Making Good Speakers Great

Optimum Pitch for Speaking

I’ll start with full disclosure. This article won’t explain how to find your optimal speaking pitch. I’ve never addressed optimum pitch in the training I offer. First of all, no speaker uses just one note, you should be using a whole range of pitches when you speak. Furthermore, there’s not much point in trying to find your optimum pitch if your voice is already distorted by tension, bad habits and a lack of technique.

Optimal pitch has always seemed like a gimmick to me, something interesting and fun to do, like taking a personality test, but definitely not the most basic thing to address, especially for a beginner. I always felt that once you get your voice opened up, supported by breath and resonating fully, you wouldn’t even have to think about your optimum speaking pitch.

Now I’m starting to wonder if I might have gone too far in my dismissal of that concept. I notice many people, maybe a majority, are making sounds that are too low in pitch. Maybe it’s because we live in a culture that values deeper voices. Unfortunately this tendency has consequences for the speaking voice. Lately, I’ve found myself suggesting that certain students raise the pitch of their voice just a bit when they’re releasing sound.

If your speaking pitch is too low, your voice won’t project very well and it will tend to trail off at the end of phrases. The tone of your voice will tend to be less clear, more prone to sounding scratchy and tense, with little depth and richness. If you’re speaking at the bottom of your range, your delivery will tend to be flat and monotone because your voice has no room to move around. Finally, a voice that’s pitched to low will tend to tire quickly and feel uncomfortable.

What can you do about this? I often encourage students to start sounds on a pitch just slightly higher than what feels “natural” to them. Since intonation tends to drop over the course of a sentence, start a bit higher, so your voice is still in a comfortable range when you reach the end. If you’re low at the very start, you’ll end up in the gravel by the time you finish the phrase.

Essentially, you want to explore and cultivate the middle of your speaking range, instead of the very bottom of your range. You’re moving everything up a little bit. This shift doesn’t have to be so drastic that other people notice. A small shift can make a big difference, but you need to be familiar with the feeling, otherwise you’ll never give yourself permission to apply it in conversation, let alone presentation.

Some people might find it relatively easy to explore and play with a range of pitches. For others, it’s not always that easy. You might need the help of a vocal coach to familiarize yourself with this aspect of your voice.

When you learn how it feels to speak in the middle of your range, you’ll find your voice is stronger and projects effectively. You’ll be able to speak with less effort and more pleasure. The tone of your voice will be richer, more expressive and engaging, and your communication will be clearer, overall.

I still think that identifying one optimum pitch for speaking is an unnecessary exercise, but if it helps you find—and feel—the sweet spot around which your voice operates more efficiently, then I agree there’s real value in the experience.

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