Develop a Strong He-Man Voice by Using the Voice Nature Gave You

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 13, 2011 · 79 comments

in A Man's Life, Personal Development

Have you ever listened to a recording of your voice and cringed?

Perhaps you were surprised about how nasally or high-pitched it was, or how hard you were to understand. Perhaps in that moment you wished for a manlier, more pleasant-sounding voice.

A deep, strong, masculine voice is not without its benefits. Women prefer men with deeper voices, and find what they say more memorable than men with higher-pitched ones. And a strong, deep voice can make a man seem more confident and authoritative.

But here’s the deal. There isn’t much we can do to deepen our voices substantially.  You’re pretty much stuck with the voice nature gave you. So if you sound like Super Mario (or God bless you, Toad), you’ll probably never sound like Sean Connery. Sorry.

But you know what? That’s okay.

You don’t have to have a rich baritone voice to be successful in love or life. Instead, you just need to make the most of what you’ve got. Today we’ll cover how to do that.

Why You Need to Stop Trying to Sound Like James Earl Jones

You’re working against nature.  The deepness of a voice is primarily determined by the length and thickness of the vocal cords. Longer and thicker vocal cords produce lower, James Earl Jones-like pitches. So, if you want a deeper voice, you just need to thicken and lengthen your vocal cords. Easy, right?

Hate to break it to you, but unless you can travel back into time to when you were 12 years old, there’s nothing you can do to naturally lengthen and thicken your vocal cords. Puberty was your magic window to developing that signature Darth Vadar voice.

Remember all that embarrassing voice cracking? That was your vocal cords being exposed to increased amounts of testosterone. As your body went into testosterone overdrive during puberty, the hormone went to work on your vocal cords, causing them to lengthen and thicken. Boys who produced more testosterone during puberty turned into men with thicker and longer vocal cords, and consequently, naturally deeper voices. (Researchers theorize that this, by the way, is why women prefer deeper voices; they signal that a man has more T, which back in primitive times might of meant he was a stronger and more virile protector and provider.)

It can damage your voice. Because men usually want a deeper voice than the one they have, they’ll artificially lower it by projecting their voice from the lower part of their throat. To hear and feel what I mean, speak in the lowest pitch that you can, and pay attention to where you feel the sound emanating.

Did you do it? You felt the vibrations primarily in your throat, right?

While you may feel uber-manly talking with that low voice, you’re actually doing damage to your vocal cords. Consistently producing sound primarily from your lower throat does some major wear and tear on your vocal cords. If you lose your voice or feel hoarse frequently, it’s probably because you’re speaking with an artificially low pitch.

John F. Kennedy had this problem. In everyday conversation, JFK would use his God-given natural pitch. But during debates or speeches, he’d start projecting sound from his lower throat to get that deep, manly, and authoritative voice. The result? Hoarseness and oftentimes voice loss.

No one can understand you. When you speak from your lower throat to get that low pitch, you produce a sound that lacks carrying power. Try speaking with an artificially lowered pitch again. Go as low as you can, but speak as loud as you can. Dimes to donuts you couldn’t get very loud and your voice sounded sort of muffled. I also bet your vocal cords felt a bit strained too.

I remember when I was an insecure 13-year-old, I’d speak with an artificially lower pitch. I thought I sounded like a grown-up, but nobody could understand what I was saying. When I’d talk to people they’d lean their ear towards me and ask me to repeat what I just said. I finally gave up and just started using my normal voice.

Your primary concern when speaking is to communicate. There’s no point in sounding like Barry White if no one understands a word of what you’re saying.

There’s actually a way you can deepen your voice just a bit (and I mean just a bit) without straining your voice while also maintaining understandability. We share the secret below. Keep reading.

How to Develop Your Natural Voice to Its Full Potential (And Make It a Bit Deeper, Too)

Alright, so we all can’t sound like Dean Martin, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work on developing a more pleasant-sounding voice. After talking to a few voice actors and reading up on books about voice theory, I’ve learned that we’d all be better served if we spent our time developing our natural voices to their full potential, not artificially lowering them. As one voice actor told me: “The manliest voice is the voice you’ve already got. You just need to find it and own it.”

If your voice is higher-pitched than you’d like, despair not. Both Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt had higher-pitched voices, and yet each was a memorable and convincing orator–because they made the best of their natural voices.

So what does your best natural voice sound like? A good voice is one that is filled with warmth and expression; it should also have an even resonance that’s easy on the ears, it should carry well so people can understand exactly what you’re saying, and it should be flexible and have a wide range of natural pitches.

Unless you’re a singer or actor, you probably haven’t gotten any instruction on how to use your voice properly. Consequently, most of us have probably been using a sub-optimal voice because we’ve picked up voice habits that prevent us from sounding like our best selves. Most men use a voice that’s lower than their natural pitch, resulting in a voice that’s hard to understand. Other men might have a nasally-sounding voice that gets on people’s nerves.

