Do You Hear Yourself? Resonance is Confusing

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on February 1, 2017

Woman's Head (1)A few weeks ago Sam Litzinger, a news correspondent at CBS Radio News, called my attention to a New York Times article, “Why Do Our Recorded Voices Sound Weird to Us?” by Jonah Engel Bromwich, January 13, 2017.

First of all, I was amazed that the New York Times would spend space to print an article on resonance. It’s not normally something in which the public is  interested.

Secondly, I was delighted because the article solved a mystery that has plagued me since I started working with voice about 45 years ago. That is, why when people listen to their recorded voices do some say it sounds higher than what they expected and a few say the opposite?

Just to explain resonance briefly, sound waves are only audible because they create vibrations in air and everything they strike. That’s true of thunder, for example, which we hear because it makes our ear drums vibrate, but it also makes everything from wood to glass vibrate. These vibrations determine the resonance of the sound we hear.

For speech, the vibrating cavities are traditionally considered to be the nasal passages, sinus cavities, and the oral cavity. The other cavities and bones in the head vibrate as well.

The way I explain the reason we think recordings of our voices are fuller and richer than they really are is that we usually only hear them resonated once when recorded. When we hear our voices in our heads, we hear “double” resonance compared to what others hear. We hear the sound vibrating in the bones and cavities of our body as well as hearing the sound as it comes into our ears after resonating in the air.  Because of this I always think I sound like Minnie Mouse when I hear my recorded voice (check out this post on the subject). It sounds so different. In my head, it sounds rich and full.

But it seems there are more factors in play. A more scientific expansion of this is given in the New York Times article. I am going to quote a short bit from an interview source in the article because this is as new to me as it is to you.

“‘There are multiple paths that these vibrations take to get to the skull,’ Dr. Rosowski said. ‘They include the vibrations of the skull itself, which can vary.’

He says other factors influencing the way vibrations of the voice could travel to the brain included interaction with cerebrospinal fluid, the clear liquid in the brain and spine, and variations in sound pressure in the ear canal.”

So there you have it!  The answer to the question that has plagued me for so many years.  It’s a complex one, but it seems to say that even the liquid in our brains can make a difference.  Some of us have more cerebrospinal fluid and the pressure varies in the ear canal; therefore the resonance can be different.

If you’d like to improve your resonance, check out this blog post as well as the one linked to above.

And if you want to improve your voice, download the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. It contains advice on resonance and every other area of vocal production.

 

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Let Yoga Give You a Better Voice

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on January 4, 2017

It’s January and that means most of us are thinking of exercising more this year. Have you ever considered that exercise might be a good thing for your voice and not just your waistline?

I’m going to focus on yoga because it has so many benefits.

The philosophy and practice of Yoga began over 4000 years ago, and the word, yoga, means yoke.  This is a good way to remember that yoga joins together breathing and stretching.  Most people have heard of yoga breathing exercises.  They are called pranayama, which means breath control.  There is no other discipline I know of that puts more emphasis on breathing.  Going into detail about pranayama would take an entire web site.  Luckily, there are some!  Click here to learn more about pranayama on just one of the many sites available.

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you know how important I think breathing is to a good voice.  Breathing is the energy for speech, and I often say that if there’s anything wrong with your breathing every aspect of your voice will suffer.  Breathing is what I work with first with almost every client.  To watch a video of me working on breathing with a client, click here.

Since yoga means yoke, let’s not exclude the poses or asanas of yoga.  There are two that I think are great for working on posture, which has a big effect on breathing.  If you think it doesn’t, make a c-shape with your spine bringing your head forward and down.  Now try to breathe.  Not so easy, is it?  Good posture promotes good breathing.  The two asanas that are beneficial for breathing are the cobra  and the warrior poses.  Again, explaining them is best left to an expert.  Click here for a description of the cobra pose and here for the warrior. The sun salutation is a multi-step asana with similar poses.  Check it out if you want a more flowing exercise.  All of these poses when done with the breathing will help your posture and increase your breathing capacity.  What a great way to create a better voice!

