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- Public Speaking - 5/65 -

degree or way. These faults cause a tightening in the throat, and affect the character of the tone. It will generally be advantage to the tone if the lips are trained to be very slightly protruding, in bell shape, and if the corners of the mouth be not allowed to droop, but be made very slightly to curve upward. The tongue takes of course various positions for different vowels. For our purposes, it may be sufficient to say that it will play its part best if it be not stiffened but is left quite free and elastic, perhaps quite relaxed, and if the tip of it be made to play easily down behind the lower teeth.

Since voice has here been discussed in an objective sort of way, it is fitting to emphasize the importance of what is called naturalness, or more correctly, simplicity. Everybody desires this sort of result. It can readily be seen, however, that about everything we do is a second nature; is done, that is to say, in the acquired, acceptable, conventional way. Voice and speech are largely determined by surrounding influences, and what we come to regard as natural may be only an acquired bad habit, which is, in fact, quite unnatural. Voice should certainly be what we call human. Better it should have some human faults than be smoothed out into negative perfection, without the true ring, the spunk of individuality. There is, nevertheless, a best naturalness, or second nature, and a worst. The object of training is to find the best.

In this discussion of voice some of the ideas often applied to the first steps in the cultivation of singing have been presented, as those most effective also for training in speech. Although, on the surface, singing and speaking are quite different, fundamentally they are the same. Almost all persons have, if they will use it, an ear for musical pitch and tone, and the neglect to cultivate, in early life, the musical hearing and the singing tone is a mistake. To prospective public speakers it is something like a misfortune. The best speakers have had voices that sang in their speaking. This applies distinctly to the speaking, for example, of Wendell Phillips, who is commonly called the most colloquial of our public speakers. It has often been commented on in the case of Gladstone, and applies peculiarly to some of our present-day speakers, who would be called, not orators, but impressive talkers. The meaning is, not of course that speaking should sound like singing, or necessarily like oratory, but that to the trained ear the best speaking has fundamentally the singing conditions, and the voice has singing qualities; and the elementary exercises designed for singing are excellent, in their simpler forms and methods, for the speaking voice. In carrying out this idea in voice training, the selections here given for the earliest exercises, are such as naturally call for some slight approach to the singing tone. Some are in the spirit and style of song or hymn; others are in the form of address to distant auditors, wherein the reciter would call to a distance, or "sing out," as we say. This kind of speaking is a way of quickly "bringing out" the voice. Young students especially are very apt in this, getting the idea at once, though needing, as a rule, special cautions and guidance for keeping the proper vocal conditions, so as to prevent "forcing." The passages are simple in spirit and form. They carry on one dominant feeling, needing little variation of voice. The idea is to render them in a way near to the monotone, that the student may learn to control one tone, so to speak, or to speak nearly in one key, before doing the more varied tones of familiar speech or of complex feeling. We might say the passages are to be read in some degree like the chant; but the chant is likely to bring an excess of head resonance and is too mechanical. The true spirit of the selections is to be given, from the first, but reduced to its very simplest form. Difficulties arise, in this first step, in the case of two classes of student: those who lack sentiment or imagination, or at least the faculty of vocally expressing it, and those with an excess of feeling. The former class have to be mentally awakened; for some motive element, aesthetic appreciation or imaginative purpose, should play a part, as has been said, even in technical vocal training. The latter class must be restrained. Excessive emotion either chokes off expression, or runs away with itself. Calmness, evenness, poise, the easy control that comes from a degree of relaxation, without loss of buoyancy,--these are the conditions for good accomplishment of any kind. This self-mastery the high-strung, ardent spirit must learn, in order to become really strong. This is accomplished, in the case of a nervous temperament, not by tightening up and trying hard, but by relaxing, by letting down. In the use of these passages the voice will be set at first slightly high in pitch, in order to help in keeping a continuous sounding of tone against the roof of the mouth and to a proper degree in the head. This average pitch, or key, or at least the character of the tone, will be maintained without much change, and with special care that the tone be kept up in its place at the ends of lines or sentences, and be kept well fixed on its breath foundation. The simpler inflections indicating the plain meaning, will of course be observed, the tone will be kept easily supported by the frequently recovered breath that is under it. The back of the mouth will seem to be constantly somewhat open. There will be no attempt at special power, but only a free, mellow, flowing tone of moderate strength. In the exercise each voice will be treated, in detail, according to its particular needs, and in each teacher's own way.

At the time of student life, when physical conditions are not matured, the counsel should repeatedly be given, not only that the voice, though used often and regularly, should be used moderately, but also that the voice should be kept youthful--youthful, if it can be, even in age--but especially in youth, whatever the kind of literature used for practice. Also youth should be counseled not to try to make a voice like the voice of some one else, some speaker, or actor, or teacher. It will be much the best if it is just the student's own.


