Speak up!


I have recently been asked, in two completely different contexts, about how to project the voice.  One query was from someone who has a very, very quiet speaking voice and would quite like to be heard, and the other was from a group of young people about to do a performance.  It struck me that although, in theory, I’m a good person to ask about this, given how often I have to project my voice, it was a very difficult question to answer.  How, exactly, do I project my voice?

I know I was never specifically taught projection techniques of any kind – it was a skill I somehow picked up naturally.  This is a strange thing, because in ‘real’ life, I am often difficult to hear.  I can mumble quite unintentionally and very often have to be asked to repeat what I’ve said.  Yet, put me on a stage and suddenly I can be heard.  Projection also comes in handy when getting users of the Library of Doom to be quiet – sometimes it’s necessary to get a whole roomful of people to turn the volume down.

When I thought about it, I realised that projection has something to do with breathing, something to do with confidence, something to do with psychology and something to do with posture.  The sound has to come from further down, starting deep down inside you rather than in your throat.  There has to be enough air in your lungs to support it.  You have to imagine that you’re speaking or singing directly to someone who is quite far away.  And you absolutely do not have to shout – persistent shouting instead of projecting hurts and would probably ruin the voice if it was tried for too long.

Explaining a process that I don’t entirely understand proved to be a difficult task.  It’s hard to explain how to breathe or how to think yourself into projection.  It made me realise once more how much a mystery performing is to many people.  As well as all the joy of creating a character, and the great conundrum of ‘how do you learn the lines?’, there are a great many technical bits and pieces that evidently aren’t as normal and natural as years of doing them might make them feel.  There’s an art to speaking up and speaking out – now I just need to learn how to apply that art, in a minor way, to conversation.  Speak up, Singing Librarian!

  1. I have a voice that carries naturally so I can be heard from a distance away even if I am not attempting to speak loudly.

    I think it has to do with speaking from the diaphragm and using your lungs. You draw more air into your lungs when you do this.

    I think there are books on breathing for opera. I looked around a bit. There are a few videos on operatic breathing here.

    http://www.artistshousemusic.org/videos/a+lesson+in+breathing+with+ucla+vocal+professor+juliana+gondek

    http://www.artistshousemusic.org/videos/breathing+0

  2. It really is very odd – I can do it naturally, and keep singing a note audibly for longer than the rest of the tenor section certainly. It’s just very hard trying to work out what it is I’m doing – thinking about something unconscious makes my head hurt!

    I shall have a look at those videos, thanks.

  3. As the sketch from “The Shakespeare Revue” goes – “Gather from the buttocks, Martin, always gather from the buttocks”.

    The best thing to do is visualise yourself in large room full of very noisy people, with someone at the back straining to hear you. You don’t shout – you raise the tone but lower the natural pitch of your voice somewhat (as sounds with a lower wavelength travel further – think how effective the low moan of a foghorn is; it wouldnt be nearly as effective if it were highly pitched).

    If you have a naturally quiet tone of voice, then you’re unlikely to need to project. You just need to train yourself to speak louder (it may sound uncomfortably like shouting to you at first but you’ll get used to it. Singers and actors can be taught to project but its really one of those things that you either have naturally or you havent. And the dynamics of singing to the back of the gallery are completely different to those required to simply speak to the back of the gallery. There are evening classes etc in voice projection for actors and singers – a good vocal coach can work wonders.

    Some of us, however, live with those who speak as if they are constantly on stage and therefore always have to be asked not to SHOUT ALL THE BLOODY TIME. *sheesh*

  4. Had a squint in the National Theatre Bookshop yesterday and there are some very good books on vocal technique for actors, singers and public speakers.

  5. Hi Singing Librarian,
    I came across your blog through a google search on my own blog name Speak Up Librarian. I call myself that because I am hard of hearing. It’s unlikely that I would ask patrons to quiet down but I do have to try to get them to speak up louder for me. They always want to whisper their requests at the information desk!
    You might enjoy reading this amusing story from by blog as our experiences are so different. I look forward to reading more of your blog.
    All the best,
    Sarah
    Speak Up Librarian

  1. March 5th, 2010

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