Rhythm and the Vocal Profile

Benefits of Vocal Training

English is a language that’s spoken all over the world. Some people may speak English with a drop dead gorgeous voice, but that’s no good if people can’t understand the words they’re saying. And it’s no good having perfectly clear diction and saying the words clearly in English, when no one can hear you because your voice isn’t audible. It’s also no good having a wonderful voice and speaking English with perfect diction when the words you’re saying are vapid and empty and in no way connect with your thoughts.

Here at Max Your Voice we give attention to the whole of your vocal profile – meaning all the aspects of your voice and speech that create the overall sound. Many features are included in the vocal profile.

One of the more important aspects of getting some speakers of English as a second language to express themselves more clearly in English is rhythm. Every language, including English, has its own rhythm – some languages acquire a very marked rhythm where words are strongly stressed within groups. In most languages the words are organised so that the rhythmic stress falls on the most important words, i.e. the key words expressing the content of what we’re saying.

However, a problem shared by many who do not speak English as a first language is that they are tempted to use the rhythmic stress of their own language when they are expressing themselves in English. Such rhythms may make the English language more comfortable for them when transferring their thoughts into speech. The rhythm can work well when the stress falls on the nouns or keywords. The problem arises when the stress is made on the personal pronouns – ‘his’, ‘her’, ‘their’, ‘its’ or on the definite article ‘the’ or the indefinite articles ‘a’ or ‘an’.

When this happens, the listener has to decipher the key messages in the speech. It can give diverse messages to the listener and these can often be humorous. Everyone likes to laugh, but when you’re at the centre of the joke and the joke is about the way you communicate, it can be hurtful and disruptive to your confidence and progress. More seriously, the messages you put across can also be damaging. The worst possible message that wrongly applied stress can send during diplomatic business meetings, for example, is: “I don’t really want you to understand what I’m saying, so I’m stressing all the words that aren’t important to distract you from those that are.”

Max Your Voice takes account of your entire vocal profile. The importance for communication of all the different aspects of your voice and speech and the way it’s developed and the way you use it – all of these are addressed in all voice and speech training given at Max Your Voice.

Our Speak English Clearly course was developed over 2 years with the help of an Educational Psychologist. It was tested with 30 different clients who shared 15 different languages. While the structure of the course remains the same as when it was first launched, the Speak English Clearly course has developed along with the changes and influences to spoken English over the last 8 years.

For more information on our in-house courses email info@maxyourvoice.com or phone +44(0)20 85422777

Talking Proper

As the founder of Max Your Voice, I’ve just been to a fascinating lecture given by Professor Lynda Mugglestone. I’d already warmed to her before she started, because I thought that with a name like that, she was probably distantly connected to muggles and had magical powers. So much for the perception that names give us. The perception of the way we speak, said Professor Mugglestone, can still very much alter the way we’re perceived and even judged. She gave us some historical examples of how various figures had striven to get us to speak in English, in an accent that would dissolve any prejudice and get us listened to and even in some cases, made MPs. Even the writer Jonathan Swift, known for his liberal ideas was an advocate for a “prescriptive” or standard English accent.

Samuel Johnson didn’t care what people thought of his Brummie accent. His friend and biographer Boswell said “he speaks with a most uncouth voice”. Boswell had his Scots accent ironed out by an elocution teacher called Sheridan. In the 18th century it was as if you dressed with your fine and elegant accent as well as your fine and elegant clothes. Emma Hamilton was more at home in Italy where she hobnobbed with the Queen of Naples – speaking fluent Italian – than she was with the aristocracy in England, who despised her for her “bur” accent as much as her seductive past.

As late as 1930, inspectors of schools classified children who dropped their hs and gs as educationally defective. It made we wonder that such a harsh judgement would perhaps encourage the more successful to make sure their children spoke with a “prescriptive” or RP accent. The acknowledged accent for public schools has been RP and still is in some of them.

However, nowadays our perceptions have changed radically. Regional accents are sort out and used for the “honesty” they impart. People who’ve been brought up with RP have ditched it for a more acceptable accent for their chosen professions. Guy Ritchie, who’s father is an executive in advertising, has done this and Mick Jagger and Fern Cotton. Adverts for bleach have voice- overs using people with modern RP, suggesting that the cut glass accent demonstrates a clinical edge. M&S food have replaced the clear and crisp accent of Samantha Bond in their commercials, with the more regional sound of Caroline Quentin. Using her warmest Manchester, Julie Walters encourages us to go to LloydsTSB “for the journey” . Jane Horrocks does many voice-overs. Her skill as an actress has done wonders in making regional accents so popular. The most successful voice-over artists I’ve trained recently, have used their regional accents to get the work.

Is it any wonder that David Cameron has been urged to take his accent to the neutralisers? – as the Guardian said last Saturday. I think he’s started to sound bombastic and that’s what’s being picked up.

So the new socially acceptable accent is regional. If you’re really adventurous you could go slightly French, Danish, Spanish or Italian. It’s all good – as long as you’re clearly understood…

Next “Speak English Clearly” course starts on August 23rd.

