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Varying the voice II: Yoyo that pitch!

April 23, 2014

YoyoHave you been fortunate enough to enjoy the delights of a teenage son?  He comes back from school and you say: “Hi, lad, how was your day?”  [A GRUNT] “All right”.  “So what did you do today?”  [A GRUNT]  “Stuff”.  You go for something a bit more specific.  “That maths test was today, wasn’t it?  How did you get on?”  [A GRUNT]  “Ok”.  And then the phone goes. He rushes over and picks it up: [ANIMATED, HIGH PITCHED!]  “Hey, Charlie, how you doin’, bro?”

Is this the same person?  Are there two distinct human beings involved here?  There are certainly two different voices – one animated, one devoid of any animation. One deliberately pitched at the bottom of the barrel, the other having drunk it.

Pitch is one of the three main ways of conveying variety of voice – along with volume, which we looked at last post, and pace, which we shall look at next time.  Vocal pitch is one of the main ways to animate a speech and engage the audience.

Contrast that to John McEnroe and ”His commentating pitch is also up and down the whole time, just like his temperament of old on court.

Who would the gallery prefer to watch?  Who would an audience prefer to listen to?

Rugby players, coaches, managers and commentators are even worse.  They seem to consider it un-cool to vary their pitch. Perhaps it is considered effeminate in the most macho of worlds.  They all set a tone as low as that of my teenage son – and stay there.  Only one commentator can vary his pitch and that is why he is so sought after.  Jonathan Davies is as lively a commentator as he was a fly half.  He is the exception which proves the rule.

So, set yourselves a standard pitch which is at the middle of your range and vary it as you speak.  Run it up a bit for variety or a bit further for something exciting or light-hearted, even a gag.  Run it down for more variety or a bit further for something serious or solemn.  It is as simple as that.  Run it up and down.  Avoid the monotone.

Now, just because both my examples were Celts, don’t think that if you’re not a Celt you can use that as an excuse.  Think of David Attenborough’s wonderful use of pitch, as well as pace and volume, in his nature documentaries.  Or, perhaps less glamorously, Monty Don on Gardener’s World, who is one of the most vibrant communicators on television.  And they are both stiff upper lip English!

So, next time you speak, yoyo that pitch up and down, up and down.  Think McEnroe, not Murray!


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