A Woman’s Voice & Pitch

A woman came to me recently saying she wanted to develop a compelling and persuasive voice. When I ask what she meant by that, she responded by saying, “you know, lower and louder.”

I wanted to hear her talk more so I continued to ask questions, like what feedback had she been given about her voice? “My pitch is high and people find it annoying.” Yes, I could hear that; I understood why she had been receiving that critique. I could also hear some nasality in her sound as well. I told her pitch was not the problem – lack of resonance was.

It is a myth that a woman’s voice has to be low in pitch to be taken seriously. Women often try to unnaturally lower their voice by depressing the larynx. This causes tension and fatigue and can lead to lasting vocal damage. A current popular trend spoken by young women in reality shows and sitcoms is “vocal fry,” which is speaking on the very bottom of the voice and trailing off at the ends of a sentence into to a “fry” sound. The harder a women presses for a low pitch, the less compelling and flexible she becomes. It is literally a vocal trap, the lower you try to force the voice, the more trapped becomes the sound. Consequently, the voice has less volume, clarity, and variety – less resonance.

Resonance is the voice’s natural amplifier. Resonance is created as breath bounces around in the hollows of the throat, mouth and nasal cavities. The aspect of voice known as quality or tone is directly related to resonance. If I want a warm, inviting voice, I need open and free resonance. If I want a strong, compelling voice, I need open and free resonance. Think of the mouth as your megaphone – there must be easy space in the throat and mouth for the sound to carry without stridency.

Think again about your big open megaphone. Keep your lips together as you feel a big space open in the back of your throat. That image may trigger a yawn and that is ok. Now imagine what a tense jaw or tongue might do to that space. Tight jaw and tongue make the space smaller. A lazy soft palate can make that space smaller. A constricted or tight throat can make the space smaller. If I have tension in my lips, the space gets smaller still. Tension anywhere in the vocal track of the throat, mouth and nasal cavities acts like a trumpet’s mute, muffling sound.

What happens to the voice when the resonance space is tight and small? The voice quality can go one of two ways. It can sound strident, harsh, aggressive and angry, as happens when a woman tries to lower her pitch.  Or the voice can sound thin, high, weak, nasally or breathy. Neither of those options leads to a compelling and persuasive voice.

Open and free resonance can be developed through a series of simple exercises. The first focuses on alignment of the head and neck. Think of the crown of the head floating up as the face looks straight ahead, the chin is parallel to the floor.  This maximizes the space in the throat and the mouth. Feel the tongue move away from the roof of the mouth, laying on the floor of the mouth like a rug. Feel space between your upper and lower molars as your lips are gently closed.

Next focus on the jaw. Run the heel of your hand down the jaw hinge, encouraging that big muscle to release. Repeat several times. With your fingertips, massage the jaw hinge in small circles.

Now clean the inside of your mouth with your tongue, letting the tip of the tongue touch each tooth – upper and lowers, inside and out.

Gently open the mouth and breathe in a cold spot on the back of your throat. This lifts the soft palate and opens the throat. Trying speaking or counting through that big open space.

Women want to be taken seriously; they want their voices to be heard. They don’t need to apologize for sharing a great idea nor do they need to demand to be heard. Open, free resonance will easily command attention.

(For more information and exercises for resonance and optimum pitch go to www.myvocal authority.com. These exercises and more can also be found in Empower your Voice: For Women in Business Politics and Life by Rena Cook, available on Amazon.com February 1, 2018.)


Rena Cook

Rena Cook is Professor Emerita at the University of Oklahoma. She is a TEDx speaker, author, voice, speech, confidence, and presentation coach. She is the founder of Vocal Authority, a training consultancy serving attorneys who want to use their voice in more commanding and authentic ways. She has authored several books, including Her Voice in Law, which she co-wrote with Laurie Koller. The book provides additional advice on the above topics and more, and is available at https://www.americanbar.org/.

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