Have you ever listened to a recording of your voice and thought, “Wow, is that what I really sound like?” If so, you are not alone. It’s kind of a strange experience, listening to what your voice sounds like to other people, but it usually is not a problem, unless you don’t like what you hear. According to a study done by the research company Quantified Impressions, the way a person speaks matters twice as much as what they are saying, and people with high, nasally, or raspy voices were seen as “passive”, “weak”, or “angry”, even if the tone of voice that they used reflected optimism or happiness. On the contrary, people without those vocal traits were perceived to be more confident and better leaders.
If you don’t like your voice, you shouldn’t let this study disturb you, though. We are always more critical of ourselves than other people are, so take comfort in the fact that you are likely criticizing yourself too harshly. Nevertheless, if you still want to know how to change your voice, we’ve got you covered. A lot of people mistakenly believe that you’re stuck with the voice you’ve got, but that simply isn’t true. If it were, how would voice actors that specialize in changing the pitch, tone, and sound of their voice be able to make a living? Changing your voice is possible, and whether you want to give it a shot to increase your overall appeal to listeners or to try your hand at voice acting, we can show you how.
Understanding The Human Voice
To isolate the aspect of your voice that you would like to change, it’s helpful to understand how your voice actually works. Speech is actually very fascinating once you realize that it requires a seamless synchronization between multiple parts of your body.
Your lungs are what give your voice some “oomph”, so to speak. Try to hold your breath and speak at the same time. It’s not particularly easy, is it? That’s because in order to form words or sing a song, you need your lungs to power the entire process up.
Your larynx, or voice box, is the next stop in the vocal process. Your vocal cords are actually two soft pieces of tissue on either side of your trachea, or wind pipe. When you go to speak, air passes through the trachea and causes your vocal folds to vibrate. Pretty cool, huh?
Your sinus cavity, mouth, and mouth are the last step in the process. Your vocal folds only vibrate—without the resonance that these body parts provide, words would sound an awful lot like toneless buzzing.
It is important to understand how the voice works because the vocal characteristics that you wish to change may just originate there.
Vocal Problems With Medical Causes
There are a number of issues that originate with underlying medical issues, which sounds much more dire than it actually is. In fact, at one point or another, most of us will deal with a medical hiccup from time to time that will alter or change the sound of our voice. Many of these issues are easily remedied through speech pathology, therapy, or even something as simple as breathing exercises. Let’s take a look at some common medical speech problems that are usually addressed this way.
- Laryngitis: Laryngitis, an inflammation of the vocal cords, is really very common. When someone says, “I’m losing my voice,” chances are that they are experiencing acute laryngitis. This typically begins with a viral or bacterial infection that causes the vocal cords to swell. Laryngitis is typically addressed by resting the vocal cords and staying well hydrated.
- Laryngopharyngeal Reflux Disease: Besides being fun to say, laryngopharyngeal reflux disease is also a common underlying vocal issue. When stomach acid creeps back up the esophagus, it can cause an uncomfortable burning sensation—acid reflux or heartburn. That’s certainly nothing new, but did you know that stomach acid can also affect the vocal folds or cords, even if you have never experienced any other reflux symptoms? If you worry that your voice is raspy or hoarse, but can’t seem to figure out why, LPRD might be the answer. You will want to see your doctor to see if that’s the case, and determine a treatment plan if it is.
- Vocal Overuse: We’ve already discussed how voice is actually a well-synchronized, coordinated effort between your lungs, cords, and resonance instruments. It goes without saying that these require a lot of different muscles, and where there are muscles, there is muscle fatigue. There’s an efficient and an inefficient way to speak and sing, and the inefficient way can cause a number of speech problems, like cracking or “vocal fry”. It also leads to nodules, or benign lesions on the vocal cords. Sometimes, vocal overuse is caused by an underlying issue. For instance, if you are having trouble hearing, regulating your vocal volume can cause you to strain your voice. It’s also easy to fix; you just need to learn how to speak “efficiently”.
How To Change Your Voice:
There are a number of ways to change your voice, and the only equipment you will need is a voice recorder app on your phone or computer and yourself. Vocal change doesn’t occur overnight. It takes practice and persistence, and if you can stick with it, the rewards can be very gratifying.