There are two things you can do to speak with your best voice possible. First, speak with your natural pitch. Second, breath from your diaphragm for a more powerful, commanding, and, yes, a bit deeper voice. Ready to find your best voice? Let’s get started.

Method #1 for Improving Your Voice: Find Your Natural Pitch and Optimal Tone by Projecting from Your “Mask”

As I mentioned above, most men are probably walking around speaking from their lower throat to get an artificially deep voice. We’ve already covered the problems that come with this. If you have a nasally-sounding tone, your problem is that you’re speaking from just your nose.

To speak with your natural pitch and optimal tone, you need to project your voice from your “mask.” Where’s your mask? Glad you asked. It’s the area on your face that includes your lips and the bridge and sides of your nose. You know you’re projecting from your mask when you feel the area slightly vibrate when you speak. When you can feel vibration in that area, you know you’re speaking with your optimal pitch and tone. A voice projected from the mask won’t be nasally nor will it strain your throat.

According to voice coach, Dr. Morton Cooper, here’s how to hone in on your optimal pitch and tone that comes from speaking from your mask:

Answer the following statement with a spontaneous and sincere “mmm-hmmm.” Keep your lips closed and let your inflection rise on the “hmmm.” Pay attention for a slight vibration in your mask area.

“The Art of Manliness is the greatest website of all time. I grow chest hair every time I visit it.”

“Mmm-hmmm.”

Did you feel the vibration in your mask? That mmm-hmmm is your natural pitch and tone.

Now say “mmm-hmm-one, mmm-hmmm-two, mmm-hmmm-three, etc.” Check to see if the numbers are the same pitch and tone as your mmm-hmms.

From here on out, focus on speaking with that optimal pitch and tone. It will take some practice, but it will be well worth the effort.

Method #2 for Improving Your Voice: Add Bravado and Power by Breathing from Your Diaphragm

Now that we’ve found our voice’s natural pitch and tone, it’s time to add some of that manly he-man oomph to it. We do that by proper breathing. If you’re like most people, you’ve been breathing wrong for most of your life. You’d think something as easy as breathing would be hard to screw up.

Take a breath. Did your chest and shoulders rise? Yes? You just failed at breathing.

When your chest and shoulders rise when you breathe, it means you’re breathing with your chest. This sort of breath is weak and squeezes the throat area, causing strain on your voice.

Proper diaphragm breathing

A proper breath originates in the diaphragm. You know you’re breathing correctly if your belly moves in and out and your chest and shoulders stay still. Watch how a baby breathes. This is how they do it. For some reason, we pick up poor breathing habits as we get older and start breathing from our chests.

Breathing from your diaphragm when you speak does a few things for your voice. First, it gives your voice more power. Try it. Say a few lines of gibberish, but focus on beginning your breath from your diaphragm. Imagine you’re pushing your voice out from your belly and out your mask. The harder you push, the louder your voice will be. Speak as loudly as you can using this technique. Notice how your voice fills the room, yet there isn’t any strain on your throat. Pretty cool, huh?

The second benefit of breathing from your diaphragm is that it does deepen your voice a bit without the ill-effects of trying to speak from your throat. Your voice will have more resonance and gravitas as you breathe correctly.

Owning Your Unique Voice

Improving your natural voice is something doable and within your reach. Believe it or not, Morgan Freeman once spoke with a voice that was an octave or so higher than it is today. When he was in college, a professor helped him work on deepening it a little. While the timbre of your own voice may never be movie narration-ready, it can be one that gives you confidence and leaves others enjoying the sound of your words.

And don’t despair if after weeks of practice your voice still doesn’t sound exactly the way you want it. Perhaps you’ll never get rid of that nasally voice. Instead of fretting over it, just own the crap out of it. Make it your calling card. Lots of people have made a living off their “unpleasant” sounding voices. Howard Cosell spoke right from his nose, but that nasally voice became recognized by sports fans across the nation. Kate and I love listening to This American Life on NPR. The show’s host, Ira Glass, has a really nasally sort of high-pitched voice that wouldn’t normally be classified as attractive or pleasant-sounding.

Glass had this to say about his distinctive voice in an interview in the Salt Lake Tribune: “If you compare my voice with a really great radio announcer, I’m just a whiny Jew.”

But that “whiny Jew voice” is one of the most recognized voices on radio. I know This American Life wouldn’t be the same without it.

Bottom line: Do your best with the voice you have, but don’t fret too much about whether it’s “manly” enough. Just own it. That’s the manly thing to do.

For further reading on improving the quality of your voice check out Change Your Voice Change Your Life by Dr. Morton Cooper. It’s a quick read that’s jammed pack with tips on improving your voice.

Do you have any other tips on improving your voice quality? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 79 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jason November 13, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I never knew that deliberately talking in a low voice could damage your vocal chords. Thanks for the warning. When I listen to other men’s voices on TV and in movies I do notice that many of them don’t have particular low voices but that doesn’t make them any less masculine in sound.

