Category Archives: BLOG

The Tennis Player’s grunt


More by lucky accident than design, I was present at the quarter final of the Women’s Doubles at Wimbledon with Lisicki and Stosur against Petrova and Rodionova. It was full on play from the start with both sides playing well together.

With one set all there was a distinct sound change from Lisicki, who was the most vocal of the players. Lisicki’s sighs when exhaling and hitting the ball (rather like the sound of wind in leafless trees), became stronger and more forceful, like the sound of the last of a sink full of water being emptied into the drain.

Petrova on the other hand started emitting little glottal bursts of uh-huhs when serving.

It was a close match until the second game of the third set when Lisicki was heard to be a clear winner on sound.

The Brunel University’s Centre for sports’ medicines and human performance, has researched into the connection between voice and physical strength. This research makes interesting reading for anyone involved in voice production. When we are breathing to live – as we do – breath flows freely through the voicebox.

Professor Alison McConnell of Brunel University says: “We all instinctively inhale before we make a physical effort such as lifting furniture or swinging a racquet at a ball. We do this because holding air in the lungs helps to provide the stability required for injury-free forceful movements of the trunk. Maximising the power of a tennis shot is created by transferring muscular force to the racquet head efficiently. A strong core and trunk is vital for this process because the force transmission starts below the players’ waist.”

Tennis coaches are teaching their players to breathe out through a “controlled, forceful exhalation using the larynx or voicebox. This produces a braking action in the breath which is stored in the upper torso. In using this technique the braking action doesn’t require an audible grunt but it’s easier to coach if you can hear it. The audible grunt is more common among women because women’s upper bodies are generally weaker than men’s and require stronger control and stability through breathing techniques”.

Good tennis strokes are achieved therefore by getting the breath and the action of the stroke, in tune. The sound produced is not a pleasant one. Monica Seles lost against Steffi Graf after she was ordered to keep the volume down. Serena Williams produces a grunt that clocks 90 decibels. Are the directors at Wimbledon Tennis Club considering handing out earplugs this year?

Professor Alison McConnell’s book is out now:

Are Good Manners Back in Fashion?

Good manners are back in fashion

I have heard that staff at 10 Downing Street were in (pleasant) shock after Gordon Brown closed the door behind him. They were retained and wait for it…treated with courtesy and respect by the new incumbent. Gordon Brown was known for his rudeness and door slamming tantrums. Of course this was all part of his charm according to indulgent mummy Sarah, but not so charming when you have to work for him.

We seem as a country to be in a state of political apathy. It’s not as bad as Belgium where they have no government at all. When I asked a Belgian visitor on a stay over here, what it was like living in a country with no government, she shrugged her shoulders and said “alright, no difference”. So perhaps after all we may be able to govern ourselves? This would seem to be sending out a message to our politicians to tread carefully. Are we being treated to a show of tolerance and good manners from our politicians? Has the coalition introduced a form of communication where good manners are intrinsic?

Great Britain has long been known for its accomplished diplomats with their use of exquisite good manners: “What is the definition of an English diplomat? – “someone who can admonish you, decide for you and leave you feeling elated and grateful for the recognition.”

The distance that good manners supply in communication is just enough to let each person retain “face”. During the eighteenth century actors were addressed with a title: Mrs Sarah Siddons, Mr . Charles Kemble. Surrounded by scandal that makes the life of a celebrity today seem like afternoon tea party, they were still able to work and go out in public unmolested.

Could it be that good character is connected to good manners? Certainly it’s true of international treasure and political survivor Nelson Mandela. Perhaps a spell of uncertainty is what is needed to bring some character forming traits back into politics. We need leaders who we can aspire to and not despise.

Mind, Body, Spirit

Mind, Body, Spirit

Found myself at the Mind Body Spirit Festival. I was there because the nutritionist Gudrun Jonsson, thinks that Dr Roy Martina is the best thing since sliced bread or in her case: sliced pumpkin. Gudrun helps many performers who’ve worked on through injuries and extreme tiredness only to inadvertently cause the breakdown of their digestive system. This in turn affects their voice.

I admired Roy Martina straightaway as a charismatic speaker. He has a warm, honey voice with a touch of a Dutch accent crossed with a Caribbean accent. Winning his audience over in the first sentence he said, “women tend to like me, I don’t know why but please be kind to the few men in the audience.”

Roy Martina
Roy Martina

He spoke for over 2 hours and his enthusiasm for his subject and tireless answering of questions were commendable. After we’d all completed a deep relaxation and severed a few links from the past, we went downstairs to see what was happening in the rest of the festival. I saw an extraordinary demonstration by a company called Innersound. They give Qi energy courses.

The practitioner massages the client and transmits energy into their body by emitting a sound that resembles air being blown down a drinking straw. Using large amounts of breath propelled by the abdominal muscles, the practitioner exhales out while the tongue tip is against the bottom teeth and the tongue blade is raised towards the alveolar ridge. The breath surges into the mouth and bounces against the back of the front teeth before escaping through the tiny space between the top and bottom teeth. Each outburst of sound lasts about a second. Occasionally a practitioner will emit a groan like a blocked drain which is when they come across some really nasty energy that they get rid of through the gurgle sound.

