Most people make too much physical effort in speaking. They tighten the muscles of the throat and mouth, instead of liberating these muscles and allowing the voice to flow naturally and harmoniously. The remedy for this common fault of vocal tension is to relax all the muscles used in speech. This is easily accomplished by means of a little daily practice.
The first thing to keep in mind is that we should speak through the throat and not from it. A musical quality of voice depends chiefly upon directing the tone towards the hard palate, or the bony arch above the upper teeth. From this part of the mouth the voice acquires much of its resonance.
An excellent exercise for throat relaxation is yawning. It is not necessary to wait until a real yawn presents itself, but frequent practice in imitating a yawn may be indulged in with good results. Immediately after practicing the yawn, it is advisable to test the voice, either in speaking or in reading, to observe improvement in freedom of tone.
It is not desirable to use the voice where there is loud noise by way of opposition. Many a good voice has been ruined due to the habit of continuous talking on the street or elsewhere amid clatter and hubbub. Under such circumstances it is better to rest the voice, since in any contest of the kind the voice will almost surely be vanquished.
What we need in our daily conversation is less emphasis, and more quietness and non-resistance. We need less eagerness and more vivacity and variety. We need a settled equanimity of mind that does not deprive us of our animation, but saves us from the petty irritations of everyday life. We need, in short, more poise and self-control in our way of speaking.
It is well to remember that few things we say are of such importance as to require emphasis. The thought should be its own recommendation. But if emphasis be necessary, let it be by the intellectual means of pausing or inflection, rather than with the shoulders or the clenched fist.
A very disagreeable and common fault is nasality, or "talking through the nose." Many persons are guilty of this who least suspect it. This habit is so easily and unconsciously acquired that everyone should be on strict guard against it. Almost equally disagreeable is the fault of throatiness, caused by holding the muscles of the throat instead of relaxing them.
The best tones of the speaking voice are the middle and low keys. These should be used exclusively in daily conversation. The use of high pitch is due to habit or temperament, but may be overcome through judicious practice. The objection to a high-keyed voice is not only that it is disagreeable to the listener, but puts the speaker "out of tune" with his audience.
A good speaking voice should possess the qualities of purity, resonance, flexibility, roundness, brilliancy, and adequate power. These qualities can be rapidly developed by daily reading aloud for ten minutes, giving special attention to one quality at a time. A few weeks, assiduous practice will produce most gratifying results. The voice grows through use, and it grows precisely in the way it is habitually used.
Distinct articulation and correct pronunciation are indications of cultivated speech. Pedantry should be avoided, but every aspirant to correct speech should be a student of the dictionary. A writer has given this good counsel:
"Resolve that you will never use an incorrect, an inelegant, or a vulgar phrase or word, in any society whatever. If you are gifted with wit, you will soon find that it is easy to give it far better point and force in pure English than through any other medium, and that brilliant thoughts make the deepest impressions when well worded. However great it may be, the labor is never lost which earns for you the reputation of one who habitually uses the language of a gentleman, or of a lady. It is difficult for those who have not frequent opportunities for conversation with well-educated people, to avoid using expressions which are not current in society, although they may be of common occurrence in books. As they are often learned from novels, it will be well for the reader to remember that even in the best of such works dialogues are seldom sustained in a tone which would not appear affected in ordinary life. This fault in conversation is the most difficult of all to amend, and it is unfortunately the one to which those who strive to express themselves correctly are peculiarly liable. Its effect is bad, for though it is not like slang, vulgar in itself, it betrays an effort to conceal vulgarity. It may generally be remedied by avoiding any word or phrase which you may suspect yourself of using for the purpose of creating an effect. Whenever you imagine that the employment of any mere word or sentence will convey the impression that you are well informed, substitute for it some simple expression. If you are not positively certain as to the pronunciation of a word, never use it. If the temptation be great, resist it; for, rely upon it, if there be in your mind the slightest doubt on the subject, you will certainly make a mistake. Never use a foreign word when its meaning can be given in English, and remember that it is both rude and silly to say anything to any person who possibly may not understand it. But never attempt, under any circumstances whatever, to utter a foreign word, unless you have learned to pronounce correctly the language to which it belongs."
There is need for the admonition to open the mouth well. Many people speak with half-closed teeth, the result being that the quality of voice and correctness of pronunciation are greatly impaired. Consonants and vowels should be given proper significance. Muffled speech is almost as objectionable as stammering.
It enhances the pleasure and quality of conversation to speak in deliberate style. Rapidity of utterance often leads a speaker into such faults as indistinctness, monotony, and incorrect breathing. Deliberate speaking confers many advantages, not the least of which is increased pleasure to the listener.
Many voices are too thin in quality. They fail to carry conviction even when the thought is of superior character. The remedy here is to give special attention to the development of deep tones. One of the best exercises for this purpose is to practice for a few minutes daily upon the vowel sound "O," endeavoring to make it full, deep, and melodious. For all-round vocal development this practice should be done with varied force and inflection, and on high as well as low keys of the voice.
The best remedy for a weak voice is to practice daily upon explosives, expelling the principal vowel sounds, on various keys, using the abdominal muscles throughout. Another good exercise is to read aloud while walking upstairs or uphill. As these exercises are somewhat extreme, the student is recommended to practice them prudently.
Correct breathing is fundamental to correct and agreeable speaking. The breathing apparatus should be brought under control by daily practice upon exercises prescribed in any standard book on elocution. Pure tone of voice depends upon the ability to convert into tone every particle of breath used. Aspirated voice, in which some of the breath is allowed to escape unvocalized, is injurious to the throat, and unpleasant to the listening ear.
The speaker, whether in conversation or in public, should try always to speak with an adequate supply of breath. Deliberate utterance will give the necessary opportunity to replenish the lungs, so that the speaker will not suffer from unnecessary fatigue. Needless to say, the habit should be formed of breathing through the nose when in repose.
There is a voice of unusual roundness and fulness known as the orotund, which is indispensable to the public speaker. It is simple, pure tone, rounded out into greater fulness. It is produced mainly by an increased resonance of the chest and mouth cavities, and a more vigorous action of the abdominal muscles. It has the character of fulness, but it is not necessarily a loud tone. It is in no sense artificial, but simply an enlargement of the natural conversational voice.
The use of the orotund voice varies according to the intensity of the thought and feeling being expressed. It is used in language of great dignity, power, grandeur, and sublimity. It is appropriate in certain forms of public prayer and Bible reading. It enables the public speaker to vary from his conversational style. It gives vastly increased scope and power, by enabling the speaker to bring into play all the resources of vocal force and intensity.
Where resonance of voice is lacking, it can be rapidly developed by means of humming the letter m, with lips closed, and endeavoring to make the face vibrate. The tone should be kept well forward throughout the exercise, pressing firmly against the lips and hard palate. Later the exercise may begin with the humming m, and be developed, while the lips are opened gradually, into the tone of ah, still aiming to maintain the original resonance.
The speaking voice is capable of most wonderful development. There is a duty devolving upon everyone to cultivate beauty of vocal utterance and diction. Crudities of speech so commonly in evidence are mainly due to carelessness and neglect. It is a hopeful sign, however, that greater attention is now being given to this important subject than heretofore. Surely there is nothing more important than the development of the principal instrument by which men communicate with one another. As Story says:
"O, how our organ can speak with its many and wonderful voices! -- Play on the soft lute of love, blow the loud trumpet of war, Sing with the high sesquialter, or, drawing its full diapason, Shake all the air with the grand storm of its pedals and stops."