Melvin Bragg’s programme on English accents is being broadcast on Saturday evening on Radio 4. The BBC have dropped their pronunciation department.

Professor Lynda Mugglestone’s book ‘Talking Proper’ is on sale at Amazon.

The Professional Speakers’ Association

The Professional Speakers Association

Went to the Professional Speakers’ Association’s Convention in Bloomsbury. This was a piece of a voice coach’s heaven. Just sitting back and listening to professional speakers for the day. There was an opportunity to meet with experts in their field and it was interesting to meet with Deborah Swallow who was giving advice on Cross Cultural Communication. One of the first things I learned when I started training people in India was to respect their dress code for women. There was a friendly HR lady who advised me at the time. Learning about other people’s culture is one of the perks of working internationally. Debbie spoke about the content of Presentations and how to change the ratio of emotional content, factual content and anecdotal content according to whereabouts in the world you’re presenting. I just love listening to stories – and that’s apparently what Americans like. Graham Davies who’s written the best selling book on Presenting was another expert giving advice. His book is great – so well researched and written. With a background as a barrister he’s in a prime position to know how to sway an audience. The barristers I’ve worked with have sometimes been better sight-readers than actors. The need for a confident voice (not a bullish voice) is an asset for a barrister. I believe that people who give speeches in public and people who present – all benefit from voice training.

Accent Neutralisation & Reduction

Francis Parkes with a student

Accent reduction and Accent Neutralisation are terms that have been used by Corporate organisations for the past 6 years or so. We use them as well because people looking for clarity of English courses are Googling Accent Neutralisation and Accent reduction. It sometimes strikes me as strange though, because I, like all voice coaches, like to hear full and vibrant voices and the idea of people neutralising or reducing their accents seems to be taking the life from people’s voice and speech rather breathing life into people’s voice and speech. I don’t like the idea of dumbing down an accent with all the watering down of vocal personality that this implies. Rather, I like to up peoples’ ability to enjoy the sensation of speaking English in a way that they can be understood internationally. The course that I researched and devised is about just that – speaking English Clearly. It’s desirable to express yourself freely when speaking English even though it may be your second language. Accents can enhance our speech – it’s not your accent, it’s the way you use your accent that matters. If the way you use your accent blurs the sense and clarity of what you’re saying then that’s not good. When your accent attracts the listener to pay more attention to what you’re saying, then that’s good.

Max Your Voice StudentsEveryone is different, Everyone has a unique voice which gives them a unique vocal profile. At Max Your Voice we work with a persons whole vocal profile. The end result is of course clear speech but the voice has to go through different processes to be made, before coming into the mouth to be shaped by the movement of the mouth, tongue and lips into sounds.

English is a language that is spoken all over the world. Some people may speak English with a drop dead gorgeous voice, but that is no good if people cannot understand the words they are saying. And it is no good having perfectly clear diction and saying the words clearly in English, when no one can hear you because your voice is not audible. It is also no good having a wonderful voice and speaking English with perfect diction when the words you are saying are vapid and empty and in no way connect with your thoughts.

This is why here at Max Your Voice we give attention to the whole of your vocal profile – meaning all the aspects of your voice and speech that create the overall sound. Many features including pitch (intonation), rhythm, and speed are addressed when we work with clients. Overall confidence increases with the ability to release your voice into clear speech.

I am often asked about phonetic symbols and how many we work with and looking at page 65 of our Speak English Clearly manual guide which accompanies our course and I can see that there are 27. Of these 27 – 14 are single vowel sounds, the rest are made up of simple combinations, so you can understand how important it is to have the building blocks of the single vowel sounds in place. Phonetic symbols are also a useful tool to really help people identify the sounds in written English and transpose them into spoken English.

Speak English Clearly CD SetOther people ask me how long it takes. Obviously, the better your knowledge of English the easier it will be. Some people have a natural drive to succeed in communication and these people take less time to master the different sounds of standard English. They will telephone and Skype frequently to ask whether it is this sound or that sound that goes in this particular word. Others need more time. Once you know your target sounds and have mastered them, you can put the rest of the sounds into the overall jigsaw. You will get really good results after 3 months, providing you keep practicing using the Speak English Clearly book and the CDs.

Useful Exercises and Tips

Training with Frances Parkes

Breathing Exercises
All voice exercises involve using the breath. It is best to do breathing exercises during breaks when working. Thinking about how you are breathing when you are actually talking is not good. If you find yourself in difficulties with breath when you are talking, breathe out quickly and completely using the muscles in your lower ribcage and diaphragm. On your consequent breath in relax the diaphragm and tummy so the breath goes deeper into your lungs without over-expanding your chest.

Too much breath is unnecessary. Just take in enough so that you can speak without having to let go of any breath before you speak.

Warming Up Exercises
Sitting or standing. Humming. With the right arm hanging by your side produce the hum in your lowest note. Gently raise the arm pointing outwards and in front, as you do this go up the scale until your hand is pointing to the ceiling and you are in your highest note. Breathe in and then lower the arm back down to your side while humming from your highest note back down into your lowest note. If you feel the vibration in your throat but not your lips stop and say: muh muh, muh muh, muh muh – multiple times with your lips moving quickly until you feel the vibration in your lips and then repeat the humming exercise. You should feel a strong vibration or tickle on your lips on the hum.
Do this five times.