2 David November 13, 2011 at 4:35 pm

I think another tip is to keep your head held high, and keep your mouth hydrated.

3 Brian November 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm

While I could stand to speak a little louder and enunciate more, my natural speaking voice once earned me the nickname “Barry White”

4 Nick November 13, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Brett-
Amazing article.
I’ve skimmed some books on speaking better, and this article had more practical info that most of those books combined.
The speaking from your Mask exercise was so simple and so effective.
The breathing section was helpful too.
And I liked how you encouraged us all to own our voice, no matter what it sounds like.

5 Don November 13, 2011 at 6:21 pm

A subject very near and dear to my heart….or, rather, my voice. I’ve never liked the sound of it. People have a hard time hearing or understanding me. Definitely going to be working on this over the next few days.

6 Colonel November 13, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Man, great timing. I was just thinking about this and how to improve my own speaking skills. Thanks.

7 Dave November 13, 2011 at 7:05 pm

A simple step is to record and listen to your own voice. Most people are surprised at how their speaking voice actually sounds in a recording, since it’s not the same as the way it sounds to you when you talk. I initially hated the sound of my recorded voice (bad, since I was doing radio ads), but after hearing it a lot you get more comfortable with it and less self-conscious. Then you can do vocal exercises to make changes if you want, or you can just enjoy what you’ve got.

8 Stephen November 13, 2011 at 7:16 pm

@David:

Agreed. Posture is essential for this.

9 Scott November 13, 2011 at 8:23 pm

I’m really glad that AoM is doing an article about which I have some expertise as a trained singer. It’s true that most men try to speak in voices that are too low. If you pay attention, you’ll often hear people – men and women – with voices that even crackle (often called vocal fry). But, it’s not just true of men. Women in America are suffering from the same thing. One of the first things I notice when I spend time in Europe is how feminine the natural speaking voices of the women are. It almost seems like low-tone speaking among women is another unintended consequence of feminism where women try to assert authority through the use of their voice.

10 jimmm November 13, 2011 at 8:28 pm

I can think of 2 guys right off the bat to whom I would love to send this article!

Brett, because I’m a big fan of yours, I just gotta tell ya: The term is “home in,” not “hone in” – banish it forever.

11 Robert Palmar November 13, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Great succinct advice and all true. Thanks, Brett.

And hone in is correct and used approximately:
HONE IN
intransitive verb
: to move toward or focus attention on an objective

Full definition and usage here:
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hone%20in

12 Brandon Moore November 13, 2011 at 8:55 pm

“Take a breath. Did your chest and shoulders rise? Yes? You just failed at breathing.”

i laughed so hard at this! love the article. well done as always :)

13 Greg November 13, 2011 at 9:24 pm

“Do your best with the voice you have, but don’t fret too much about.”

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. Be passionate, be honest and be yourself.

People listen to genuine people.

Thanks Brett and Kate!

14 TubbyMike November 13, 2011 at 10:00 pm

Very interesting article. I’ve always hated the sound of my own voice; I have the most unfashionable accent in the known universe.

Higher pitched voices are not always undesirable. I like the sound of Peter McNichol and David Sedaris: both similar sounding voices and not what you’d call low.

15 Itchy H November 13, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I noticed that every time after watching a game(shouting, yelling, and cheering) I wake up the next morning with a very deep voice, and it stays with me for the whole day and sometimes for 2 days.

16 Manflaps November 13, 2011 at 10:56 pm

I usually just scream to some Metallica or Chester from Linkin Park before I see a chick. My voice gets deeper and sometimes even sounds strained for a couple hours, which I think sounds sorta sexy. Worst case, she asks and you tell her “I was singing”. I think my voice has gotten deeper over time but I’m not totally sure about that.

17 Rob November 13, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Itchy, my voice gets like that too after a night on the town. Something to do with alcohol making me more boisterous and loud pubs necessitating a louder Rob I guess.

Thanks for this article. One of my new years resolutions was to improve the power and clarity of my voice, and even though it’s a bit late I can see this working immediately.

18 Clay November 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Nice advice on using the diaphragm. I learned that first on a theater I was in high school. Every time I have to delivery a speech, be it in a small class or an open space, I utilize my diaphragm. Very good at delivering a loud and powerful voice. Don’t overuse it though, I tend to do that and I get too loud sometimes. I’ll try that projecting form your “mask” might help improve my speaking voice, or singing voice I hope.

19 Dan November 13, 2011 at 11:27 pm

“Voice Power” by Renee Grant Williams is another good book on voice training. It includes various practical exercise, the old standby Me Mi Ma Mo Mu, and a playful no-nonsense tone by the author.

20 PJB863 November 14, 2011 at 1:21 am

A couple of years ago, when I was training to be a corrections officer, we called this “proper voice.” It wasn’t meant to be sexy, it was meant to be a voice people listened to and heeded. One’s voice could be high pitched, or low pitched, but it was a voice the intended audience heeded – loud, strong, and clearly understandable.

