Three concerns

Effective voice production involves at least three things:

  1. an appropriate breathing technique to provide the air support required to produce speech (diaphragmatic breathing)
  2. easy onset of the vibration of the vocal folds when speaking
  3. projecting the voice effortlessly without any strain or pushing

The following provides some ideas that you can try on your own. However, if you have serious and/or ongoing concerns, we recommend that you consult a qualified speech-language pathologist. They will be able to fully assess your needs and plan individualized care.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is also known as abdominal breathing or, simply, as tummy breathing.

A gentle yawn is extremely relaxing for the throat. But not an aggressive, strained, stretched and noisy yawn – more like the gentle yawn that you try to suppress when you’re in polite company and you’re trying to hide the fact that you are yawning. The yawn serves to open the back of the throat (oropharynx) and allow the air in and out easily.

You can learn about diaphragmatic breathing here but the following diagram summarizes the process.

Process for practicing diaphragmatic breathing

Figure 1. Process for practicing diaphragmatic breathing

The following two exercises set out a simple way to practice diaphragmatic breathing until it feels easy and natural. Remember – never force any breathing exercises. Eventually, you will be able to do this without thinking about it. At this point you can begin to carry it over into everyday situations. To begin you will probably want to set small, easily achievable goals in order to build your confidence: perhaps using diaphragmatic breathing the next time you ask for something in a store. Then build this up to longer and more complex interactions. But…be gentle with yourself! It takes time to learn a new habit.

Breathing exercise 1

(1)

Breathe in gently for a count of 3

Hold for 2 counts

Breathe out gently for a count of 3        (do this 5 times)

(2)

Breathe in gently for a count of 3

Hold for 2 counts

Breathe out gently for a count of 4        (do this 5 times)

(3)

Breathe in gently for a count of 3

Hold for 2 counts

Breathe out gently for a count of 4        (do this 5 times)

You can continue this exercise up to a ‘Breathe out gently count’ of 8 if you wish. However, DO NOT STRAIN. A good, gentle and relaxed breathing out gently to a count of 6 is much better for your practice than a bad, strained breathing out to a count of 8.

Breathing exercise 2

Take in a gentle breath for a count of 3, then let it out on a sss sound without straining for……

  • 3 counts
  • 4 counts
  • 5 counts
  • …up to 8 counts

If you can do this exercise gently up to a count of 8, then try it again using the sound sh (as in shop), then the sound f (as in fish), and finally the very quiet sound th (as in think). Remember…do not force the air or strain in any way. Gentleness is the key here.

Easy onset

When we vocalize sounds the vocal folds vibrate. Ideally, the vocal folds should vibrate in an easy, relaxed fashion without them being forced together – without any unnecessary straining. With some voice difficulties (e.g. functional dysphonia) the vocal folds are often brought together too harshly at the beginning of words, especially when a word begins with a vowel sound. This is known as hard attack.

Hard attack, rather like throat clearing, can potentially traumatize the vocal folds, causing inflammation, swelling and localized irritation. Effective voice production requires us to eliminate hard attack and substitute its opposite – easy onset.

Easy onset is achieved by ensuring that the vocal tract is relaxed and open – without any excessive muscle tension around the neck area – so that the vocal folds can move easily and smoothly. There is a simple way to practice this technique by placing the sound /h/ in front of words that begin with vowel sounds.

You can read about easy onset exercises here.

Voice projection

Integrating breathing and easy onset with a good, relaxed posture – without any strain – is the key to being able to project your voice without any undue effort, i.e.

It’s usually necessary to be taught how safely project your voice by a qualified person: so you don’t adopt any potential harmful habits. However, practicing the above exercises will begin to set the foundation for good projection, with adequate volume.

You can try some specific voice projection exercises here.

If you have ongoing concerns then please consult a qualified speech-language pathologist.

Further reading

Using effective voice production techniques is an important step in reducing the possibility of developing a functional voice difficulty (functional dysphonia). The six recommended steps are:

Symptoms and causes of functional dysphonia

1. Understanding symptoms and causes of functional dysphonia

Voice production

2. Understanding voice production

Improving vocal habits

3. Improving vocal habits

Effective voice production

4. Using effective voice production techniques (this article)

Managing the speaking environment

5. Managing the speaking environment

Maximizing your physical and emotional health

6. Maximizing your physical and emotional health