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when the mind becomes more or less passive, or when the speaker assumes a kind of "speaker's tone,” then the artificial swing is likely to take the place of conversational variety, and monotony is the result.
The important thing is that the speaker or reader be able to employ the same flexibility of voice that he would in all probability use if he became engaged in an earnest argument. In this case the voice would travel through pitch with much vigor, in response to the emotional conditions induced by the argument; while, if he were to appear before an audience for a formal speech, the chances are that all of the elements of conversation would disappear and a "speaker's tone,” with some one or all of the faults that have been mentioned, would be used. Or if he were to attempt to read something formally, a distinct "reader's tone” would very likely take the place of the natural variety of communication.
Lively flexibility of the voice usually indicates lively activity of the mind; so, just as in action or in any other means of expression, it is necessary to go back to the primary cause, the mental and emotional stimuli that prompt the voice to move in a lively fashion up and down through the range of pitch. If the voice of the speaker is flat and lifeless, continuing almost without variation on a single level, the first step is to stimulate vigorous thinking. It is of little value for the teacher to show the pupil how this effect or that may be gained by a movement of the voice up or down, if there is no stimulus in the pupil's mind that will prompt such action. If the voice is unresponsive to the thought, let the teacher put very pointed questions to the pupil regarding the subject under discussion,
drawing him out and discovering how much he really knows about it. In this way the pupil will be obliged to concentrate. If his mind has been passive, and his ideas are merely floating along in his consciousness, this will serve to wake him up; and in order to answer intelligently the questions put to him he will unconsciously employ lively vocal flexibility. Every resource of the teacher should be employed to stimulate his thought and imagination and to aid him in giving expression to them. In doing this it is desirable to keep the mechanical side of the vocal action as much in the background as possible.
One writer upon this subject has said, “Many of the modulations of the voice are as involuntary as the twinkle of the eye."1 This is exactly what should be true of all modulations of the voice ; in fact, of all vocal action whatsoever. The speaker ought never to have to think whether the voice is acting in one way or another. He should be able to use his voice so that it unconsciously mirrors what is taking place in his mind; and for purposes of practical speaking this can best be accomplished by centering the attention chiefly upon the thought to be expressed and by giving attention to the mechanics of the process only as it is found to be necessary.
If a student has a naturally flexible voice and employs good conversational variety in both his private and public address, surely it would be very much of a waste of time for him to spend any considerable amount of energy on inflectional drills. For practical purposes a working knowledge of the essentials of pitch, rather than a formal study of the intricacies of technical elocution, is desirable.
1 Curry, Lessons in Vocal Expression, p. 3.
Very often the speaker who is thoroughly alive to his subject and very earnest in his desire to impress his hearers will speak with good inflectional variety. If, however, such lively activity of thought does not result in effective expression, inflectional drills may be resorted to. In this case it is desirable to understand how the voice acts as it passes through the range of pitch, and how this action influences actual speaking. Such drills should not be made an end in themselves, but merely a means for more effective expression of the speaker's thought. All mechanical action of the voice should be relegated to subconsciousness as rapidly as it can be made a vocal habit.
In considering the movement of the voice through pitch, it may be said that it acts always according to two principles :
I. It skips from one point in pitch to another, as when consecutive words, or consecutive syllables of the same word, are placed on different levels.
II. It glides up or down on a single syllable.
This constant skipping or gliding movement makes it possible for the speaker to convey sentiments ranging from delicate shades of thought or emotion to the most intense passion. If, for instance, he is moved by feelings so intense that he flies into a rage, his expression is likely to be such that the voice will move with skips and glides that extend through the whole compass, giving tremendous emphasis to the speaker's words. If, on the other hand, the expression is that of mild or tranquil ideas, the movement of the voice will be much less vigorous, the skips and glides being very much shorter and less abrupt. We have already seen how the voice skips from point to point, making one part prominent by setting it high and another part subordinate by giving it inferior place. In like manner its action as it glides up or down on each syllable shows the relative importance of different ideas and expresses varying degrees of meaning. These glides, commonly known as inflections, are of three kinds : rising, falling, and bending (technically, circumflex) inflections. It is a mistake to suppose that the inflections of the voice serve merely to show grammatical relations; that a rising inflection must be used at every comma or interrogation point and a falling inflection at every colon or period, as is sometimes taught in the schools. No such mechanical law can be depended upon. Inflections serve to show logical rather than grammatical relations. A sentence of a given grammatical structure may be read so as to express many different meanings, depending upon how the voice is inflected in its interpretation. The simple declarative sentence "He will go," if read with rising inflections, may express uncertainty and ask for information, as if it said, “He will go, will he?” The same
? sentence, if read with decisive falling inflections, asserts with positiveness, "He will go"; while, if read with
; decided bendings of the voice, it might express sarcastically the absurdity of such an assertion, as if to say, "Yes, he will be likely to go!”
In brief, it may be said that all expression by means of vocal inflection depends upon the thought and intent of the speaker. If the inflections of the voice take the form of a movement that has an almost mechanical regularity, it is usually an indication of lax thinking. The
speaker who does not express himself with discrimination, but allows his thoughts to float along in a loose fashion, is very likely to fall into the habit of using one kind of inflection very much to excess. Often it is a predominance of falling inflections, the voice dropping constantly at the close of nearly every phrase, regardless of whether or not the thought demands it. This makes the delivery seem heavy and lifeless. The constant dropping of the voice at almost regular intervals produces a form of monotony that has very much the same effect upon the ear as that of the speaker whose voice travels nearly on a single pitch level.
The same is true of the excessive use of the rising inflections. With some speakers the voice never seems to fall at any point, but to strike upward constantly. This impresses the ear with a sense of continued uncertainty and lack of finality of purpose, as though the speaker were never quite sure of himself. In a similar way some speakers use an excessive number of bending inflections of the voice, which make them appear to be always rather desirous of appearing affable and ingratiating.
To speakers who are monotonous because of the excessive use of one kind of inflection a knowledge of the general effect of the voice as it strikes up or down is of much value. If we listen to the effects produced by the different kinds of inflections, it is at once apparent that strokes of the voice upward give lightness to the expression; that strokes of the voice downward give weight; while bends of the voice produce effects quite different from those of either the rising or the falling inflections. The following general laws of inflection make its use clear: