How can I control THE VOLUME OF MY VOICE?
June 16, 2008 10:25 AM   Subscribe

Soft talker here. Any methods/courses/books/exercises that might help me develop better voice projection?

I naturally have a sedate, low-pitched speaking voice-- think "NPR announcer"-- that sounds nice over a mic, but carries poorly face-to-face. Hearing-impaired people have an especially hard time with me, for instance, and often in group conversations I get talked over because nobody notices I've started speaking. I'm a girl, if that makes a difference.

I'm quite fond of the existing sound of my voice (aren't we all?), but would like to make it more audible-- especially since I do some speaking in front of groups, and it would be nice not to need a microphone to be heard. My questions are:

(1) is it even possible to make behavioral changes that substantially alter the audibility of one's normal speaking voice, or is that mostly determined by internal anatomy? Some people seem to be naturally loud, so I wasn't sure whether this is just a function of the chest cavity/throat I was born with.

and (2) if voice projection can be improved, what methods are out there to improve it?

Caveat: I've fielded all the obvious suggestions from friends and family-- "Breathe from the diaphragm!" "Aim for the back of the room!" "Have confidence!" "Just speak as loudly as you do when you're [screaming/arguing/being tickled]!", etc. Also, I've tried a few singing lessons, but they didn't really help. Any ideas?
posted by Bardolph to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I was just coming to post a question exactly along these lines.

Here's a thought: Get a SM58 microphone or a cheaper clone. They respond well to a normal speaking voice but turn quiet voices into low midrange mush. Record yourself speaking into this and try to find a vocal volume that plays back clearly. The trick to this approach would be learning that what sounds like screaming inside your head is appropriate and clear to others.
posted by bunnytricks at 10:49 AM on June 16, 2008

I've been trying to solve the same (or at least, similar) problem with my voice teacher's advice. Apparently I speak in a head voice normally, which is why there are limits as to how loud I can speak, even when I'm really trying to speak loudly. Have you tried placing your hand on your chest (below your collarbone) to feel whether you're speaking using a chest voice? (You should feel vibrations from that chest area if you're speaking using a chest voice.)

Speech and drama lessons may also help greatly with voice projection, if you get a good teacher.

(as for shyness - I think I speak using my head voice because I'm generally shy/awkward... or at least, because I perhaps try to be unobtrusive when I speak/sing. But voice exercises tend to force me to use my chest voice more, when/if I do them properly.)
posted by aielen at 11:12 AM on June 16, 2008

I've known a few folks who have gone through voice lessons or public speaking courses/clubs and come out feeling and sounding more confident in projecting their voice (both for musical performance and just plain talking). It's definitely something worth looking into if you're interested in that route.

There's definitely an aspect of physiology to what your voice can and can't do—I'll never be able to get my voice into deep basso range or get it to break up into a rock scream like Kurt Cobain, for example—but barring some a really outlier set of lungs or a Mystery Larynx, you should be able to manage some significant improvement in audible volume and timbre with some practice and training, definitely.
posted by cortex at 11:14 AM on June 16, 2008

is it even possible to make behavioral changes that substantially alter the audibility of one's normal speaking voice, or is that mostly determined by internal anatomy? Some people seem to be naturally loud, so I wasn't sure whether this is just a function of the chest cavity/throat I was born with.

Your mileage may vary, but I was able to do this. When I was young I had a very soft speaking voice, and I had trouble speaking loudly if I was giving a presentation or otherwise speaking in front of people. The thing that helped me change this, at least in situations where I need to speak loudly, was acting in plays in the drama club in school. Throughout the time that I was acting I saw myself and many other kids go from barely being able to talk above normal conversation level to being able to fill up an auditorium with our voices.

Speaking, acting or singing in front of a crowd without a microphone is not easy, and really in my opinion it takes practice to do well. You don't need to yell, but you do need to make a conscious effort to put some "boom" in your voice to make it carry. The advice about using your diaphragm is probably good, you need to do that to physically get that kind of volume. I think the most important part is to just get some practice speaking loudly. It will seem strange and forced at first, but hopefully after practicing it will start to seem more normal and natural.