What more could any man want, than to be clearly heard and understood?

21 Evan R November 14, 2011 at 1:43 am

Sweet article. I never really thought my voice was deep enough, but didn’t really think that many men cared about theirs either. The comments section proves me wrong.

@ jimmm and Arnold,

You are both correct. “Home in” is the original term and is technically the correct usage, but language evolves over time, and the term “hone in” has been added to the dictionary. “Ain’t” has also been added to the dictionary due to usage even though it wasn’t usually considered a proper contraction. Since we use “hone” to refer to sharpening skills now instead of just knives, I can see how one might use “hone in” when referring to improving a skill… but doesn’t the “in” part seem kind of redundant when you think about it?

22 sanjhar November 14, 2011 at 2:00 am

Does it really imply practically
I see around there are so many successful personality who dont have the
VOICEthats been discussed here…

23 David Robert Wright November 14, 2011 at 2:01 am

Good article. One bit I would modify, as a voice instructor: when you breathe in, it should be the area between the belly button and the sternum that expands, not the abdominal area below the belly button. Expansion in the lower abdominals actually indicates reduced breath flow (cf. Richard Miller in “The Structure of Singing”).

24 Daniel November 14, 2011 at 5:20 am

Excellent article, I’ve been waiting for this one! Another thing that’s always helpful is plain ol’ practice. Singing has done wonders for my voice control, but after you learn the basics of how to sing and breathe properly, it just depends on how many hours you put into it. Best luck to all gents out there looking to refine their vocal quality.

25 What's in a voice? November 14, 2011 at 5:32 am

American male voices are getting more and more high pitched. What that says about today’s American society I do not know, but it seems to me the male and female voices are melting into one creaky high-pitched unisex voice. Johnny Cash or Waylon Jennings seem an oddity from another era.

26 Martin November 14, 2011 at 8:51 am

Thanks for this article! Voice is very important if one wants to appear as a confident person. I’ll try these tips and see what happens. However, I don’t expect to develop a voice like Barry White :)

27 bobster November 14, 2011 at 9:34 am

I agree that we are getting more chattery, and that raises the voice. It seems like many have to talk as fast as thoughts occur to them. Perhaps we subconsciously imagine that shows how smart we are, when it more likely indicates that we are either vapid, insecure, or selfabsorbed.

so here are a few other suggestions:
>Slow down and ponder, man! you’re not a vegas chorus girl. Then you can talk with real authority; this will lower your voice.
>take your time in saying what you need to; fast words produce high pitch
>enunciate each word clearly

these two things can lower your voice a bit AND improve the authority with which you say things.

28 Chandler November 14, 2011 at 9:48 am

Posture.

One of the most important things one can do when trying to find and maintain the sound of their authentic voice is to possess and project a strong, open posture. Spine erect, shoulders back and down, chest – wide in the ribs, sternum up.

You touched on this in your section on speaking from the diaphragm. Speaking from the diaphragm and finding the full resonance of your voice will be much easier if you can find a commanding and balanced posture. Check out great opera singers on youtube to get a sense of the posture I’m speaking of.

Cheers and good luck!

29 Anthony November 14, 2011 at 10:00 am

Excellent article, thank you Brett! I checked my breathing and vocal cord vibration, and they seem to be all right, so I have a follow-up question for anyone who might know something about voices: what can I do about a soft voice? Several people have commented to me that I am soft-spoken, and my wife says “huh?” to me a lot (I think that’s partly habit with her).

So apparently I am soft-spoken and can sometimes be hard to hear. Anything I can do to change that?

30 Joe November 14, 2011 at 10:27 am

General Patton also was not possessed of a deep voice; George C. Scott sounded nothing like him.

31 Bryan November 14, 2011 at 10:30 am

BOY, do I need this. I’m 46 and still get mistaken for a woman on the phone plus people often tell me I need to project or speak louder. Thanks for the article. Cheers!

32 Milo November 14, 2011 at 10:37 am

I am a professional opera singer. I am a bass. As an African-American, I am often compared with James Earl Jones and Barry White. As a matter of fact, I met Mr. Jones at a Bell Atlantic golf tournament back in 1996, and he told me to get in touch with a producer who was planning a musical in which he would be featured. He said that the show included a section where the character he would portray was a young man, and he thought I’d be an appropriate performer. Unfortunately, the show never got the backing it needed, and never got produced.

This is good article. There are a couple of things I would add:

1. Relax!! Nothing makes the voice sound higher, and more strident than stress.
2. Remember that most men are naturally baritones. The second most common male voice is tenor. Basses are the least common. Regardless of your voice type, breathing properly and placing the voice in the “mask” will make you sound more masculine.

33 Robert Palmar November 14, 2011 at 11:07 am

@Evan R

Your point about the appropriateness of hone
being used for sharpening skills because hone is related to
to sharpening is a good one and why I think its better than “home in”.
I actually think that is the real origin of its usage in this manner
and the “in” was borrowed from “home in” over time.