There were some excellent yoga teachers there. In many ways voice and yoga teachings are linked at the hip… Voice exercises are all about releasing your natural voice and yoga is all about releasing your natural energy balance. There are some areas of difference.

There’s a yoga exercise that I practise first thing in the morning where I take short breaths in through my nostrils that fill up my chest like a Michelin tyre. This is great for waking up if you’re a slow burn in the morning but not good for gentle voice release.

One yoga exercise that I’ve used in my voice classes since the year dot, is the ancient Lion’s face and tongue exercise. Stand in alignment in front of a mirror with your arms relaxed by your sides, palms facing forwards. Your feet should be comfortably apart and knees relaxed but not bent. Breathe out completely and in through the nose for 5 so that your middle back and ribcage expand. Breathe out on a loud “hahhhh” sound taking care to keep your throat open and relaxed and simultaneously raise your hands, fingers outstretched and placed either side of your face. At the same time open your eyes and mouth wide with your tongue curled towards the chin as far as it will go…… Relax into your first position while breathing in through the nose. Repeat three times.

You’ll see why it’s called the lion. It reminds me of the start of a New Zealand’s rugby match.

Tracey Emin’s Exhibition

Tracey Emin's Exhibition

Saw Tracey Emin’s exhibition at the Hayward – mainly out of curiosity. I wasn’t really expecting much but I did want to see the famed bed. My spirits weren’t lifted by the words of the ticket collector as we went in: “it’s not my cup of tea…” and on entering the first room my expectations seemed to have been met.

The corrugated hut built on stilts, later explained to me as being built in memory of her father who loved to hear the rain against the roof, dominates the room. On the walls, stitch edged blankets hold written or sewn messages from Tracey as a schoolgirl. Shades of Pink Floyd and the Wall. Neon signs blaze out messages of love and sex. I’m starting to get the picture of an adolescent’s yearning for love through sex.

Through to the next room filled with memorabilia. A huge black and white picture of her family at a jolly outdoor celebration covers one wall, glass cabinets filled with notes and pictures of a museum of art somewhere in Camden. This for me is where it starts to get really interesting.

There is a picture called “goodbye mummy” with embroidered flowers emanating from the womb of the outline of a woman. There are used tampons, with an explanation of her type of bleeding and her acceptance of when it will be over. There is a wordless, looped film of her riding a pony on Margate beach (her hometown) and a graphic shot of her face as she looks into the camera and steers the pony away. It should be funny – like someone pretending to be a wild west heroine, but it leaves you feeling uneasy. There is a film of her being interviewed about her abortion. I don’t know whether or not it was filmed for this exhibition or was filmed some time ago. It is very moving.

Her voice is like a sincere child’s voice and thinking about, it that’s what this exhibition is all about for me. The ebullience, wonder and curiosity of a child, taken beyond into adulthood. The fantastic acceptance of it all. It mentioned in the notes that Tracey Chapman first received recognition when she was interviewed for an arts programme on TV. The impact of a voice can never be underestimated.

Cheryl Cole’s Accent

Cheryl Cole

So Cheryl Cole’s been axed from the American X Factor on the grounds that her accent is unintelligible to an American audience. American audiences are notorious for not understanding regional English accents, that much is true. I’ve been instructed by producers of films for the American market, to soften regional accents and make sure that the actors’ regional accents aren’t too strong. Trainspotting had subtitles when it was screened in the USA.

I can accept that a judge on a TV show needs to be easily heard and understood both by the contestants and audiences. However, it doesn’t ring true that Cheryl would be sacked because of not being understood. What was stopping Fox from hiring a discreet voice coach with integrity for Cheryl? Just to make sure that she’s clearly understood?

If it’s alright for Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge to have a voice coach, it’s surely alright for our Cheryl. The Geordie accent is particularly attractive and very much part of her personality and branding. This is show business after all. No, there is more to this than is apparent. Anyone who’s seen recent photos of Cheryl with Simon Callow will have seen the body language of estrangement.

Cheryl should take a leaf out of J-Lo’s book. Can you imagine anyone treating J-Lo badly and getting away with it? I think not.

Paloma Faith is Mockneyed

Paloma Faith

Caw Blimey the beautiful singer Paloma Faith has been complaining that people have been taking the rise out of her cockney accent. One of her Professors at Central Saint Martins, where she trained in theatre and stage design, used to mock her pronunciation and she’s been sounding off about it.

A spokesman from the University of the Arts London, which Central Saint Martins is part of , said: The university is home to a diverse community of staff and students from many different backgrounds, and that diversity is a big part of our strength, so we take Paloma’s comments very seriously. We oppose any kind of discrimination and our teaching staff undergo “fairness in selecting students’ training to ensure a level playing field for all applicants”.

Let’s hope that the “fairness in selecting students’ training” extends to when they are training the students. Too many students get confidence knocked out of them for the way they speak. In the arts it’s more likely that students will take it on the chin, notice that it gets them noticed and start using it as part of their image.