In the earliest exercises here given the tone will be, for the best and most immediate effect, kept running on somewhat in a straight line, so to speak; will have a certain sameness of sound; will be perhaps somewhat monotonous, because kept pretty much in one key, or in one average degree of pitch. It will perhaps be necessary to make the utterance for the time somewhat artificial. The voice is in the artificial stage, as is the work of an oarsman, for example, in learning the parts of the stroke, or that of a golfer in learning the "swing," although in the case of some students, when the vocal conditions are good and the tone is well balanced, very little of the artificial process is necessary. In that case the voice simply needs, in its present general form, to be developed.

The next step in the training is to try a more varied use of the voice, without a loss of what has been acquired as to formation of tone. The student is to make himself able to slide the voice up and down in pitch, by what is called inflection, to raise or lower the pitch by varied intervals, momentarily to enlarge or diminish the tone, in expressive ways; in short, to adapt the improved tone, the more effective method of voice control, to more varied speech. In the early practice for getting tone variation, the student must guard most carefully against "forcing." Additional difficulties arise when we have vocal changes, and moderate effort, in the degree of the change, is best. In running the tone up, one should let the voice take its own way. The tone should not be pushed or held by any slightest effort at the throat. The control should, as has been said, be far below the throat. In running an inflection from low to high, the tone may be allowed, especially in the earlier practice, to thin out at the top. And always when the pitch is high the tone should be smaller, as it is on a musical instrument, though it should have a consistent depth and dignity from its proper degree of connection with the chest. This consistent character in the upper voice is attained by giving the tone a bit of pomp or nobleness of quality. In taking a low pitch there is, among novices, always a tendency to bear down on the tone in order to gain strength or to give weight to utterance. The voice is thus crowded into, or on, the throat. The voice should never be pushed down or pressed back in the low pitch. This practice leads to raggedness of tone, and finally to virtual loss of the lower voice. The voice should fall of itself with only that degree of force which is legitimately given by the breath tension, produced easily, though firmly, by the breathing muscles. Breadth will be given to the tone by some degree of expansion at the back of the mouth, or in the pharynx. As soon as can be, the speech should be brought down to the utmost of simplicity and naturalness, so that the thought of literature can be expressed with reality and truth; can be made to sound exactly as if it came as an unstudied, spontaneous expression of the student's own mind, and yet so it can be heard, so it will be adequate, so it will be pleasing in sound. The improved tone is to become the student's inevitable, everyday voice.


The term enunciation means the formation of words, including right vocal shape to the vowels and right form to the consonants. Pronunciation is scholastic, relating to the word accent and the vowel sound. Authority for this is in the dictionary. Enunciation, belonging to elocution, is the act of forming those authorized sounds into finished speech.

There is a common error regarding enunciation. It is usual, if a speaker is not easily understood, to say that he should "articulate" more clearly; that is, make the consonants more pronounced, and young students are thus often urged into wrongly directed effort with the tongue and lips. Sometimes in books, articulation "stunts," in the form of nonsense alliterations, are prescribed, by which all the vowels are likely to be chewed into consonants. The result is usually an overexertion, and a consequent tightening, of the articulating muscles. At first, and for a time, it may appear that this forcing of the articulation brings the desired result of clearer speech, but it will, in the end, be destructive to voice and bring incoherent utterance. Articulation exercises too difficult for the master, should not be given to the novice. All teachers of singing train voices, at first, on the vowel, and it should be known that, without right vowel, or tone, formation, efforts at good articulation are futile. Every technical vocal fault must be referred back to the fundamental condition of right formation of tone, that is, the vowel. Sputtering, hissing, biting, snapping, of consonants is not enunciation. The student should learn how without constraint, to prolong vowels; learn, if you please, the fundamentals of singing, and articulation, the formation of consonants, the jointing of syllables, will become easy. The reason for this is that when the vowel tone is rightly produced, all the vocal muscles are freed; the tongue, lips, and jaw act without constraint.

The principle of rhythm simplifies greatly the problem of enunciation. It is easier, not only to make good tone, but also to speak words, in the reading of verse than of prose. It is much easier to read a rhythmical piece of prose than one lacking in rhythm. All prose, then, should be rendered with as much rhythmical flow as is allowed consistently with its spirit and meaning. Care must be taken of course that no singsong effect occurs; that the exact meaning receives first attention. In case of long, hard words, ease is attained by making a slight pause before the word or before its preposition or article or other closely attached word, and by giving a strong beat to its accented syllable or syllables, with little effort on the subordinate syllables.

The particular weakness among Americans, in the speaking of words, is

Public Speaking - 5/65

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