BTW, if you’ve done yoga leave a comment below and let me know if you found it helpful.

Happy New Year!

To learn other tips about dealing with tension and stress, instantly download my ebook, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE by clicking here.  It’s only $4.99 and offers lots of great tips that help your body and your voice!

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Tips to Avoid Holiday Stress

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on December 8, 2016

snowmanLast month you read about the hazards of flying in terms of your vocal health.  But did you know that this time of year may actually be hazardous to your voice?

Chronic stress wears us all down during an ordinary month, but with the pressures of the holiday season upon us, stress can get out of control.  If it does, your health AND your voice can suffer.

During the holiday season you most likely will spend time shopping in stores or malls where those nasty bugs that make you sick are in abundance!  Mix that with the possibility of snow and frigid temperatures, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for getting sick.  The coughing and sore throat that follow can wreak havoc on your voice.  Why not try these stress busters to help balance the demands of this busy season so that you might avoid getting sick?  And you can start today!

10 Quick Stress Busters To Use Today

1. Stretch slowly several times during your day today. Click here for some easy stretches.

2. Exercise for at least 20 minutes today.  A brisk walk will do it.  Even 20 minutes of light exercise ups your energy for as long as 12 hours and boasts your immune system.

3. Eat 3 meals today or graze on 5 small meals.

4. Drink more water and less caffeine.

5. Avoid the urge to grab something sweet when you’re stressed.  Go for protein instead (e.g., nuts, lo-fat cheese, peanut butter). Click here to read about how protein helps.

6. Get up and take a break when you’re at your desk for more than an hour. Ck out Sitting is the New Smoking.

7. Close your eyes and take 3 slow abdominal breaths once or twice today.

8. Daydream for a few minutes about your last pleasant vacation.

9. Take a deep inhalation before you answer the phone.

10.Concentrate on breathing in and breathing out before you go to sleep tonight.

Want more tips on dealing with holiday stress?  Download a copy of my book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDE, for only $4.99.

Happy Holidays!

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Flying The Unfriendly Skies

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on November 2, 2016

jetinteriorIf you’re flying this Thanksgiving weekend, you might want to think about your voice. Why?  Let me explain.

We all know the air on planes is dry, but to say that spending a few hours on a plane is like breathing desert air is giving air travel a good name. Most deserts have a humidity range of 20 to 25 percent. Airplane humidity has the amazingly dry level of 5 to 10 percent. And airline companies have no desire to make planes more humid because of the increased weight, which means added expense as well as the risk of mold growth in the small, enclosed cabin of an airplane.

Breathing dry, re-circulated air is a special threat for your voice. (Learn about the need for a moist, healthy vocal tract in my video.) But even a short flight for as little as two hours can wreak havoc on your throat because on a plane you lose eight ounces of water by skin evaporation every hour. This means when you fly from New York to L.A. you will lose forty ounces of water through your skin alone. That’s as much as running an hour in 90-degree heat!

So what can you do to avoid this trap? First, drink lots of water to combat the dehydration.  You should begin increasing your water intake several days before your flight. And on the plane, drink at least eight ounces every hour.  There are lots of fun apps like MyFitnessPal for the iPhone or iPad to track water intake.

Another thing you might want to try is a non-medicinal saline nasal spray to help keep your nose and throat moistened. These are sold over the counter, and can provide a soothing relief for nose and throat.

And remember that planes are notorious germ carriers.  I generally take a disposable wipe like Wet Ones to do a quick cleaning of the airline seat arm rests, seat belt clasp, and the tray table.  It might seem embarrassing, but a cold or the flu can knock out your on-air work for a week or more.

Unfortunately, travel challenges to your vocal health do not end when you leave the airport. You may have unhealthy air in your hotel room and other public places such as stores when you’re shopping on Black Friday.  Continue drinking the water your body needs (click here to find out how much) and use the saline spray to moisturize your nose and throat.  You’ll feel better and have a healthier throat!

Ck out my e-book, BROADCASTER’S SURVIVAL GUIDEYou can read more about all aspects of voice health.  Helpful for Voice Artists, Broadcasters and Podcasters!   And it’s only $4.99.

