Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Dispelling Vocal Myths. Part IV: "Talk Higher!"

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

Dispelling Vocal Myths. Part IV: "Talk Higher!"

Article excerpt

MY ASSOCIATE, Lisa Butcher, MM, MA, CCC/SLP, came into my office, sighing and shaking her head. "In your next 'myths' article, will you please tell singing teachers to stop telling their students 'you need to talk higher'? I'm so tired of treating singers who have muscle tension and pain because they're trying to talk at some totally inappropriate pitch and register adjustment!" I have agreed with this for years, and when we discussed the topic with other voice-specialty speech language pathologists, they lamented universally that the "talk higher" myth is common not only among singing teachers, but among nonvoice-specialty speech language pathologists as well.

This is the fourth in a series of articles aimed at clarifying misconceptions about vocal production that can cause technical problems, or reduced efficiency in singing. One of the reasons to call these misconceptions "myths" is that they seem to have been learned implicitly rather than explicitly. In this case, though, I believe there has been explicit teaching and learning of information that is no longer considered correct. Indeed, Lisa is referring to something these singers have been told very specifically by their teachers: "You're speaking at too low a pitch; talk higher." Like many of the anatomically incorrect images we use routinely in the studio, this advice is well motivated, but can have unintended consequences.


Actually, while this myth was still active some twenty years ago, it isn't particularly pervasive now (as far as I can tell). But the corollaries are alive and well:

* Low pitches are dangerous; speaking at the lower pitches of the voice is dangerous.

* Women's voices, particularly sopranos, should not go below C^sub 4^ (middle C) in singing, and possibly not even in speech

* Talking in "chest voice" is "belting," and therefore bad. - subcorollary: Belting is bad.1

* Speaking voice can interfere with singing voice.

* Singers should attempt for an open, resonant, buoyant quality in speech that sounds just like singing.

That last one doesn't sound like a myth, does it? Of course we should use our most beautiful voice to speak with. Unfortunately, not all singers find an efficient or natural way of producing that beautiful sound in speech. When the speaking voice is inefficient it can lead to fatigue or even pain. When the speaking voice is unnatural, it can contribute to the "hoity-toity" reputation of singing teachers.

Truth #1: The Thyroarytenoid Muscle is Active in Normal Speech, and That's Just Fine

The mechanism for pitch control in the voice has been well researched and well explained in many textbooks and articles on the voice.2 I urge you to review this information if the following discussion doesn't make sense to you; I've cited a very accessible online tutorial. What is important for this discussion is the very simplified concept that the thyroarytenoid (TA) muscle is more active, or dominant, in lower pitches, while the cricothyroid (CT) muscle is more active, or dominant, in higher pitches. In the past decade or so, there has been more talk of TA-dominant and CT-dominant registers, as opposed to the old chest, head, and falsetto distinctions. There are numerous reasons why this concept might be beneficial, but one is that it may alleviate the value judgment that sometimes accompanies head/chest labels. A female singer who is afraid of talking in chest voice may be willing to accept the fact that at the frequencies of vibration typically used in speech, the thyroarytenoid muscle is more contracted than the cricothyroid. Let us explore this.

Normal Pitches for Speech

It should not surprise singing teachers that natural speech is produced near the bottom of the pitch range, but it may surprise them how low those pitches are, especially for women. …

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