It’s an old saw: Less is more. As with many clichés this one can sometimes be true, especially when it comes to how we use our voice.
Did you know it takes about 100 muscles to utter a phrase of speech? Given that many of these muscles are tiny and impossible to isolate, it’s shockingly easy to be using them with more tension than is necessary.
Speech is usually a non-conscious act, meaning we don’t think about the mechanics of how we do it. Thank heavens — it would be exhausting to be aware of every movement these little muscles make!
The majority of my clients learn they are working harder than they have to. This is counterintuitive for most people, because most of us have been taught that we get what we want by working harder.
You might be working too hard if you:
- Believe you must always Work Hard to get where you want to go
- Have perfectionist tendencies
- Muscle your way through challenging things in life
- Have a hard time trusting that you can do “it”
- Doubt that things can be easy
- Habitually speak in a tense manner, whether you know it or not
- Have been given feedback to be vocally louder, stronger, etc.
- Don’t breathe deeply and freely
Problems caused by working too hard:
- Feeling tired in your throat, or tired of talking (vocal fatigue)
- Pain or soreness when talking, or afterwards
- Lack of vocal power, resonance, or strength
- Hoarseness or other changes to the sound of the voice
- Difficulty projecting
- Voice loss or change after extended use
- For singers, loss of range, power, or nuance
- Vocal injury (i. e., nodules/nodes, polyps, swelling/irritation of vocal cords)
Much voice coaching, at least as I do it, involves finding ways to work as efficiently as possible, using the muscles as they were designed without “helping” with extra effort. Courage to trust that the voice will be there, even without pushing it, is part of the work.
This article from the Guardian, How quirk of primate evolution gave humans the voice apes lack, reveals that apparently somewhere along the evolutionary highway, humans lost a particular vocal membrane that other primates use to make loud, high-pitched calls. The lack of this membrane allows for the relatively sophisticated nuance of human voice.
“I think it’s pretty interesting that sometimes in evolution ‘less is more’ – that by losing a trait you might open the door to some new adaptations,” said researcher Fitch.
I was fascinated to see this evolutionary parallel, where an evolutionary “loss” is what allows us to speak. It’s the same for how we actually use that voice. “Losing” the safety of habitual overwork can lead to a fuller, stronger, more authentic voice.
Okay, back to the main point.
Advantages to working efficiently:
- Easy, resonant, authentic voice
- Freedom and lack of physical effort in talking
- Ability to project over background noise
- Clear, strong voice even after prolonged speaking
How to do less:
- Awareness always precedes change; simply being aware of how much effort you use in your throat and neck and upper chest when you talk (or sing) is a valuable step.
- Use the right amount of breath to “support” your voice. See my post about breath for more specifics about how to accomplish this.
- Move your mouth more. Space at the back of the mouth (think of a yawn) is a key to vocal openness and power.
- Keep your head on straight. This post about hacking your posture to strengthen your voice gives specific details.
- This post about optimal voice use is relevant for anyone, even if you aren’t an actor.
- Here’s to transforming apparent loss into new adaptations!
Want to learn more about how to do less? Reach out to book a session.