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Sounds Good!
Jon Beaupré is a voice and performance consultant for radio and television performers. Under the name Broadcast Voice, he provides private training and workshops for reporters, anchors, sports and weather casters, and others working in electronic and broadcast media. He teaches in the Broadcast Communications program at California State University at Los Angeles, and conducts workshops and seminars with the Associated Press Radio and Television Association. He has been a fixture on the convention circuit, teaching workshops at a wide range of specialty journalism and broadcast conventions and stations on both coasts of the U.S.


This week, I want to return to an older technical subject we haven’t covered in a while: the right pitch for your voice.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing intrinsically good or bad about high or low voices. What makes a voice sound good or bad in it’s higher or lower range is how that pitch is being used. A high pitch that is good increases the tension in the speech and builds a sense of anticipation. A high pitch which is bad simply sounds shrill and tense. Conversely, a low pitch which is good sounds “anchored” and solid, while a bad low voice just drones on and on. So the issue is not simply whether your voice is working in its high or low pitches in and of themselves, but rather what you are trying to do with those pitches.

It is an interesting observation of spoken English (and incidentally, most European languages as well), a rising inflection or pitch -that is to say moving from a lower note to a higher note - implies suspense, tension. That is why our questions tend go up at the end, right? It is because the question is begging a completion, an answer, a resolution. This simple dynamic has profound implications for how we construct sentences. We intuitively understand that the rising inflection implies suspense and tension which wants to be resolved somehow.

Another observation about this rising tension is that the degree of tension is exquisitely tuned to the distance of that rising inflection; the further the rise in inflection, the more intense the suspense.

So if you put these two thoughts together, you begin to see why in general, we try to work in a comfortable lower voice. It is not because there is something intrinsically better about that lower voice, but rather that the potential for contrast into those upper pitches is much greater. There is more opportunity for color and variation. If you constantly work in an upper range, the distance to those upper tones are so limited that we never get any contrast to imply that tension.

In a like manner, your lower tones done signify “anchored” control without the contrast of those occasional upper notes.

This has been summarized in what is called the “Three PartRule”:

1. SETTLE (don’t force your voice, just let it float)
2. Into a COMFORTABLE (easy to make, natural part of your own voice)
3. LOWER range (NOT a lower note, but rather a lower ‘place’)

SETTLE, COMFORTABLE, LOWER - Not because a lower voice is better by itself, but rather because it gives you so much potential to increase the tension by raising that pitch (by comparison to where you started) into all those lovely upper notes.

Why and where you raise that pitch is the subject of another segment, but suffice it to say, raising your pitch has to be justified by the copy you are reading and the increase in suspense and tension you are trying to achieve. More on that next week.

As usual, keep breathing!