And I meant to sat Brett used “hone in” appropriately
and not “approximately” as I apparently mistyped
or I failed to notice Firefox’s daft spell-check.

As to the subject at hand I would add
singing is the best training for your speaking voice
and you don’t have to be a good singer to get the benefit.

Singing is like weight lifting for your vocal chords
and after those muscles gain strength you will
find speaking correctly is effortless.

34 jeff November 14, 2011 at 11:08 am

A bottom tenor here. One thing you need to do no matter the level of skill you have is to become familiar with your voice. One great way is to read aloud, and then hear yourself, a terrific place you can do this and help the greater community is to be a volunteer at http://libroviox.com a nonprofit site where volunteers read from public domain books. You can start with just a poem or a short story, be part of a dramatic reading, or cover an entire text if you want. You can compare your own voice with horrible amateurs, or semi pros, with a good deal of feedback. One thing you will learn over and above all else, is that it isn’t the sound of your voice that matters as much as your desire to share information. They also provide the software that will make it possible to do a pretty professional job of recording.

35 Brandon November 14, 2011 at 11:23 am

have kids… This helps you develop a deep, loud, authoritative voice quite quickly!

36 Derek November 14, 2011 at 11:37 am

I would like to disagree that a low voice is sexiest. I think that attraction follows exceptionalism rather than any specific pitch. A low voice pings more just because high voices get labelled effeminate. I know plenty of women who go weak in the knees over tenors who can hit a high C (I like to joke that Adam Lavine is an alto). You want something that sets you apart from the pack.

37 Alpha November 14, 2011 at 2:23 pm

I typically try to project three to four feet behind my intended audience. I don’t yell, necessarily, I just make sure to maintain an even flow of air out as I speak. Deep breaths before speaking, project with volume. My vocal coach (for singing) advised that you open your mouth as wide as you can when you sing vowels. I mimic this technique when speaking, by opening my mouth slightly more than most people – it helps projection.

Eliminate words like “Um” and “Uh” from your speech. Instead, when you’re trying to think of the right thing to say, be silent and close your mouth. It will give your voice a natural rhythm to it which people will follow. You fear being perceived as boring when you pause, but really you become more interesting. People hang on your pauses, waiting with anticipation for the rest of your thought.

Filling your speech with filler words (such as ‘um’ and ‘uh’) tend to have the opposite effect, making people feel assaulted with words and unable to decipher a long and rambling thought.

Anyway, those are just my tips!! Thanks for putting together a wonderful website!

38 David W November 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Leave it to AoM to have thousands of its readers make mmm hmmm sounds while reading their posts…

I hadn’t considered actually changing my voice before… I didn’t think people ever thought that…

But Ira Glass is a great example of the perfect for the job voice. Just hearing him speak makes me happy to start soaking in new knowledge! Time and place I suppose…

39 claude November 14, 2011 at 4:22 pm

I’ve always hated my voice. Gonna try this.

I was told somewhere at sometime that you ARE supposed to try to speak from your chest. Has that always been known to be bad advice or at one time was that the normal advice?

Thanks for this, Brett.

40 Rob November 14, 2011 at 5:25 pm

when This American Life started out (as Your Radio Playhouse) many people thought the show would never succede with Glass (a former ATC producer) at the mic. That was over 10 years ago and the show is still one of the best things. I was going to say best things on the radio, then I thought, “no all media”, then I thought some more, just one of the best things, period.

41 Ben November 14, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Great tips on obtaining an masculine (natural) voice. Additionally there is the thought of adding in melody to your voice as many men have a monotonous voice as they try to keep their voice deep by the artificial methods mentioned in the article.

And yes, I did grow hair on my chest when I hummed “mmm-hmmm.”

42 Dish November 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Still can’t find my ‘mask’ any other tips on finding it?

43 Jeremy November 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm

as a public speaker with some basic voice training – both in acting and singing – this is right on. i have learned that my power is in my voice. i have stopped fights and wooed women all with just a few minor variations in breathing and tone. normally i try to stay quiet in my speech, but clear and understandable (i’m a teacher now. it’s kind of required), but also because when i do have to open up with my full diaphragm behind it, it gets noticed! the big thing is the breathing (and yes, as someone mentioned, posture). so many people don’t breathe correctly. (i know as i get on in years and have some medical issues, i’m more self conscious of my gut sticking out, but to be heard, to be understood, and to communicate, you have to let it go) another thing that really helped me in the past, that goes along with using one’s diaphragm correctly: in my early drama learning, i was told to talk to the clock hanging on the wall at the other end of the auditorium, but not raise my voice, allow my tone to harshen, and still be clear and understandable. it worked for me.

44 Matt D November 14, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Something that really helped me find my voice was hosting a radio show for 2 years. In radio, you have to wear headphones and are forced to listen to your own voice as you speak. This can be very awkward to begin with, but after time you become more conscious of how your voice sounds and how to get the best sound out of it. It’s a self-awareness thing. Give it a shot sometime!