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Upping the Articulation Challenge

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on October 11, 2016

lettersMany of you liked the last month’s articulation challenge so I’m giving you one a bit harder.

This challenge attacks some sloppiness that has become okay in conversation, but it’s often not acceptable for professional work.  You’ll have to decide if your work needs this articulation clean-up or not.

In conversation we’re a bit lazy, and one way we’re lazy is dropping an ending plosive consonant if the next word starts with a plosive consonant.  (As a reminder, plosive consonants are /t/ /d/, /p/ /b/, and /k/ /g/.)

Take these two words:  “it can.” In conversation we usually say, “i can.” We drop the /t/ on “it.” To have really crisp articulation we need to hit that /t/.

As I pointed out, this can make you sound very precise, which is not always what you want as a broadcaster or voiceover artist. The advantage of learning to do this correctly is that it gives you the option for very precise speech whenever you feel you need it.

So how do you master this skill? In a word, practice. You have to challenge your articulators to work harder.

The first challenge is to be sure you can make plosives easily. Check out this post of mine that gives you drills to help you improve plosive pronunciation.

Once you have mastered the plosives alone, you must practice two words together that present a challenge.

Begin by allowing all the space you need between the words to make the plosive on the first word correctly. Next, close up that space making sure you’re not losing the plosive on the first word.

Here are some words to practice (taken from Hilda B. Fisher’s, Improving Voice and Articulation):

that proves               hot potato                last call

it can                           light brown             that cat

that book                   had taught               past due

street cleaner           dad bought              that bottle

 

Working on these endings is just one of the things I cover in my Articulation mp3. Buy my 10-minute Articulation mp3 for only $9.99 many more exercises on all aspects of articulation.

 

 

 

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Keep Allergies From Wrecking Your Voice

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on September 26, 2016

This month has been an allergy nightmare here in D.C.  Don’t know if you’re experiencing the same thing, but it’s a good time to review this blog post that offers some tips to survive the season….

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With allergy season upon us, you may find yourself sneezing through your on-air work. There’s nothing like a runny nose and a scratchy throat to make your broadcast sound like it’s being done by a person with a bad cold. So what should you do when allergies strike?

First drink plenty of water or any decaffeinated fluid (caffeine has a slight diuretic effect). Aim for half your body weight in ounces a day.  This will help thin out the mucous that the histamines are triggering when you have an allergy attack. The thinner the mucous, the less problems you’ll have with it flowing through your throat because it won’t be thick and gluey. There are loads of apps like MyFitnessPal and devices like FitBit that can help you keep track of your fluid intake.

To attack the allergy itself, I like the natural remedy of using a neti pot.  You can pick these up at most drugstores, and you use the neti pot to rinse out your nasal passages.  I find this often takes care of my allergies if I rinse once or twice a day.  Here’s what the FDA has to say about the use of a neti pot.  The most important thing is to use only distilled water.

The next thing to consider is whether or not to take antihistamines. This drug can do wonders to dry up the mucous that is driving you crazy, but in the process it may make your throat too dry. A dry throat is an invitation for possible damage to that delicate tissue. The vocal folds (or cords) are two very small pieces of muscle and ligament in your throat that can be easily damaged when the throat is too dry (see my blog post, Don’t Let Coughing Sabotage Your Broadcast).   See a doctor if you think you need antihistamines and follow directions closely so that you don’t get too dried out.  You don’t want to cure one problem only to create a bigger one.

Ck out my ebook, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOKYou can read about lots more ways to care for your voice.  Helpful for Voiceover Artists and Broadcasters!

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The Final Exam of Articulation

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on September 7, 2016

Student ExamSchools are beginning a new year around the country, but I’ve got a final exam for you!  I usually save this challenge for the last articulation goal I present to clients working on articulation, so get ready to work.

Almost everyone has difficulty articulating the /t/ or /d/ sound when that sound is tucked in between two other consonants as in the word, “expertly.”  It just seems too hard to hit that /t/, and if we do try, it sounds over-pronounced.  An artificial and over-pronounced delivery is as offensive as using sloppy articulation and should be avoided at all costs.

