it easier and more comfortable speaking with your habitual pitch range. This is the pitch level most people use automatically. Many speakers with a high, thin or nasal sounding pitch are speaking from their habitual pitch range. Learning to speak from your optimal pitch level is an easy adjustment to make and the benefits will significantly improve your voice and professional image.
Finding Your Optimal Pitch Range
The Uh-Huh Trick
Produce the word “Uh-Huh” naturally and comfortably. Move down in your pitch when you say it. Say it 3 times. When you are saying the word, “Uh-Huh” you are producing your optimal and ideal pitch range. The “Uh” is the upper limit for optimal pitch and the “Huh” is the lower limit for this range. Be aware that this is a pitch range and it should fluctuate.
The key is to consistently speak comfortably within your optimal pitch range. The most resonant voice with good tone quality will come from the “Uh-Huh” range. When individuals speak below their optimal pitch limit, a low tone or strained voice can be heard. When individuals speak above their optimal pitch limit the result is a voice with a higher pitch, thinner sounding tone with more nasal resonance that can be unpleasant for the listener. Speaking from your optimal pitch will allow you to produce a rich tone quality with natural projection that will give you command of your voice to persuade, lead and radiate confidence.
Using a Piano
Another approach for finding your optimal pitch is using a piano. With an open and relaxed throat produce the sound, “Ah”. Play each note down the scale until you have reached the lowest comfortable note you can produce with ease. From that note, move up 3-4 notes. The range of the 3-4 notes is your optimal pitch range. You will recognize your optimal pitch because your tone quality will be strong, resonant and physically comfortable to produce.
Initial Pitch Practice
Now that you are familiar with your optimal pitch range, experiment with your new tone. Say “ummm-hmmm” with deliberate intensity and volume. This humming sound produces your natural and optimal pitch just like the “uh-huh” pitch pattern. Producing this sound will create a vibrating buzz in your nose and around your lips. Touch your lips and nose with your fingers to feel the buzz. Produce this hum a few times to familiarize yourself with the tone. When you are speaking with your optimal pitch range a subtle buzz will always be present.
Note: Producing “ummm-hmmm” has the same affect for finding your ideal voice as the “uh-huh” trick. This is another quick and subtle technique for finding your optimal pitch range before you begin talking.
Pitch Practice Using Single Words
Begin practice with producing single words in your optimal pitch range.
o On a full breath from your diaphragm, count aloud:
Uh-huh one, Uh-huh two, Uh-huh three….. until 10
This will assist you with speaking single words from your ideal pitch range.
o Produce the words below in your pitch range. Place your fingers around your lips and nose.
If you are in your optimal pitch range a subtle buzz should be detected.
Hello No Monopoly Experiment
Right Run Minnesota Refrigerator
Beautiful Happy Apartment Particular
o Select a word and insert it into the “Uh-Huh counting pattern
Right-one, Right-two, Right-three…..until 10
Beautiful-one, Beautiful-two, Beautiful-three…..until 10
Pitch Practice at the Sentence Level
o Practice with connected speech. Remember diaphragm breathing!
Select a word from above and say it in a sentence that you create.
For example, “I am happy to be speaking using my ideal voice.” Creating your own sentences 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 using 2-3 sentences about:
-A New York City cab driver and an anxious tourist
-A sea lion and a scuba diver
-China Town and a feisty lobster
-A lottery ticket and a cold day in winter
-A crooked chef and a smart FBI agent
Note: Notice how diaphragm breathing and speaking in your optimal pitch range generates natural projection and richer vocal tones.
Don’t Be Alarmed! Are these new voice habits causing you to feel like you are speaking with excessive loudness? Don’t worry. Your volume is appropriate. You are receiving some internal feedback from how your sound waves are resonating in your throat and oral cavity. This can create the perception that you are being too loud when in fact you are speaking with rich full tones that project naturally. This is your new voice which may require some time getting used to it. If you continue to have concerns ask a friend if they feel you are speaking too loudly. Chances are they will report that you sound great.
Real World Practice
Listed below are suggested activities where you can practice speaking in your new ideal and optimal pitch range. When speaking at the sentence level remember to speak on a diaphragm breath, maintain a relaxed throat and speak in your perfect pitch.
1. Produce your ideal voice with proper breathing during all of your morning greetings to co-workers or anyone you would like to greet.
2. Produce your ideal voice with proper breathing while you are speaking on the phone. Place a note near the phone to prompt you. This is a great opportunity to speak at the conversational level while incorporating your new voice skills.
3. Order coffee or any food item using your ideal voice. Lunch is a great time
4. Speak using your new voice at every meal you share with someone.
5. Make an association where you can associate a practice opportunity with a simple daily activity such as speaking in a meeting, greeting a certain co-worker or client, speaking to an employee from the dry cleaners or convenience store. Organize in your mind a regularly occurring event or person where you can use that opportunity to remind yourself to practice.
Identify 3 opportunities where you can associate a practice opportunity in your regular routine.