The Ups and Downs of Vocal Pitch

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on October 4, 2011

I get a lot of questions from clients about pitch. Most want to know if their voice is too high-pitched. I’ve rarely had a client who thinks a low-pitched voice is a problem.  What I want to focus on in this post is using your optimum pitch. To understand optimum pitch, you have to understand the basics of pitch.

Pitch is created at the vocal folds (cords) when this tissue, which is muscle and ligament, gets stretched in different ways (click here to see a video of the folds—not for the squeamish :-)).  Imagine your vocal folds like the neck of a balloon.  We’ve all pulled the opening of the balloon to create a sound as the air comes out.  The more we pulled the latex, the higher the pitch.  That’s the way the vocal folds create pitch as well.

It takes extra muscular effort to make a really high-pitched sound with our voices.  Say your name right now in the highest voice you can.  Feel the tension in your throat?  Now say your name in a really, really low pitch.  Tense, right?  Not a voice you’d want to use for very long.

Our optimum pitch is the pitch that takes the least work for us to produce. It comes from a relaxed throat and is our strongest voice.  In this pitch we’re most likely to avoid any vocal damage.

How do you find this optimum pitch?  There’s a method developed by Dr. Morton Cooper that works for most people.  Keeping your lips together say “um-hmm” as if you’re responding to something someone has said.  Say this several times to get the feeling of the pitch.  Now say the word, “one.”  You may be able to hear that it’s not the same pitch as your “um-hmm.”  Say “one” a few times alternating with “um-hmm” until you think it’s close to the same pitch.

Remember, your optimum pitch will be comfortable and will produce your best voice with the least effort.  It’s worth it to find your optimum pitch and to stick with it.

 

 

 

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