If you’re like so many of our clients here at the Professional Voice Care Center, you’ve experienced some problems with your voice. Maybe you’ve never liked your nasal, airy, or unpleasant voice quality. Perhaps people tell you they can’t hear your voice on the phone or in a noisy social setting. Or like so many teachers, attorneys, singers, and others who make their living using their voices, you’ve become hoarse or are even losing your voice by the end of a long workday. Especially now, when so many of our meetings and classes occur online, it feels like your voice is taking a beating: Doom on Zoom, Hoarse Time on FaceTime…you get the idea!
You’ve probably listened to advice from well-meaning friends, family, or colleagues on how to fix your voice problem with the DIY approach. Hey, maybe you’ve even looked online for some answers to your vocal problem. But you’re really not sure how to do this alone, or where to turn.
Well, when you don’t know where to turn in your car, you use your GPS to navigate. It’s time to give you another GPS…for your VOICE! Because until you FIND your best voice, you can’t USE your voice successfully. So, here’s a GPS for your voice, just like we teach it at Professional Voice Care Center.
We have numerous voice therapy exercises to enable you to “find” your voice. But none is as easy, or as socially acceptable, as saying “um-hmm”. That’s right – that expression we all use when we mean “yes” or “I agree.” This little expression can enable you to find a resonant, clear, effortless voice. And once we FIND that excellent voice, we can USE it…all the time!
So let’s try it: say “um-hmm” as if you are sincerely agreeing with your friend. Um-hmm. Now prolong the “hmm” part. Focus on the area right above the upper lip; we call it the “moustache bone”. (It’s actually called the maxilla; we’re about to locate “maxillary resonance”). As you prolong that “hmmmmm” sound, see if you feel a buzz, tickle, tingle, or vibration in the region of your upper lip, the space between your upper lip and your nose, even in your front teeth, gums, or the front of your palate. Imagine a teardrop shape drawn around your mouth and nose; anywhere in that teardrop shape that you feel that magical buzzing sensation counts. That’s what we call “the mask”. (Ironically, if you want your voice to project through the cloth masks that we’re all wearing, you really need to place your voice in that “buzz zone” to be heard without straining your voice).
As soon as you feel that tickly buzz, memorize what it feels like. You just found your optimal voice. (Oh, and don’t despair if you couldn’t find the “mask” zone yet. Try puckering your lips or smiling while prolonging your hum. Keep your lips touching each other gently; don’t jam them together tightly. Keep your teeth slightly apart even as you keep your lips closed. Try lightly touching your top lip with one finger to feel the vibration of the sound waves hitting your moustache bone. If all else fails, cup your hands around your mouth and nose like a little megaphone or cup. You’ll get that happy buzz soon enough ?)
Now that you’ve “found” your voice, you can use it. The um-hmm is the GPS that gives your voice the right direction to go. But you might not be ready for the superhighway yet. Let’s work our way up to that by doing what I call a bridging exercise. Say your um-hmm and then prolong the “m” sound into a series of “m” words like “um-hmmmmany many many” or “um-hmmmmoney money money”. Try to extend that buzzy feeling into the “m” words. Memorize how that feels… like a little motor humming inside the front of your face. Try an “m” sentence and see if you can feel the buzz through all the “m” sounds: “Um-hmm…Many mean monsters make money”. Make sure to make a sensory memory of what this pleasant buzz feels like. (Athletes have to use muscle memory for that perfect pitch or serve; you need to use sensory memory to nail that perfect voice!).
Finally, we’re just about ready to get onto that superhighway of voice. Let’s try a random sentence: say something about today’s weather, but say “um-hmm” first to “find your voice”: “Um-hmm…Today is sunny and hot”. Try to prolong that buzzy placement through the whole sentence, even though there aren’t any ‘”m”s. If needed, stretch the “hmm” and the sentence out like singing or sing-song speech. Feel that buzz! Eventually, you can reduce and then eliminate the sing-song part, and finally you can eliminate the um-hmm, and just speak with that wonderful buzzy resonant voice you found with your GPS. The um-hmm becomes a little warm-up you can use in the morning to get your voice going. Then revisit the exercise anytime throughout the day when your voice needs a little pick-me-up, like before a class or presentation. Before you know it, this resonant, clear, effortless voice will be the voice you use all the time. It will stay strong and clear, and won’t fatigue or wear out. After all, voices are not like tires…they’re not meant to wear out after 25,000 miles….uh….words.
Bonus Technique: since the expression “um-hmm” is socially acceptable, use it to say “Yes” or “I agree” in conversation. Use a rising “Hmmm?” as a question, and a falling “Hmmmm” as an affirmation or an expression of “thinking” about something. You’ll be reconditioning your voice all day long. No one will even know you’re practicing!
Now that you have this quick little GPS for the voice, your voice won’t get LOST anymore! And you’ll be on your way to getting the Choice Voice you’ve always wanted!