The short answer is: probably not.
When people say they want their voice to sound lower, what they typically mean is that they want their voice to feel more resonant, warm, rich, and potent. Read on to learn how depth and richness are not necessarily related to a lower pitch, even though that’s how it might appear on the surface.
Many people, particularly women but also other genders, find their way to voice coaching because they want their voice to sound deeper, lower, stronger, more authoritative, more powerful. Or they want to sound less shrill, less high-pitched, less squeaky.
For most of these people, pitch is not actually the issue.
This is a hugely important piece of information, because trying to artificially lower your pitch can cause vocal fatigue, strain, or even damage.
If it’s not pitch, what is it?
The answer is placement.
The distinction between pitch and placement is hard to describe in writing, so here is an audio demonstration explaining the concept:
As you can hear, changing the placement of the voice affects how we perceive the pitch.
That’s right – pitch is a perception. And we can change the perception of pitch without actually changing the pitch of our voice.
The physical basis for pitch is frequency of vibration of the vocal cords; the faster they vibrate, the higher the pitch. This is also true for stringed musical instruments — a string that makes a higher pitch when vibrated is more taut than a lower-pitched string, making it vibrate faster.
Chances are pretty good that the actual frequency of your voice is just fine. If it sounds too high to you, the first thing to check is the placement.
Placement refers to where it feels like the sound lives in your body, and we modify it by changing the shape of the vocal tract.
Regular readers here know that it takes about 100 muscles to utter a phrase of speech. Not surprisingly, many of those muscles are located in the mouth and throat. When we make sound, the vibrating column of air moves through the vocal tract (mouth and throat, sometimes nose) on the way out the mouth. The shape of that pathway plays a huge role in determining how the sound will land in the listeners’ ears.
In the audio sample above, you can hear my pitch appear to get lower and higher, even though I am not changing the actual frequency of my voice. I am changing the shape of my vocal tract.
All things being equal, sound that moves through a larger vocal tract will sound lower in pitch than a sound that moves through a smaller vocal tract. This is because of various acoustic principles that we won’t go into in detail here. But trust me, it’s true.
Consider instances in which you may have imitated the sound of a very large animal or person – you subconsciously widen your throat (like we do when we yawn) to make the voice sound deeper. Conversely, imitating a small creature leads us to pinch or tighten the throat muscles.
If you want to make your voice sound deeper, the first line of attack is to open up your throat and vocal tract.
The simplest way to access the feeling of creating more space at the back of the throat is by yawning. This act automatically stretches the muscles back there wide open. Try sighing out on an open “ahhhh” sound as you yawn. You can start with a fake yawn, and a real one will probably follow.
Once you feel the openness at the back of the throat, explore talking with varying degrees of stretch in those muscles. You might want to add a little or a lot, depending on where you are to start with, and where you want to go.
It’s important to know that any changes you make you your voice will sound weird at first. That’s okay – we have heard ourselves sound a certain way for a long time. It’s also good to remember that the changes aren’t as obvious to others as they are inside your own head.
You can then put a hand on your upper chest, and explore a feeling of vibration in the bones of your chest as you make sound. Accessing chest resonance is how I created those lower-sounding tones without changing my pitch in the audio sample above.
There are also other acoustic properties that create depth, resonance, warmth, and richness to a vocal tone. If you’d like to explore ways to deepen the quality of your voice, schedule a session for some customized exercises.