I got the "aim for the back of the room" advice back in drama club, and it was actually pretty helpful. You need to talk loud enough for the person farthest away, which is normally near the back of the room. Once you get a feel for how loud you need to be to be heard at various distances, it's actually possible to adjust your voice to the correct level for the room. One way to help with this is to stand up in a large room or auditorium and have someone stand at the back of the room. Start talking, and have them signal if you need to talk louder to be heard clearly. If you are in a decent sized room, trying to actually reach that level will be very uncomfortable, and you might even have to just yell to get your voice loud enough at first, but again practice is the key.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:45 AM on June 16, 2008

I don't have much to suggest -- I came in to suggest voice lessons -- but I will say if you've done "a few" voice lessons where "a few" <>
Once you know how it feels to project while singing, you'll understand what to do while speaking.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:27 PM on June 16, 2008

Oops. That should be "where a few [is less than] 6 once-weekly lessons."
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:28 PM on June 16, 2008

There's definitely a reason that the diaphragm comes up first, second and last when it comes to voice projection. You just don't have an organ more useful for loud talking. I would recommend you either hook up with any theater friends you have or do a little web and bookstore browsing in order to assemble a course of vocal exercises. Most of the ones I've done to make dialog audible involved a lot of breath control and focused on vowel sounds. It's got a lot to do with getting in the habit of talking from your belly, of feeling the rumble of your voice down there rather than in your throat. It takes a little practice, but anyone can do it.

Also - and I don't know enough about physiology to know if this is psychosomatic or what - but I find I talk louder when my abdominal muscles are well-worked or I've just done some deep breathing. So along with your theater exercises, you might want to do some sit-ups or some plank holds to get the muscles around your diaphragm good and burly.
posted by EatTheWeek at 12:33 PM on June 16, 2008

My speech team coach in high school simply put me in a large, empty classroom and instructed me to keep increasing the volume of my speech until I could hear it reverberate off the back wall of the room. I'm kind of a loud person anyway, but this weird hint has stuck with me since then.
posted by kuppajava at 6:53 PM on June 16, 2008

May be useful: do a sort of biofeedback thing with yourself. Find some alone time. First, talk normally. Then "position" your voice so that you speak through your nose. You'll feel sort of rattling through your sinuses. Then "move" your voice down- speak through your mouth, throat, and finally your chest. Learn that chest feeling and teach yourself to speak from that place. Then practice with volume. Try to speak louder without your voice moving back up into your neck or head. Takes some work, but I've found it helpful. You'll find that your voice sounds lower than you might think sounds right, but it will sound right to listeners. Not different, just more "clear".

If that doesn't help, there are voice coaches specifically for this. Go to one who specializes in things like radio and corporate phone system voice work. An "acting" coach would tend toward making you sound like you are acting. "Belting it out" works great on stage, not in real life.

(Aside- when you're on the phone, always speak with that same voice. As if you are speaking to someone about 5 feet away.)
posted by gjc at 7:43 PM on June 16, 2008

I speak quietly because I am not 'deaf' much to the irritation of my SO (who needs a hearing test!) ...who will get louder and louder so I get quieter and quieter. Funny.

You know how you 'yell' at people over a shop counter? Picture it mentally and start doing that to all of the deaf people :) They will like that. It makes my SO smile. ("I like it when you yell at me" takes on a whole new meaning...)
But seriously if you're enunciating clearly.. why do people need to be yelled at to damn well hear anything. Oh and never put your hand or anything near your mouth! (I tend to.. and that complaint is fair enough.)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:17 AM on June 17, 2008

My friend, a professional voice teacher, had this to offer:

"Anyone can train his/her voice to be more powerful. The only physiological limits (besides the obvious ones, such as a bass not being a soprano) are those associated with pathologies (Parkinson's disease, or vocal fold polyps, or injuries). Healthy voices can be trained to be louder, fuller, more resonant. Theatre training is definitely a great way to go. A good resource for finding theatre-based voice teachers is VASTA (Voice and Speech Trainers Association) which you can access at You can even search the database regionally to find teachers near you."
posted by grumblebee at 7:02 AM on June 18, 2008

Someone once told me "speak as if you're speaking through the person".

I reckon it's just a habit where you go back to your low voice and forget, just keep it louder than usual. It's not gonna seem normal until you do it for a while.
posted by Tha-Flash at 10:07 PM on July 19, 2008

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