My voice is nasally! What can I do?
May 4, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

My voice is nasally! What can I do?

I speak in a somewhat droning head voice not unlike cartoon nerds. When I speak more slowly and from my gut, it sounds a little better, but then I'm afraid of speaking too loudly.

1) What changes can I make?
2) How can I practice / reinforce those changes?
3) I feel as though I actually have mucus in the back of my throat much of the time - could this be related?

My observations come from recording myself talking on the phone.
posted by jander03 to Human Relations (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Waitwaitwait - you know that everyone thinks they sound dumb when they listen to a recording of their own voice, right? Honestly I wouldn't worry too much about this if I were you.

But, OK. Let's say you're right, and that you have an extremely nasal voice. And that this matters for some reason (I mean, Ira Glass has an extremely nasal voice, and he's made a career on the radio!).

You want to find an acting class that teaches the Linklater technique. It isn't guaranteed to "fix" any "problem" with your voice, but you will be doing a lot of physical breath and voice exercises (If I remember correctly, there are even exercises where you play with mouth vs. nose breathing). Kristin Linklater's approach is to do what she calls "freeing the natural voice" - so on the one hand you will learn to get comfortable with what nature gave you, and on the other hand if there really is some physical obstacle you will learn to push past that.

Taking a Linklater course in college absolutely changed the way that I speak. I run into people who knew me in high school, and they never fail to comment on it.
posted by Sara C. at 9:15 AM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My observations come from recording myself talking on the phone.

A. due to how our voices resonate within in our head versus how they resonate outside of our head, nobody sounds like they think they do ...

B. except maybe people who end up making a living off their voice (ie: radio hosts etc). As someone who's done this in my time, I learned early in the game to always wear headphones when talking on-air and always have the volume loud enough that the voice I was hearing was the one being broadcast, not the one resonating in my head. Over time, this lead to me consciously modulating how I spoke and, according to those who know me, positively affecting my everyday speaking voice.

So yeah, maybe you should set aside some time to read aloud, talk to yourself, talk to someone on skype ... but always with headphones on, and pretty loud ... but not too loud. Protect those ears.

Good luck.
posted by philip-random at 9:17 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I’m working on this problem myself. My voice is pretty nasally: I’m from New York and grew up with a lot of Long Islanders, and don’t find Fran Drescher’s voice annoying at all.

I am neither a doctor nor a vocal coach.

The trick for me was learning to control my velopharyngeal flap. Mine was always open during speaking. I chanced upon something by accident explaining (“as you know…” and I didn’t) it’s supposed to be closed during the production of all sounds except for nasal consonants (N, M, etc) and when you hum. The best way I can explain it is that it’s the doorway between your nose and mouth. If something smells really bad and you want to breath through your mouth without taking in any of the odor, you close your velopharyngeal flap. You close it in order produce forceful sounding plosive consonants (T, K, etc). You close it when you cough. If you keep it open while you speak, that allows the sound to resonate in your nose, instead of in your mouth where it’s supposed to.

I think not closing the flap while speaking (especially with vowels) is a part of my accent and regional speech. Not everyone does it but I hear it a lot. So I just practiced keeping it closed all the time, and it would force open on its own when I tried to make the N & M sounds. It’s tough and I could actually feel it getting tired and sore at first. I guess it’s a muscle that has to be exercised. It was easier to try this while singing, because the changes between sounds were slower and I could really monitor what was happening in my mouth. Recording myself singing and listening to it, I hear a very marked difference.

However, there could be physical problems with the velopharyngeal flap. Maybe it’s not there or it’s too small, and there are surgeries that can be done. So if, for example, when I talk about closing off the connection between your nose and mouth to keep out gross smells, you have no idea what I’m talking about, there could be physical impediments.

And by the way, this is all from my own Googling and someone will probably come in here and contradict half of the things I’m saying. But my admittedly very limited understanding has helped me so far. If it doesn’t help you then obviously try a voice coach or even a doctor.
posted by thebazilist at 9:42 AM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Acting class is not something that I've considered. Nor that I might have an extremely interesting (and gross) flap insufficiency.

I also hadn't considered listening to myself WHILE talking, and I think I'll practice that for awhile and see how it goes before checking out these bigger investments. I will have to figure out a way to do that.

@phillip_random: do you happen to use a particular piece of software or equipment to do that when not in the studio?
posted by jander03 at 2:26 PM on May 4, 2011

Best answer: do you happen to use a particular piece of software or equipment to do that when not in the studio?

If you have OS X, this can be done with Garage Band. Start a new vocal track, and (it depends where on the version) there's a setting you check called "Monitor" which means "play into the headphones what you're recording as you're recording."
posted by losvedir at 3:31 PM on May 4, 2011

a) Discover Your Voice by Oren Brown

b) Search for an EDUCATED voice therapist. Teachers for singing and other vocal coaches (without professional focus on voice therapy) are too often of little help.

posted by Doggiebreath at 5:40 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Unless you have a strong reason to suspect a physical issue is at play here, I would rule that out for the time being. Especially since the only reason you're noticing this is that you happened to catch the sound of your own voice via recording. Which gives pretty much everyone who isn't a professional voice performer (radio host, voice-over actor) the heebie jeebies.

Go play with words and breathing and such. If you still are having trouble with this, and if you have other people who can corroborate that this is a problem, then I would consider going the medical route.
posted by Sara C. at 8:16 AM on May 5, 2011

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