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and down the scale in speech as it is in song. Indeed, it is astonishing how many speakers there are whose vocal melody approaches almost complete monotony! Some people speak in a monotone both in private conversation and in public address. But it is interesting to observe that many people who speak with a reasonable degree of vocal flexibility in conversation, strike an almost dead level when they come to address an audience. This is often due to a conception that private conversation, being more or less informal, needs no special or peculiar tone; so by merely letting the voice go, it flexes itself naturally. But the moment they rise to speak they assume a more formal tone, that is often very inflexible and almost expressionless. How different it would be if they understood fully the instrument that they are using and, like the organist, knew how to use all the stops !
The compass of the speaking voice. The compass of the speaking voice may be arbitrarily divided for purposes of this discussion into an upper range, a middle range, and a low range. Some people, particularly those of a nervous, high-strung temperament, sometimes have voices which are keyed so high that they seem never to descend below the upper range.
This makes the tones sound shrill and strident. The ear of the listener is held constantly at a tension and soon longs for the satisfying tones of the lower registers. Then there are others, usually of the opposite temperament, who suppress their tones, speak under the breath or in the throat, and seem rarely ever to lift the voice above the lower register. This mode of speech does not hold the ear at a tension like that of the voice that is keyed high, but is usually almost
as annoying, for the low-keyed voice is often hard to understand. The mumblers belong to this class and those who speak as though they were always just a little afraid that someone would overhear their conversation. The voice that continues constantly in any one of the three ranges, whether it be high, middle, or low, is sure to be monotonous, for it is limited to one third of the compass that it ought to have.
False adjustments of the voice. A great many speakers have the idea that by holding the voice on a high plane of pitch and using big tones they are making their speech very effective. The truth is that it is usually very ineffective. The high pitch and the loud tones lend themselves to a grandiloquent style of speech that is both monotonous and inexpressive of genuine thought or feeling. Then sometimes the speaker thinks that by holding the voice down and continuing on a low plane he is making his words very weighty and impressive. To be sure, impressiveness may be gained in just this way if there be the proper emotion back of it, but it often becomes ludicrous when the hearers understand that it is merely a trick.
The means of securing variety that used to be employed by the old-time exhorter furnishes an interesting study in pitch. The speaker would assume a very high plane of pitch and continue without variation for a considerable time, working into a veritable frenzy. Then of a sudden the voice would drop to a low level, the speaker seeming to think that he was thereby making his speech very effective. Such a use of the voice is, in fact, not at all effective. It is merely a movement of the voice up and
down in a purposely mechanical way, without regard to the thought or feeling to be expressed.
The starting point in the study of pitch. The point of departure in the study of pitch is the so-called middle key, that is commonly employed in normal conversation. This key differs greatly with different individuals. What would be a middle key for one voice might seem a high key to one whose vocal apparatus is tuned rather low, and vice versa. The female voice is usually keyed somewhat higher than the male voice, and the voice of the child much higher than that of the adult. This, however, is not the important consideration. Differences due to nature all will recognize, but unfortunately voices of unnatural key are often developed unconsciously. The termagant woman acquires unconsciously a high-keyed, strident voice from constantly scolding her family. Children in the grades are sometimes encouraged to vie with one another in answering questions put by the teacher, until they develop that shrill, metallic voice that has been characterized by foreigners as the "American voice." How different in the schools of many countries where pupils are taught to use mellow tones in a pleasing key !
Public speakers on rising to address an audience often hold the voice in a strained, unnatural key that is entirely foreign to the general pitch of their conversation. It is faults of this kind that have to be overcome in order to make speech effective.
In the study of pitch there are two essentials :
I. Establishing a pleasing, normal key for all ideas that naturally find expression in an ordinary conversational tone.
II. Gaining the vocal flexibility whereby the voice will pass readily through all the planes of pitch, whether middle, high, or low, as the thought may require.
In regard to the first point it is evident that many voices are keyed too high to be pleasing for public speech. It may be due to habits continued from childhood or to assuming a high-pitched tone on rising to speak. Whatever the cause, such voices must be brought down before they are pleasant to listen to. This can best be done by sitting down and engaging in conversation with someone whose natural speaking voice is well keyed. Speak slowly and let the ear catch the difference in pitch of the two voices. Continue speaking in a tone that seems more and more confidential until the voice is gradually brought down from its high level to a plane that seems to be exactly suited to this conversation.
Then stand up, as if to make a public speech, letting the other person act as auditor. Be certain that the voice does not become artificial and go back to its original high level. Speak in very much the same confidential tone as before, only loud enough for the voice to carry easily to all parts of the room. Direct every word straight at the auditor. Use the vocative, calling him by name at the beginning of every few sentences. Let him answer back in a conversational tone, establishing all the conditions of the most direct communicative address. These devices, if persistently used, will do more than almost anything else to overcome that artificiality of speech which is due to lifting the voice to a strained, unnatural key.
The same exercise may be used if the tone is pitched too low and the voice seems harsh and throaty, the problem here being to bring the voice up to a normal key, just as in the former case it was to bring it down.
Other devices may be used with good results if practiced in the right manner. If the voice is pitched low and seems flat and lifeless, it is well to read or declaim passages full of life and vigor that ascend into a high plane of pitch, as the lines from "Macbeth,” Act II, scene iii, spoken by Macduff upon the discovery of the murder of King Duncan :
up, and walk like sprites,
If the voice is high and strained, lines of a tranquil nature that tend to require a rather low plane of pitch may be used, as :
Sweet and low, sweet and low,
And I saw the night come down on that house, falling gently as the wings of an unseen dove. And the old man
— as a startled bird called from the forest, and the trees were shrill with the cricket's cry, and the stars were swarming in the sky — got the family around him, and taking the old Bible from the table, called them to their knees. HENRY W. GRADY, "Homes of the People”