Let me ask you something. How do you feel about the sound of your voice when you’re speaking English?
If you’re like most people, you probably have some concerns about your voice.
Maybe you feel like your pitch is too high or too low. Maybe you have trouble changing your pitch or you feel like your voice sounds a little monotone.
Maybe you think your voice sounds too nasally or too high in your head, or perhaps you’d like your voice to sound a little bit deeper and a little more confident.
It could be that your voice sounds a little breathy or weak, or maybe you just want to feel more confident about how you sound.
That’s why I’m going to help you find your voice in American English.
The key is finding your voice, finding the voice that makes you feel more confident about how you sound when speaking.
Explore the Possibilities in Your Voice in American English
Using a number of vocal exercises, we’re going to explore the possibilities in your voice.
And let me tell you in advance, you may feel a little awkward or uncomfortable practicing some of these exercises, but they’re going to help you get to know what’s available to you in your own voice.
As we work through all these exercises, I want you to keep in mind that it’s about your voice, not my voice, not someone else’s voice, not somebody you’d like to sound like.
We’re trying to discover what’s possible for you in your own voice.
The goal is not to change your voice entirely.
It’s to discover where your voice is most powerful, where it sounds the most vibrant and the most interesting, and what feels the most natural for you.
My hope is that feeling more confident and comfortable with how you sound will help you speak up more.
Your voice matters and that’s why I want to help you find it today.
Let’s get started!
Start Noticing What’s Happening With Your Voice
The most important thing to keep in mind as we start playing around with these exercises is that you want to have fun exploring and experimenting.
You may feel a little awkward or silly or uncomfortable. I encourage you to push through these feelings.
Learning to use different parts of your body in order to express yourself through your voice is so essential.
Have fun exploring and experimenting until you find what feels right for your voice.
If you truly want to sound more natural in English, you’re going to have to notice things about how you breathe, how you use different parts of your body when speaking, how you tense and relax different muscles in order to produce sound.
You’ll start to notice how you use your tongue and your lips, your jaw, your mouth, your head, your neck, your shoulders, even your belly or your diaphragm, so that you notice how you breathe.
You also need to notice where sounds are produced, where they vibrate or where they resonate.
There isn’t a specific goal to achieve here.
You’re trying to learn more about how you sound in order to feel more comfortable with your voice in English.
Pay Attention to Your Breathing
Let’s start off by getting a little more relaxed.
Take a few deep breaths and notice where the breath goes.
Your belly should expand out when you breathe in and should contract when you breathe out.
Take another deep breath or two.
Try breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth a few more times.
Take as many breaths as you need to feel more relaxed and get into your body.
The reason we start with breathing exercises is that breath is a really big part of how we use our voice.
Besides that, paying attention to your breath gets you back into your body and out of your mind.
In order to experiment with the different ways we use our voice, you need to be in your body rather than worrying about how you sound.
Release Tension to Improve How You Use Your Voice
Now I want you to take a moment and relax your shoulders and neck.
You can do a couple of shoulder rolls forward and back, maybe one and then the other.
Shrug your shoulders and release – whatever feels comfortable to you.
You may notice that when you feel stressed, your voice sounds a little strained.
Taking a few moments to release any tension from your shoulders and your neck will help you speak a little bit better.
Stretch Your Mouth and Jaw with Vowel Exercises
Now we’re going to spend some time moving your mouth and your jaw. We’re going to work through some vowel sounds.
It’s important to understand that if you feel like your voice is very nasally or it feels a little restricted or strained, you’re probably not opening your mouth enough.
When I work with clients, I almost always have to tell them to drop their jaw more.
A lot of people hold a lot of tension in their jaw. This happens for a number of reasons.
It could come from how you produce sounds in your native language, feeling a little nervous about speaking English, or just not being comfortable using your mouth so much.
In order to find your more natural sound in English, you want to open your mouth more to give your voice some space to leave your mouth.
Let’s start off by really opening our mouths and saying the sound “ah” or /ɑ/.
Think about when you’re going to the doctor and they’re inspecting the back of your throat.
You really want to open your mouth in order to produce this sound: /ɑ/, /ɑ/, /ɑ/
Repeat /ɑ/ a few more times on your own.
Maybe your mouth and your jaw will start to relax a little bit.
If you’re not used to opening your mouth so much into this shape, it may take a little practice.
This is a great way to warm up your mouth before you have to start speaking.
Now I want to transition between some of the most important vowel sounds in English.