Make a Recording
The first thing that you need to is make a recording of your voice that you can listen to in order to have a full understanding of the way that you sound to other people. Choose a passage from a book or script that will give you a wide range of speaking options. You want to record yourself pronouncing multiple sounds, vowels, and pitches. Make a track of yourself expressing a wide range of emotion as well. Many people complain that their voice quavers, shakes, or deepens when they express an emotion like anger or sadness. Other things that you want to look for are vocal ticks like uptalk (ending each sentence with a question), ums, ers, and ahems, and cracking. Make a note of all of the things that you would like to improve.
Practice Speaking From Different Places
No, we don’t mean going to Yakima. Instead, there are three main bodily origination spots that people speak from: the diaphragm, nose, and throat. What you want to do is find a nice balance between the three.
Diaphragm: To speak from your diaphragm, which is that large band of muscle under your lungs but above your stomach, place a hand on your abdomen, right under your ribs. As you draw a breath to speak, your stomach should puff out a little, as opposed to heaving your chest.
- Low vocal volume: If someone is always telling you to “speak up!” speaking from the diaphragm can help.
- Improved resonance: Diaphragmatic speech helps you “project” or hold a sustained note for a longer period of time, eliminating breathy speech.
Throat: To speak from your throat, try pinching your nose and holding a sustained note. It will sound funny, but it will also give you an idea of how your throat feels when it is engaged. By focusing on relaxing your throat muscles, you can work on improving your speech.
- Squeaky or screechy voice: Relaxed vocal folds can deepen your voice to eliminate higher pitched speech.
- Nasal speech: One of the most common complaints for people wondering how to change their voice is that their voice sounds more “nasally” than they would like. By diverting air from your sinuses to your throat, you can improve this greatly.
Nose: To speak from your nose, practice inhaling through you mouth and exhaling through your nose. After four or five breaths, try humming, then speaking, keeping your mouth small and your tongue shallow.
- Stuffy speech: If you have had chronic sinus inflammation in the past, you may have picked up the habit of speaking with a blocked nose. This can cause you to sound stuffy. Reopening your nasal pathways can eliminate this.
Hydration is key to keeping your voice–and the rest of you–healthy. Drinking lots of water will keep your vocal folds pliant and thin any mucous you may have, which eliminates the need to clear your throat often.
Exercise Your Voice
Singers and actors have a whole bag of tricks to keep their voice in top condition. After all, their livelihood depends on having a pleasing voice! There’s no reason that you can’t take a page from their playbook as you learn how to change your voice.
- Lip Trills
To do a lip trill, keep your lips gently closed and blow air through them. They should vibrate against each other. Gradually add long and short vowel sounds of varying pitches. Lip trills will help you practice cord closure and help you relax your vocal folds.
Nay-nays sound very silly, but they are useful for nasal speech practice. Pretend you are taunting someone in a bratty voice, saying “nay-nay”. You should feel a gentle buzz in your sinuses as you do.
For people with high pitched or squeaky voices, ahhhs can be very useful in for lowering vocal pitch. Simply take a deep breath in, and then on the exhale, breathe out slowly while saying “ahhh”. Try and hold it as long as you can.
This exercise is a little more frenetic. You should inhale, and then say “oh-ah-ooh” over and over. The key is to emphasize the dipthong of each syllable by performing a glottal stop–you should feel the vocal cords close up a little–without pausing too long between each one.
Imitate a Voice You Like
Imitation is a great way to change your voice. Obviously, you aren’t going to walk around doing a permanent Marilyn Monroe impression, but by listening to a voice that you find pleasing, you can pinpoint the difference between that voice’s cadence, pitch, tone, and enunciation. Begin by trying to do an all out impression, and then practice applying the most pleasing parts of your vocal role model’s speech to your own.
With these tools and exercises at your disposal, you are well on your way to making a vocal change that you will love. Remember that when it comes to how to change your voice, your state of mind and environment play as large a role as your practice. Deciding to quit smoking is a great way to eliminate one of the largest environmental stressors, and calming yoga that focuses on breathing technique will not only keep you serene, it will go a long way in developing respiratory techniques for your vocal change.