March 8, 2012
CRITERION #8: PITCH
Choose your place on the octave,
and find your own, sweet tone.
Your voice is an instrument. Literally. When you get up on stage, your challenge is to use the full range of the instrument. Go up, down and all around. Hit the high notes… and the low notes. Experiment with all the sounds that are available to you. Just as you don’t get much enjoyment from a piece of music that stays on one note throughout an entire song, your audience won’t enjoy the best of what you have to say if you stay tightly controlled within a limited vocal range. Make a game of it. Try and touch as many points on the spectrum of pitch as you possibly can.
Mind you, overall, I advise you to lower your pitch. The natural outcome of anxiety and trepidation (which is what everyone feels when they step on stage) is tightness in one’s stomach… and in one’s vocal chords. It results in a higher-pitched voice than you might use in your everyday speech. Unless you are an unusually relaxed person – and I envy you if you are – the stress of the moment will transfer into your body; and, if there is tension in your vocal chords, the pitch of your voice will be raised.
Think of your vocal chords like an elastic band. We have all idly played with elastics, and coaxed a symphony of twanging sounds out of them. It’s a favourite schoolboy pastime. As my Physics professor droned on, I would conduct my own experiment by hooking an elastic around my eye-teeth, marvelling at how the pitch increased as the band was stretched, reverberating through my jawbone. Ultimately, of course, my impromptu recital would come to a sudden end as the elastic snapped – with painful consequences, wiping the smile off my face and putting one on my schoolmates’! “I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” my professor would say. I had. And so can you. So, remember that when you get up on stage, your vocal chords will very likely be a little tight. Make a conscious effort to lower your pitch. Relax your voice, and your entire performance will relax… and so will your audience.
Incidentally, Pitch is closely related to another characteristic of your voice… and that’s tone. Returning to the idea that your voice is an instrument, I ask you to reflect for a moment about your favourite instrumental music. Can you recall a piece by a musician that you particularly like? A virtuoso performance by someone like Miles Davis, Yo Yo Ma or Stevie Ray Vaughan? The great soloists have the ability to bring the music to life with a sound that strikes right to the heart and soul of their listeners. I suggest to you that what sets apart the great instrumentalists from the average players is not the notes they play, but how they play them. It’s their tone. Miles Davis had the gift of playing the simplest musical phrase with an intensity… a sweetness… a richness… that was disarmingly perfect. Tone. Pure and simple. He squeezed every last drop out of his instrument. And you can do the same with your voice.