This has happened with people like David Hockney, Janet Street-Porter and Tracy Emin. This too may be happening with Paloma Faith, who brands celebrity culture as “silly” and “superficial”. However, sensitive students, can show an outer strength and suffer inside when their accents have been mocked.

I have 2 lecturers who come to me for training who started “dumbing down” their voice and speech when they were made fun of by their tutors at University.

I would always advise that it’s not your accent but the way you use your accent that matters. If you’re going to be a defiant cocky cockney then people will hear that in your accent. If you’re a reasonable speaker and listener then the chances are people won’t notice your accent – and if they do – then you shouldn’t be wasting your time talking to them. Most accents, if they aren’t over strong, are very attractive.

For those who have to do business internationally, it’s important to make sure their spoken English is clearly and easily understood. Americans for instance, are notorious in not understanding English regional accents, which is one reason while dialect coaches on films being shown in America are asked to make sure that accents aren’t too strong.

It’s important to have a clear enough English accent in video conferences between for instance Australian and Indian business people. No matter how brilliant your software team is, they aren’t going to go too far if they can’t communicate in English. This is why voice coaches like me at Max Your Voice, work with people on Accent Neutralisation.

Some people in politics and the legal professions for instance, want to have their original standard English accent restored to them after a sojourn abroad or want to attain a standard English accent. At Max Your Voice, we do both, with care and sensitivity – and a lot of laughs on the way.

Rhythmic and Vocal Profile of English Spoken Today

Rythmic Profile of English

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 courses email or phone +44(0)20 85422777

Fern Bitton’s Interviewing & Presenting

Fern Britton

Sad to hear that Fern may have her afternoon television show axed. Her interviewing and presenting skills are really good – better than the other contenders for this spot: Peter Andre, etc.

When you watch and listen to a Fern interview, you know that she’s interested in the person or people she’s interviewing, beyond the notes that have been handed to her by her researchers.

The long term Woman’s Hour presenter on radio 4, Jenny Murray, has the same talent. Although we can’t see her we can hear the real “wanting to know” interest in her voice when she’s interviewing people.

Scott James on Radio 1 has the same skill, as does Dermot o’Leary. Lorraine Kelly on morning TV has it in abundance. This ability to listen with care and gently probe the interviewer without unnerving them is a wonderful gift and makes for really good viewing and listening.

It’s the production team and the programme format that has let Fern down. They’re, out of touch with what viewers want. Who would want to tweet a programme with an action for someone who just happens to be in in Oxford? No wonder Fern’s looking and sounding uncomfortable.

Source: The Guardian

BBC World Service

William Hague

Gung-ho William Hague has caused the BBC World Service to axe five of its language services. He says that BBC programmes can be accessed online. Really?

A bit of a struggle to follow a programme when it’s not in your own language and even if your English is good, there’s no comparison to listening to some excellently researched and presented programme in your own language or dialect. The BBC World Service is known for the quality of its unbiased journalism.
We are a small country much smaller than France, why can’t we keep what we’re good at and known for? He’s sending out a poor us voice message to the rest of the world. The money that’s saved by axing the jobs related to the 5 language services will be as nothing to the money lost in this country’s future along with the 30 million listeners.

The reputation of the BBC world service has never been better. Mr Hague is from Yorkshire so what‘s happened to his Yorkshire nowse?

Mistletoe, Mulled Wine & Urban Voices

Vanessa Feltz

There were whoops and standing ovations at The carol concert in aid of the Rainbow Trust tonight.

The golden glow of the inside of St Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge was the setting for an event that brought in the Christmas season. Well warmed through on mulled wine, apple juice and mince pies, we all packed into the church and were treated to some great music from EL8 and Urban Voices. They sang mine, friends Isabel and Ruby and Fearne Cotton’s favourite “All I want for Christmas” which was better in the raw than Maria Carey’s.

There was an address by Anne Harris, Director of Care at the Rainbow Trust, which was a pleasure to listen to. She told a story of the work at Rainbow Trust with a couple of examples of their work. Lightly and seemingly effortlessly told she engaged us throughout a five minute talk without an autocue, never looking at notes and only once lost the rhythm by going too fast.

Vanessa Feltz read The Twelve Thank You Notes of Christmas from Emily to Edward with such fantastic timing it had us rolling in the aisles. She has such a powerful and clear voice. She’d be great doing stand-up. When I was on my way to the BBC Radio London studio one morning the taxi driver who was driving me spent all his time talking about her and her show.

Sometimes it was a tirade against her sometimes in praise of her cleverness. She harnesses her audience and rides with them. She’s one of the few people who can seamlessly talk for hours, switching from subject to subject without losing vocal energy and without losing her audience. She has wonderful thought to voice clarity. I wonder if she talks out loud when she’s writing?

Saturday 4th.

So Arsenal have won. Well I’m happy but I know a few people who aren’t. Normally I don’t like to work unless I’m on the job so to speak, but I have to say I loved the way Gary Lineker uses his voice and who was the commentator of the match? Was it John Lotts? I thought he was wonderful. A slightly spread ‘s’ which far from marring his commentary, sexed it up.