The siren sound (the old police siren). With a relaxed jaw and open mouth imitate the siren sound in high note and then a low note.
Do this 3 times

Sitting. Place the fingertips of both hands on the spot just above the navel, the nails of the middle fingers of both hands should be touching. Keeping your fingers in place, allow your elbows to open out so that they are pointing outwards and away from your body like open wings. First breathe out completely emptying your lungs and then breathe in through the nose for a count of five. Gently ease back and down with your elbows until they are touching the top of your waist at your back like closed wings. While your doing this action, release the breath out through the mouth for a count of eight. Raise the elbows again back to the first position while breathing in through the nose on a count of five.

Do this three times.

Get in touch via Skype if you need any help with these exercises.
Our Skype address: maxvox1

Class and the English Accent

Class and English Accent

It must be high summer because the English accent and its class connections are being aired again. In his programme “Fry’s English Delight” Stephen Fry asks whether we’re bovvered by the issue of class and speech.

It’s startling that we’re sometimes made shy by the way we speak. I heard someone say today, that the only time they heard RP sounds nowadays (received pronunciation – upper class English) was when a foreigner spoke, as if by trying to emulate the sounds of English some people overshoot the mark of English as spoken nowadays. I have in the past, sometimes heard a weird “O” which sounds like the Queen in 1950 “eeeow – similar to the sound that young Americans make when they are really turned off by something. The Queen sounds very different today. She along with the rest of the general population, uses more open sounds, requiring a more open mouth. There are papers that have been written about how spoken English was affected by the two world wars. The closed mouth and tight vowels were in line with the stiff upper lip needed for fortitude during the time of war.

Great to hear Penny Dyer who’s always been my favourite dialect coach for RP and standard English. Penny Dyer is a great believer in how you use your accent. I have a friend who I can tell immediately if she’s cross about something because her speech becomes very crisp with short sounds and very precise ts. This is one of the things that can be so useful to actors who are using a dialect in a part. The one thing that I am sure of is that everyone has the right to speak and we should never be put off saying anything because we think that we’ll be judged by our accent. Once we think like that, we will sound odd.

Opening of the Thistle Theatre at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Frances Parkes with Rona Laurie

Plenty of fun and a chance to see friends at the opening of this theatre just around the corner from Moorgate. It was great to see the inspirational teacher Rona Laurie. A great lady who proves that voice work is fantastic for your overall health and well-being. It was good to see Geoffrey Freshwater too, he’s currently playing Gloucester in King Lear with the RSC, to fantastic reviews. The much loved Lesley Nicol or “Pickle” was there. Great news about West is West and the new Downton Abbey series.

Courses on CD

Rathan Sippy
Rathan Sippy, the owner of Wimbledon Books

Our ‘Speak English Clearly’ box set was made CD of the month again at the prestigious Wimbledon Books. Our special thanks to the owner Rathan Sippy who has been in publishing all his working life. His vast knowledge is invaluable when you want a good read. They also have a range of classical music CDs – definitely a shop to visit if you’re in the area. Alternatively the logo below to have a look at their website!

Wimbledon Books

Audiobooks direct have a fantastic selection of audiobooks. You can contact them on +44 (0) 207 486 7040 or online at www.audiobooks.co.uk. Audiobooks will also help you if you’re looking for a book read in a certain accent. They also sell our Speak English Clearly CD box sets along with Amazon UK.

Our CD downloads and box sets have proved to be very popular. You can buy downloads and boxed CDs on our website.

The experts in voice are at Harley Street

Frances at Harley Street

We’re now located on the third floor of 1 Harley Street close to Oxford Circus and Bond Street tube stations. It’s an ideal location in central London. I give one to one training in Accent Neutralisation, Presentation, Interviews, Dialects and Elocution from here. Small, evening tutorials in the Speak English clearly course for accent neutralisation also take place here. Our next evening course starts on Tuesday September 27th and runs through to November 1st. There’s also a special weekend intensive on September 3rd and 4th. Our courses using filmed feedback are held at the Actors Centre. There’s a one day course in Presenting coming up in December. A really popular course for people who want to improve the way they use their voice is also held at the Actors Centre – this is the Improve Your Voice by 90% course.  This isn’t filmed – there’s a lot of physical activity in the course and you need to feel free to let go. Our next open Improve Your Voice by 90% course is in November. A great mix of people come on these courses and the facilities and location of The Actors Centre make it an ideal weekend venue. Check out our course dates by clicking the Courses button at the top of this page.

Karen Halliday

Karen Halliday

Karen Halliday has been assisting on our courses for the last five years and your feedback has told us just how much you’ve appreciated her kind attention and helpfulness.

Karen is now giving follow up sessions in Standard English conversation for previous Speak English Clearly course participants who would like further practice, or just a refresher at an affordable price. Karen will come to your home or office.

Karen has been trained in RP pronunciation by Frances. Contact her at: karen@maxyourvoice.com