In my video on how to sound more American, I explain how you need to move your mouth more on long vowel sounds and diphthongs.
Right now we’re going to stretch and exercise your mouth by moving between sounds that open out and back and sounds that move forward and out.
Let’s start with /eɪ/ as in “day” and /oʊ/ as in “no.”
As you can see in the video, when you say the /eɪ/ sound, your mouth opens out and back, kind of like when you’re forcing a smile. 😀
When you say the /oʊ/ sound, your jaw drops and your mouth rounds. Think of the shape a fish makes when it opens its mouth up and down. 🐠
We’re going to transition between the /eɪ/ and /oʊ/ sounds a few times: /eɪ/, /oʊ/, /eɪ/, /oʊ/, /eɪ/, /oʊ/, /eɪ/, /oʊ/.
Now let’s move between the /i/ as in “see” and the /u/ as in “soon” sounds.
The /i/ sound also moves up and back, and the /u/ sound requires you to purse your lips a little bit, like that fish.
Let’s transition between the /i/ and /u/ sounds a few times: /i/, /u/, /i/, /u/, /i/, /u/, /i/, /u/.
Now you’re going to move your mouth even more.
We’re going to move between the /aɪ/ as in “sky” and the /aʊ/ as in “about” sounds
Both of these vowel sounds require you to move your mouth a lot. It’s really good exercise for your mouth. Let’s try it: /aɪ/, /aʊ/, /aɪ/, /aʊ/, /aɪ/, /aʊ/, /aɪ/, /aʊ/.
Now that you’ve spent a few moments doing these exercises, you’re probably a little more aware of the different muscles in your lips, your mouth, and your jaw.
They may be speaking to you! You may be feeling a little bit tired or you may feel a little soreness from using these muscles if you’re not used to moving them so much. I know I can feel it!
This is helping you pay attention to different parts of your mouth, which will help you as we start working on different aspects of your voice.
Warm Up Your Lips and Explore Pitch
Next, we’re going to have some fun!
I want you to flutter through your lips, kind of like you’re making a horse sound. 🐴
This is definitely going to look and feel a little bit silly, so have some fun with it.
(Be sure to watch the video to see and hear what I’m doing!)
Flutter through your lips a few times.
Now let’s add some sound to this exercise.
This is a great way to start exploring what’s available to you with your pitch.
We’ll talk more about pitch in just a moment, but I just want you to start exploring your range.
Add some sound to this fluttering of your lips.
Try to imitate an old fashioned phone ringing. ☎️
Try going up and down and all around with the sound leaving through your lips.
If you’re like me, you’re probably noticing your lips a little more and we’ve started engaging your voice.
Feel the Vibrations of Your Voice Through Humming
Now let’s move on to some humming.
Once again, we’re just trying to see what’s available to you in your own voice.
Start out by humming whatever pitch feels comfortable.
In order to find your natural voice in English, you want to think about where the sound is vibrating.
We’re just going to start with humming right now. Once again, start humming. Where is the sound vibrating?
When I’m humming, I notice that the sound is vibrating in my voice box. What about you?
Now I want you to take a moment and see if you can move the sound around.
See if you can get the vibrations of your voice into your chest.
You may notice that you have to move your pitch around in order to feel it vibrating in different parts of your body.
Keep humming and see if you can change where the sound is vibrating.
As you can hear in the video, it’s really hard for me to get my pitch that low!
Let’s move a little higher. Try moving the humming sound upwards through your neck and throat.
Try humming in your mouth. Can you feel it in your lips now?
See if you can move the humming sound even further upwards. Can you feel it in your nose?
What about the top of your head?
Now I want you to combine humming with changing your pitch.
Try humming different melodies, different sounds. Just have fun exploring!
You want to see how much you can move your pitch.
This will really help you when you start thinking about changing your pitch when speaking.
Find the Optimal Pitch For Your Voice in English
Let’s move on and play a little more with your pitch.
When you’re speaking English, you want to speak at the optimal pitch for your voice.
This is the pitch where your voice is most comfortable and most natural, and where your voice comes out easiest.
As a non-native speaker, you may find that your optimal pitch in English is different than the pitch you use in your native language.
Some languages speak at a higher pitch than we do in English and some speak at a lower pitch. 🎶
Besides that, your native language may not use as much of your pitch range as we do in American English.
In American English, we normally speak within four main pitch levels. At times, our pitch will go even higher and at times it may go even lower.