But if you’re really diligent, you can hit these /t/ /d/ sounds without sounding over-pronounced.  Here’s the trick: learn to produce a /tl/ or /dl/ combination of sound smoothly and effortlessly. Let’s break it down.

For the /t/ and /d/ you should place the tip of your tongue right behind your front teeth, and then let the air explode out as you make the sound.  For the /l/ sound you must quickly pull your tongue back and attach it to the same spot as the /t/ /d/, but don’t explode the sound.  Let the sound come out while the tip of your tongue is locked in position.  The /l/ sound is a bilateral sound, which means it comes over the edges of the tongue. (For more on the /t/ /d/ sounds, see this post on /t/ and /d/ production.)

Now combine just the /t/ and the /l/ to make a /tl/ sound.  Explode the /t/ and quickly pull the tongue back for the /l/.  This gives you a little couplet to practice.

To make these two sounds together requires a LOT of practice, but if you stay at it, the sounds will begin to blend.  Practice when you’re driving or have a few minutes alone.  You don’t have to remember anything except /tl/ and /dl/ to practice.

The next step is to plug this blend into some words.  Here’s a list to practice (taken from Improving Voice & Articulation by Hilda Fisher):

PRACTICE WORDS


 

mostly                                fondly

costly                                  blandly

listless                                friendless

correctly                             handling

exactly                                kindly

softly                                   roundly

swiftly                                 soundless

aptly                                     boldly

abruptly                               coldly


Can you plug the /tl/ and /dl/ blends into these words easily?  If not here’s another thing to try: Think of the word as divided right before the /t/ or /d/ so you say, “mos  tly” or “fon   dly.” Putting the cluster by itself can make it flow easier.  Practice starting with a big break and then reduce the space until the two parts of the word are united, but you’re still able to make the clusters easily.

I said you’d need to practice diligently to make this work, so go for it!

And if you are a nut about proper pronunciation like I am, check out Kenyon and Knott’s, A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English. It’s been around since 1953 and is the go-to source for pronunciation.  It uses the American Phonetic Alphabet, but there’s a great chart in the front to use.

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Burnout Can Torch Your Throat

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on August 3, 2016

Are you the reporter in the newsroom who always agrees to work that extra shift?  Or are you a person who says yes to every VO job that comes along?  If you are, you might be headed for burnout.

Burnout happens from the chronic stress of being spread too thin. It can make you snap. You might get sick, have an accident, or just make everyone’s life miserable, mostly your own.

The getting sick part is very real. A study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (October 2010) found that a healthy person has a two-fold risk of developing musculoskeletal pain in the neck, shoulders, or lower back when they are facing burnout. And there are much scarier statistics. The European Heart Journal reports that working 11-hour days increases your heart attack risk by 56 percent.

And don’t think being spread too thin doesn’t affect your voice. Chronic stress makes it more difficult to breathe well, to focus your thoughts, and to control your rate. Voice something after a 12-hour day, and I bet you’ll hear those things happening.

What to do? First, use your calendar wisely. Don’t over schedule. Block off at least an hour to relax after an unusually busy day. Take a walk outside or listen to music. Also schedule some social time every week. Basically, learn to pace yourself. Remember your voice will not be at it’s best if you’re approaching burnout.

Within your day use some breathing exercises to relax. Ck out my video on breathing from a previous blog post to learn how to do deep breathing. You can find much more in my book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK or on my mp3 for breathing.  Also, click on the breathing link in the right sidebar for more posts on breathing.

And if rate is an issue for you, ck out this blog post of mine on rate.

Make self-care a priority. Don’t take on another job or stay late in the newsroom if you feel burned out. As a VO artist or a TV broadcaster, every product you turn out can make or break your career. Make performing at your peak your goal rather than slogging though another assignment. You’ll feel better and your voice will sound better!

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Summer Heat Can Make You Sick

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on July 6, 2016

Heat Stoke GraphicI recently heard from a reporter who had gotten sick covering a story in Texas.  The more I learned the more I realized this person had suffered heat exhaustion, which is a very dangerous condition.  This happens every summer to reporters and can happen to any of us. It’s usually avoidable by taking a few steps to take care during the summer months.