45 Josh Calkin November 15, 2011 at 12:02 am

regarding breathing:

Being a professional tuba player and teacher, I know a thing or two about breathing and have extensively studied the anatomy behind it. I feel I ought to add something to the discussion:

The diaphragm is a muscle, as we all know. Breathing (exhaling) from the diaphragm, however, is not possible. Like all muscles in the body, the diaphragm only works in one direction; that is, it contracts only. The diaphragm’s job is to contract DOWNWARD to enlarge the volume of the chest cavity, causing air to rush in to equalize the pressure. When exhaling, the diaphragm simply relaxes. You can no more exhale using the diaphragm than do curls using only your triceps.

When teaching, I speak rather of “breathing low” and “supporting” the air. It is also worth noting that truly inflating the lungs fully REQUIRES movement of the chest and shoulders. Your lungs are, after all, in your chest. Breathing uses many muscle groups in the chest and abdomen and to fully inflate with air (the “fuel” for speech) expansion of the chest is required. Trying to inflate only the bottom of the lungs is like trying to inflate only the bottom of a bread bag by breathing into it… in other words, it is impossible.

What I think you are getting at with the “don’t allow the chest and shoulders to rise” thing is that many people use their shoulder muscles to raise the shoulders and chest in a “shrug” when they breathe. This IS bad and causes tension and shallow breathing. The best approach is to think of breathing low and full, but ALLOW the chest (and shoulders, and back) to expand of their own accord, with no additional effort on your part.

46 Vince November 15, 2011 at 8:34 am

Thanks for the blog entry. And thanks to @JoshCalkin for the addition.

I have a very high voice and sometimes I really hate it. I will check out your tips.

Does anyone know how I can train to get a good ‘R’ out of my mouth? For example the good old Pirate word “Arrrr” sounds like an “Ach”. I cannot get the r to roll. The vibration to roll it is missing in my throat. And I have no idea since when this is the case. I recognized the problem 8 years ago which means I didn’t recognize it for 26 years.
It also is not really recognizable while speaking fast, but if I have to spell my surname to someone it get’s complicated and akward. :-(
I don’t know how to fix that. :-(

47 Gary November 15, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Jeff’s link was incorrect. The link is http://librivox.org/
other than that, Jeff’s info was useful… indeed, the quality of comments is unusually high. I think I’ll be putting quite a few of these tips into practise, inc. Mmmm-hmmmm!

48 Robert Palmar November 15, 2011 at 5:33 pm

@ Josh Calkin

Absolutely superb points Josh. And all very true.
Well said and a most valuable contribution.

49 honeybee November 16, 2011 at 12:36 am

Whatever kind of voice one has, drop the habit of using a rising intonation at the end of a sentence, unless you are actually asking a question. This will automatically make a man’s voice more manly and a woman’s voice less childish and indecisive.

I’ve been an expat for a long time, and I can no longer bear to hear Americans speak, since so many people have this irritating habit.

50 Duke Mantee November 16, 2011 at 3:46 pm

honeybee said: “Whatever kind of voice one has, drop the habit of using a rising intonation at the end of a sentence, unless you are actually asking a question. This will automatically make a man’s voice more manly and a woman’s voice less childish and indecisive.”

Yes, please stop the rising intonation at the end of a sentence when it’s not a question! And stop with the pause after every sentence when relating someting, as if waiting for a “uh-huh” from the listener for confirmation.

For a man, it makes him sound wimpy and insecure. Women sound childish and whiny when doing it and it can be exhausting listening to these people. Most importantly, it signals that a question is being asked and therefore gives a false cue. Bugs the living crap out of me.

51 Andreas Ahrlund November 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Not to be rude, but Ive actually strenghtened my vocal cords by excerzise many a times. And it does work. So Id have to recomend it.

52 Christian Thrailkill November 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm

As a Musician, I have to give you guys kudos on knowing about proper breath control. Keep up the great work!

53 CDAdam November 17, 2011 at 5:46 am

I’m studying laryngeal anatomy right now from a communicative disorders standpoint (I’m doing an assignment right now which is how I stumbled on this article). From what I have learned so far, Brett is right. lower pitches come from relaxing the vocal folds. since there is a maximum that any muscle can be relaxed, you are not likely to ever get a lower pitch. Strengthening the vocal chords provides resistance against sub glottal pressure (the pressure of the air below the vocal folds) which can increase the strength of the sound, but won’t make it deeper. You will have much greater success increasing your vocal range at higher pitches.

54 Weston November 17, 2011 at 11:56 am

My upperclassmen in the Aggie Corps swear that “sounding off” (yelling like hell) throughout freshman year will make our voices louder, stronger and deeper. Kinda have to give them some credit; they all sound pretty manly.

55 Robert Palamr November 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm

@Weston

Richard Burton would agree with you, Weston.

Richard Burton credited going to the top of Welsh mountains in his youth
and speaking parts of Henry V as loud as possible without shouting
for “breaking” his voice and giving us the voice we all know.
He described it as yelling but with perfect diction.