When you’re speaking English, you want to feel comfortable moving up and down within these four pitch levels.
As I explain in how to use contrast to improve your accent, your baseline pitch is where your voice naturally rests.
You’re going to come down to your baseline pitch when you’re saying words and syllables that don’t really matter. These are what we call unstressed words and syllables.
Think about how you may say function words like of, at, by, to. As you can hear, those words are said at a slightly lower pitch. This is your baseline pitch.
When you’re emphasizing key words and syllables, your pitch is going to rise one step above the baseline pitch.
At this pitch level, your voice should have richness, depth, and fullness.
It should sound really nice and feel really comfortable and really natural.
When you’re emphasizing the most important words in the sentence, your pitch is going to hit two steps above your baseline.
In other words, you’ll hit the highest pitch level when saying the most important words in a thought group or sentence.
You’ll hit the lowest pitch level at the end of a declarative sentence when using falling intonation. That will be one step below your baseline.
If you haven’t explored pitch with me, I encourage you to start out with my video on The Power of Pitch.
In this video, I share a pitch exercise where we go up and down between different pitch levels in your voice in order to see what’s possible.
For more practice changing between your baseline pitch and one step above your baseline. I encourage you to check out my Pitch Exercises video.
For even more explanation about the different levels of pitch, check out my video on contrast and how it can help you sound more natural.
Practice with More Pitch Exercises: Pitch Slides
Right now, instead of working on the steps between different pitches, we’re going to practice gliding or sliding up and down between pitch levels.
The reason we’re doing this is that I receive a lot of feedback from people who don’t feel like they can change between different pitch levels in their voice.
By sliding up and down all along your pitch range, you’ll see that you do have a lot of different levels available in your voice.
You’re probably just not that comfortable controlling them or changing them when speaking English.
Have some fun and play with this! See what’s possible for you.
It may sound completely different than me, you may have more range than I do, or it may feel a little more restricted. In that case, you may want to practice this every day for a couple of weeks or even a month in order to get more comfortable exploring your pitch range.
Let’s get started. We’ll start with the sound /ɑ/. Try sliding up and down while saying /ɑ/.
(Once again, be sure to watch the video to hear this exercise.)
Now let’s try it with the sound /eɪ/. Once again, slide your pitch up and down while saying /eɪ/.
Move on to /i/. Slide up and down on /i/.
Next, let’s try /aɪ/. Slide up and then down when saying /aɪ/.
Moving on to /oʊ/. Same thing: slide your pitch up and down while saying /oʊ/.
Let’s move on to /u/. Same drill: up and down on /u/.
Next up is /ɔɪ / as in “toy.” Repeat the exercise by sliding up and down on /ɔɪ /.
Last, let’s finish up with /aʊ/ as in “about.” Change your pitch by sliding up and down on /aʊ/.
You can repeat this with those same vowel sounds or introduce other vowel sounds in order to just practice moving your pitch up and down.
By doing this exercise, you will definitely realize that you do have control over your pitch and that you are able to slide or glide up and down pretty easily!
As you continue to play with your pitch, you just want to see what’s possible for you in your voice.
Being able to slide up and down between different pitch levels will definitely help you with your intonation as well.
When we’re using falling intonation, we often have to transition from the highest pitch level down to the lowest on one syllable.
When we’re using rising intonation or showing more extreme emotions with our intonation, we often glide up from a lower pitch level to a higher pitch level.
Have fun exploring what’s available in your pitch!
Understanding Resonance and the American Accent
Finally, let’s talk a little bit about placement or resonance.
Placement is a term that’s often used by singers to talk about where you’re directing the sound of your voice.
In other words, where you’re placing your voice.
Personally, I prefer the term resonance. Resonance is how the sound of your voice vibrates and how it moves inside your body.
While your voice can resonate in many parts of your body, we tend to talk about four main locations:
- your chest,
- your mouth,
- your nasal passage, or what singers refer to as your mask (imagine wearing a mask on this part of your face), and
- your head.
For the general American accent, you want your voice to resonate in the center of your mouth.
You may notice that resonance happens in different parts of the mouth or jaw or nasal passage for other regional accents or dialects.
The sound may land in the back of the throat, in the jaw, in the front of the teeth, in the nasal passage. It really depends.
For now, I want you to think about directing the sound towards the center of your mouth.
Think about aiming up and out.
You’re trying to get your voice to sound full and rich. You want depth to the sound of your voice.