Summer can also be hard on your voice with summer colds and allergies.  If you want to stay healthy and sound great this summer, try these ten tips.  I’ve provided links to some of my other blog posts if you want to read more, but here’s a list for a quick reminder:

  1. Keep your vocal tract moist by drinking half your body weight in ounces of nonalcoholic fluid a day (for more on fluid intake check out this post). During the heat carry a thermos instead of just a water bottle so that you can drink cold water. You can also freeze water bottles and drink them as they melt in the heat.
  1. Eat foods that help keep you hydrated. For example, a slice of watermelon contains 10 ounces of water. A peach or a cup of strawberries has 5 ounces. Other foods high in water are cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and raw squash.  Soups, tea, and coffee are also good for hydration.
  1. If you have allergies or get a summer cold, limit throat clearing and coughing.  Did you read this post on the dangers of coughing? And limit your use of antihistamines because they are diuretics.
  1. To help avoid Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke, check out these cooling bandanas that really help you stay cool.  I’ve tried this one, http://www.mycoolingstore.com/chill-its-temp-control-cooling-bandana.html, and it works well without getting your clothes damp.
  1. Keep up an exercise program, but if you’re exercising outside and it’s hot, do it early in the morning or late in the evening.  Why exercise?  It helps develop good breathing, but it does much more.  Check this out.
  1. Use SPF 30 or higher sun block every day and reapply it every few hours!  And if you’re outside much of the day, you can purchase clothes that are SPF treated, or you can actually make your clothes sun proof with Rit Sun Guard.  It’s a washing powder that stays in through 20 washes and blocks more than 96% of harmful rays.  You can also find SPF umbrellas to use.
  1. Ramp up your protein intake for better overall health and great vocal energy.  This blog post explains why and how.
  1. Get at least seven hours of sleep each night for better health and vocal energy.  That’s the minimum that doctors recommend.  Go for more when you can.  And remember that computers and tablets emit blue light that mimics sunlight and can keep you awake.  Dim them down at least an hour before bedtime. For more on this, click here.
  1. Spend some time relaxing this summer even if you can’t take a vacation. To quote the author, Anne Lamott, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, even you.”
  1. And finally, have some fun this summer! Fun goes a long way toward decreasing your job stress.

BSGCoverBlueWant more tips like these?  Ck out Broadcaster’s Survival Guide.  It’s only $4.99 and loaded with voice and lifestyle tips!

 

 

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Please Don’t Fade Away!

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on June 1, 2016

dark streetI’m frustrated! I’m hearing more and more voiceover artists fading away towards the end of each sentence, which means the listener has to strain to make out the last couple of words in that sentence. I’m not just blaming voiceover people for this because it can be equally true for broadcasters.

Let’s tackle this problem. What causes the slow fade? Basically it’s because the person is not sustaining their breath for the duration of the sentence. They are not practicing good breath support.

The bottom line is that breath support must be built. I feel anyone making money with their voice should be doing breathing exercises on a regular basis if, for no other reason, because as we age our breath support gets more difficult.

I’ve written many posts on breathing and provided a video. Here’s a link to some great breath support exercises. Pick one or two you really like and do them often.

My basic advice to clients is to make the last word of a sentence as strong as the first word. That’s an easy way to avoid fading away. You can practice this with any printed text or even while making up sentences while you’re driving.

Along with good breath support comes the challenge of not letting air leak out when you pause in a sentence. To practice this, read the sentences below making the last word as strong as the first and pausing without letting any air escape at the slash marks. (These are not necessarily places you would ordinarily pause in these sentences.)

I enjoy biking/ skiing/ swimming/ and fishing.

I enjoyed visiting Italy/ or France/ or Germany/ in your world travels.

I started out lifting light weights/ but as I got stronger/ I increased the pounds I lifted.

These exercises will get you started on a better voice that doesn’t fade away!

For even more breathing exercises, check out the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. It’s available to instantly download on my website.

 

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