56 Gaurav Mishra November 19, 2011 at 10:39 am

terrific manliness article!

57 Scott November 19, 2011 at 1:12 pm

@Andreas

Vocal chords (or vocal folds as they referred to more commonly among vocal scientists) are not muscles. The muscles that you may have exercised are used in lengthening, shortening, thickening and thinning the vocal folds.

58 Scott November 19, 2011 at 1:48 pm

@David Robert Wright and @Josh Calkin

It’s really important to be objective when addressing these issues. The breathing methods you bring up are all debatable. There are many “schools of thought” on proper breathing and who are we to say that one way is the only way?

Still, most people who study the voice are looking for efficiency. What is the best and easiest way to produce the best result?

David, there is nothing wrong with expansion of the entire abdominal viscera. True, deep diaphragmatic breathing (accompanied by contraction of the external intercostal muscles) will naturally displace the viscera. There is no internal organ or muscle that is aligned directly with the navel that would/should prohibit lower expansion if total lung capacity is truly your goal. To observe really great breathing, watch an infant breath. Their entire belly expands because they haven’t unlearned correct breathing yet. The efficiency of their breathing and phonation can be observed in the cry of an infant that will pierce through walls or forrests to the ears of it’s mother.

Josh, you are correct about the diaphragm’s ability to only contract downward. But, there are those who believe that the muscles must work in tandem in order to achieve maximum efficiency. Utilizing the upward, supporting movement of all the muscles of the abdominal girdle (the transverse abdominis, oblique abdominis and rectus abdominis) push up against the diaphragm. If the diaphragm is totally relaxed it would be like pushing against firmer-than-usual jello. But, if the diaphragm is slightly engaged, those muscles have something to actually push against.

I’m not saying that either of you are necessarily wrong. In fact, I personally agree with many things you are saying. But as students/teachers of voice, we should be a little more objective. Each person must find their own model that works the best for them weather its clavicular breathing, thoracic breathing or abdominal breathing.

@Manflaps

Please, please don’t use your voice that way. Yelling and screaming like that can cause irreparable damage. The manly and low sound that you are achieving by doing is the symptom of a problem, not a solution.

59 Taco November 23, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Wow, I actually discovered that I was speaking in way too high of a pitch. The only way to get my mask to vibrate (my what an odd phrase) was to speak in a very low pitch and to sound off like I got a pair. An when I say low, I mean low. Like Johnny Cash low. My speaking voice is normally very high and weak and nasal. I guess my job now is to start training myself to speak lower.

60 Stephanie November 7, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I love men with tenor speaking voices and hate listening to men who speak all manly and deep–they sound annoying and self-important to men and I usually can’t wait for them to shut up. Women are as different as blades of grass–we don’t all like the same thing, and this claim that all women prefer a deep voice on a man is just bogus, and frustrating for me because I don’t want men who talk the way *I* prefer to change their voices:-(

61 none November 15, 2012 at 2:36 am

Smoke!.. Wills brand did a great thing for me,.. 2 years and you would have won forever.. its better than this bullshit article. In the entire article writer is telling do this— which might help—- and finally this might not happen also… I don’t think its gonna work for any damn girly voice person

62 Franklin P. Uroda April 8, 2013 at 10:43 am

It seems to me that 99.999% of popular male singers have high, soprano-like voices. Some country singers do not. I love the female voice, from females, not males. I’m Roman Catholic, and the high-pitched guys (priests, deacons, etc) irritate me when they sing effeminately. What can they do to come across with a manly singing voice?

63 Erik June 11, 2013 at 6:38 am

Thanks for this article man! I really have a horrible high voice, almost like a girl (over the phone I’m often mistaken for a female as well, which REALLY pains me a lot)
And trying out these exercises is already helping, be it for my self esteem over my voice.
I’ve been ashamed of it as long as I know, now I feel like I can start working towards a better natural voice, AND accept it as it is more. It’s just a voice after all, my body is completely healthy, I can hear, smell, speak, etc. so I shouldn’t complain! :)

64 brian June 16, 2013 at 5:46 pm

What’s the explanation for our voices getting deeper and thicker as we age past puberty? It happens with both males and females.

65 Matt June 28, 2013 at 11:47 am

It’s funny how easy most of this stuff is. I read an article on the same topic sometime in my teens, and my wife has lately been shushing me a lot because she can’t handle the everyday power of my natural, God-given voice, as I don’t sound like a weak little hipster. The thing I picked up here was the thing about puberty. My voice kept cracking until I was about 30. No wonder it’s booming now.

66 Lawrence July 30, 2013 at 11:57 pm

It’s really all about placement. The voice needs to be coaxed from its hiding place, and the kindest way of doing this is by reading aloud for 30 minutes every morning. Not loudly; and choose good material, preferrably texts with lots of “ah” sounds. The vowel [a:] prepares the voice for speech. Humming gently up and down the scale is good for producing manly resonance.