In order to focus on where your voice is resonating, you’re going to need to visualize where you’re directing the sound.
You may notice that you’ll change where your voice resonates depending on different situations.
For example, if you’re trying to sound cute or nice, you may find your voice resonating a little bit higher.
If you’re trying to sound authoritative or confident, you may feel that you’re directing the sound down towards your chest. It may feel lower.
If you feel like you have a very nasal voice, you may want to work on directing your sound downwards towards your chest.
You’ll get more power from your breathing in order to bring the sound out of your nose and into your chest.
I find that a lot of non-native English speakers tend to speak from higher up in their nasal passage.
This has to do with your native language and where the sound is produced.
If you feel your voice is nasally in English, it may not help you at first to focus on the center of your mouth. You may want to focus instead on directing your sound down to your chest.
The idea is to get the sound out of your head and nasal passage and get it down lower.
Besides that, if you find yourself straining a lot when speaking because you’re trying to project your voice, you may find that your voice goes a little bit higher into your nasal passage.
If your voice starts to sound a little bit weak or high and constricted, it can also be helpful to direct the sound downward.
(To be honest, when I record YouTube videos, I often have to remind myself to bring the sound down as well.)
Experiment with Resonance Exercises and Play with Placement
To start playing with resonance, we’re going to count from one to five.
As we speak, we’re going to think about directing the sound to a certain part of the body.
Let’s start with resonating in the chest. Direct your voice to your chest and count: one, two, three, four, five.
In the video, do you hear how the quality of my voice is a little different when it’s in my chest?
Now let’s try getting the voice to resonate in the throat: one, two, three, four, five.
Touch your throat as you count. Can you feel the voice box vibrating under your hand?
Next, let’s try resonating in the jaw: one, two, three, four, five.
Even though I can feel my voice vibrating here, it’s starting to feel a little constrained.
Let’s experiment with resonance in the center of your mouth: one, two, three, four, five.
Do you hear how that sound is a little fuller as I’m speaking?
Let’s try that one again: one, two, three, four, five.
Now let’s try directing the sound of the voice to the nasal passage: one, two, three, four, five.
As you can hear in the video, my voice starts to sound a little bit nasally.
Now let’s try directing the sound upward towards the top of your head: one, two, three, four, five.
Can you hear how the quality of my voice changes when it’s resonating in different parts of the body?
Let’s play around with it!
Let’s continue counting from one to ten, but this time, let’s move the voice all around the body, thinking about different places to direct the sound.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Sounds really different, right?
Let’s try it again. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.
To play around with resonance, you can also try speaking from different parts of your voice.
Listen to me experiment with resonance in the video:
- I’m feeling very low and confident here. [chest resonance]
- Now I’m feeling really nasally. [nasal resonance]
- I’m feeling like I’m speaking from the top of my head. [head resonance]
- Now I’m speaking in a more comfortable place for my voice. I’m speaking from the center of my mouth. [mouth resonance]
You can have a lot of fun playing around with where the sound is resonating.
Explore Resonance and Find Your Voice in American English
As I mentioned, you may change around the resonance of your voice depending on what you’re trying to achieve when speaking.
For example, if you’re feeling more annoyed or frustrated, you might just naturally drop a little bit lower.
Try saying these words with a frustrated voice: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I can’t believe we’re in this situation. What should we do?
Or if you’re trying to be really nice, you may move your voice up a little bit higher towards your nasal passage to sound a little more likable.
Play with saying these sentences with a nice, cute voice: I want you to like me! I hope that we can be friends.
To bring it back to my original point, when you’re speaking American English, you want the sound to resonate in the center of your mouth.
This is where your voice is going to sound richest and fullest.
Center of the mouth resonance will help you achieve a more natural-sounding American accent.
Resonance is something to play with! You want to just pay attention to where you’re directing your voice.
For some people, you may want to direct it more downward to get it out of your head or out of your nasal passage and down.
For other people, you may want to think about directing the sound to the center of the mouth and then out.
Find what feels comfortable and natural for you!
After all, the goal is for you to feel comfortable with your own voice, to like the way your voice sounds in American English.
Play around with these exercises. Have fun with them and find what feels right for you!
Sounding more natural is about feeling more natural with how you use your voice.
If you’ve never explored these possibilities in your voice, it may feel a little uncomfortable at first.
When you find what’s right for you, you’re going to feel so much more confident about the way you sound when speaking.
Be sure to leave a comment with any questions you have about how to use your voice in English.