.Look at a baby when it laughs, cries or screams. There is absolutely no force, no restriction. The sound travels freely on the breath. Body, breath and sound are fully engaged. As we grow and develop, other things come into play that help to diminish that freedom. We become more aware of what's happening around us. There are 'rules' on how we should behave, what we should or shouldn't say, tensions creep in as we adapt our behaviour to fit in with society. We develop habits. We like habits. We like their familiarity. They are comforting. But they can also restrict, contain and damage the voice.
How do these habits develop?
Babies make all manner of sounds. When I listen to a baby or toddler experimenting with their vocal range with such freedom, I always try and replicate the sounds they are making. As an adult with a more mature vocal apparatus, it can be a challenge, but one worth the effort! Pre-school age, more words form, there's more chatter, more 'noise'. Sometimes, you just want to stop the 'noise'. There's an old adage that goes something like this: "Children should be seen and not heard." How many times have you been told to keep quiet, or shut up? Whether intentional or not, this begins the process of forming those habits that go some way to restricting what we say and how we say it. Thus quietening the free and natural voice.
As a voice coach, I often hear "I don't like my voice." When asked "Why?", the response generally implies that that person has been led to believe that their voice doesn't sound nice, or is unpleasant to listen to. Being told not just once, but several times over while growing up. Leaving that person with the perception, based on another person's judgement, that their voice is lacking any kind of redeeming quality. Therefore, it has to be a 'bad' voice. Perhaps as they were growing up, they were made fun of because they couldn't pronounce certain words, making them stumble or stutter. Or when singing, maybe they didn't hit the right notes. Singing is particularly exposing. If someone takes offence, or ridicules the sounds coming out of your mouth, then that is surely going to have a negative impact on the way you express yourself, leading to a lack of confidence when speaking and singing.
Adolescence is a naturally difficult process. One that is packed full of emotional and physical changes. Boys' voices 'crack' or 'break' as the vocal apparatus adjusts, making it perfect fodder for teasing and mocking, which can lead to the voice being 'pushed' down in order for it to sound more masculine. Girls may be encouraged to turn the volume down, not be so brash, sound more 'feminine', leading to a voice that becomes quiet, less likely to speak up. a communication gap can open up between adults and adolescents. Mumbling becomes more evident, along with grunting, less articulation, and more talking in monosyllables., suppressing vocal freedom on both sides. The habit of using and hiding behind, different voices, can be an effective way of masking a lack of confidence in the voice. Something that is carried into adulthood.
Physical aspects also play a significant part. We are told from an early age to sit or stand up straight. We pull up, lock our shoulders back, straighten our legs, pull in our tummies. We don't slump. We hold that in our bodies as we settle into our adult roles.. Tension is held in the body for a variety of reasons, very rarely allowing ourselves to 'let go', because we don't know how to. It's too difficult. This, in turn, tightens our voices. as tension anywhere in the body restricts the sounds that come out of our mouths. Sound gets stuck in the throat, using a fraction of the breath capacity we have. This becomes more evident the older we get.
Does this mean there is such a thing as a 'bad' voice? No. There are 'bad' habits that make us feel that way about our voices. These can be changed to create better habits. Ones that help us to connect to our voices on a deeper level.
Henry Longfellow in Hyperion says, "O, how wonderful is the human voice! It is indeed the organ of the soul!" Every voice is unique. We make judgements on other people's voices, when really, we should rejoice in each and every voice. Celebrating them in all their colours, textures and tastes. How do we do that? By becoming a child again. Not a bad place to start...