67 Riksa August 4, 2013 at 4:35 am

Yeah I admit, women tend to like guy with deep voice. It sounds sexy to them. If a lonely guy want to get girl of his dream but don’t have any pick up skills, then this could be the only thing they can do to attract women. Just my two cents :)

68 anon August 17, 2013 at 3:42 am

@What’s in a voice: I’ve noticed 3 main reasons why male voices are getting higher in America: Collectively, we smoke less, drink less hard alcohol, and exercise less than our fathers, who did these things less than their fathers. We also speak and sing less. All of these things either deepen or strengthen our voices.

I don’t think a deep voice is worth the cost of hard alcohol or smoking, but everyone can benefit from shouting at ball games, singing in the car, and getting exercise that forces you to breath more, such as running (not jogging).

I also agree with the comments about speaking more slowly, deliberately, confidently. That has a big impact on your voice, as well as how it comes across.

I don’t think testosterone levels are set in stone. I think you can affect them with lifestyle choices: Diet and exercise, particularly red meat and heavy weights (in addition to a ‘balanced diet’ and ‘adequate sleep’ of course). These things also affect your psychology (directly and indirectly) which has a huge impact on how well you handle the voice you already have.

For me personally, the biggest factor is confidence. When speaking in public, my confidence is mostly a function of how well I know what I’m talking about. This can send my voice up or down by a large margin and is entirely a function of prior preparation. Knowing what you are talking about is the best way to speak with authority.

Most of this is common sense, but it is amazing how often we all let these little things slide.

69 santosh August 29, 2013 at 6:59 am

please advise me how I improve my voice. my voice cracks when I speak some high tone. due to this problem I can not sing. I want to sing. please guide me. I will do for my voice.

70 Michael DeBusk November 13, 2013 at 10:42 am

Great article. Seriously great. I’ll add a couple of things I learned from singers.

To find your ideal voice pitch, match your lowest and highest comfortable singing pitch with a piano. Your ideal speaking pitch is roughly halfway between the two.

To improve your diction, grab a wine bottle cork and hold it in your front teeth, sticking out from your lips. Start slow and work on tongue twisters until you can speak them clearly. And by “clearly,” I mean you don’t sound like you have a cork between your teeth.

71 Caleb November 13, 2013 at 9:58 pm

I have a naturally low voice. I find it difficult to speak to people because it is so low. I always feel like I’m whispering, then when I try to compensate by speaking up, I feel like I’m yelling! Then again, the girls at my school say they like it when I talk… So there are pros and cons.

72 Adam M November 15, 2013 at 12:37 pm

As someone with a midrange voice, I found this really helpful. A very well written piece in my opinion.

Adam M
https://singingmethods.net

73 alex k November 16, 2013 at 12:49 am

Doesn’t matter how your voice sounds if you have nothing to say.

74 Manuel November 21, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Hey guys just here to give a quick tip. Im currently getting trained to be a Marine in my MCJROTC and something they tell us to do is to use our diaframe, dont use your throat when trying to sound better. It will damage your voice, thats how you hear those DI’s that sound so perfect. Hope I could help, Semper Fidelis, allways faithfull and Oorah!!!

75 CaSy November 26, 2013 at 4:07 am

This is rather sad.

I’m feeling horrible because my voice is so bad. It’s very depressing to think no matter what I’ll do I’ll stay this way.

Here goes my confidence.

76 Keith Weatherby II February 15, 2014 at 11:34 pm

My voice sounds like a whiney 16-year-old kid — and I’m 38. I also get annoyed that I can’t sing with several songs because I can neither go real low or real high. Also I tend to be soft-spoken so people don’t tend to hear me as much.

77 Lucas March 2, 2014 at 10:30 pm

I’ve noticed that one way you can make your voice sound a little deeper, bigger, or more authoritative is to slightly drop your jaw when you speak. Don’t relax your jaw. Just drop it a little bit. It makes your voice deeper and your voice will project more without any strain on your voice. I think it works by making your mouth a little bigger while you talk, allowing your voice to reverberate within your mouth making it louder and stronger. I can’t remember if that’s exactly how it works, but I had a music teacher who said that it’s the same basic principle that made Freddie Mercury’s voice sound so good when he sang. Although my teacher also attributed Mercury’s voice to his teeth.

78 Fran Sanchez March 21, 2014 at 10:08 am

Thanks for the great info. I have read quite a few articles on the subject and bottom line is that proper breathing and relaxation is key.

With a bit of daily practice any guy can learn to deepen their voice.

79 Arun Banerjee April 4, 2014 at 12:40 pm

I liked reading the article, one sounds best in the natural voice.
I have discovered a method of naturally deepening your voice. When you get up in the morning your vocal chords naturally sound deeper. This is the time when you can practice speaking in deeper tone. Go as deep as you can without stressing your throat. Breath through stomach and push the voice from stomach. Try this I am sure it will help.

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