Melodic Intonation – contrastive stress

“Speak with enthusiasm,” was the common feedback to speakers of my local ToastMasters Club.  I was a member for some time ,and I not only gained additional knowledge and experience as a public speaker, but it was very reinforcing to learn more about how important our voices are in communicating our message at a public level.  You might be interested in learning more about what ToastMasters says about our speaking voices.

Melodic intonation, or vocal inflection, is the pitch variability we use to communicate the meaning of what we say.  Professor Albert Mehrabian (psychology, UCLA) has been a pioneer in the field of human communications and has provided a wealth of empirical data about how we relate to each other via verbal and non-verbal language.  In 1967, Mehrabian and Wiener examined the effects of vocal tone on the meaning of three single words spoken with three different emotions. They found that tone carried more meaning than the individual words themselves.

This makes intuitive sense, of course, yet these frequently sited studies have often over-generalized the findings to conclude that vocal tone added more than the actual words we speak to convey meaning.  Regardless of how the data may be interpreted, we can be confident that melodic intonation does convey important meaning about what we’re saying.  It is with our use of vocal inflection that others gain insight into how we’re feeling or what importance specific  words lend to what we’re saying.

Let’s consider the problem: flat, lifeless, boring expression.  Check out the video below. Do you want to listen to this guy for more than 20 seconds?  I watched for about a minute and realized this was the perfect video to show an example of a flat, lifeless, boring voice (and what he’s talking about isn’t at all riveting either).

Flat, Lifeless, Boring

Here is a great example of a professional speech coach who speaks very well (and has great tips).  Do you like her style?  Would she be a speaking role model?

Professional Speech Coach

Exercise:

One way to speak with enthusiasm is to emphasize or stress certain key words.  Let’s consider this neutral phrase:

The cake is great and the rainbow is beautiful.

Its meaning invariable comes alive depending upon which word is emphasized. Record yourself saying this phrase (be sure to first tune your pitch & resonators) in three different ways.  For example, emphasize the word cake.  What message do you think the phrase now conveys–maybe that the cake (not some other thing, like possibly the cookie) is great. We use this type of constrastive stress frequently in our day-to-day conversations to communicate (or constrast) differences in how we feel toward one thing compared to another.

Now, try emphasizing the word rainbow. Your vocal tone should convey a contrast—that you mean to communicate that the rainbow, not say, the clouds, are beautiful.  Can you hear the contrast?  Can you feel the difference (think proprioception)?

If you were ordering a cup of coffee at a coffee shop and wanted decaf, you might emphasize the word decaf or the flavor or roast of the coffee you want, to be sure they get your order right. Personally, I love cream, not milk, in my morning coffee. 

Step 10:  Melodic intonation

Your goal is to focus on word and syllable stress (or emphasis) to speak with enthusiasm.

Stay in touch. I’d LOVE to know how you’re doing with Step 10.

Keeping you and your voice close to my heart,

Kathe

Denver, Colorado

September:  the harvest moon, crisp autumn nights, thoughts of sweaters and home-cooked soups.

As was mentioned last month, the naturalizing elements–phrasing, pacing, melodic intonation and fluency–when used together, help you create an authentic feminine voice…something we all want, right?

September is Step 9–Pacing.  Think of all the things you do that you have a pace for:  walking, biking, jogging, driving, and speaking.  We establish our pace for these activities based largely on our own internal sense of tempo.

Music theory helps us understand pacing a bit more.

Let’s consider beat.  In its simplest definition, beat is tempo, pace, or the time it takes to play a piece. In Western music, beat is often demarcated by a metronome, a device that produces a steady pulse at the rate of x beats per minute (bpm).  A metronome marking of 60 would have 60 pulses (or beats) per minute, or one per second, while a marking of 120 would have 120 pulses per minute, or two per second.

Rhythm can be confused with beat, because sometimes the beat is also the rhythm. For instance, in a piece with a 4/4 time signature, a section of only quarter notes would be both the beat and the rhythm. However, while beat must be constant, rhythm is, by definition, variable. Rhythm is the length and accent given to a series of notes in a piece. In most Western music, rhythm and pitch go hand in hand to create a melody. The rhythm determines the length of the notes and the pitch, whether they go up or down. A noted exception is a chant (like an auctioneer’s chant, see the videos below), in which the singer concentrates solely on the pitch and allows the lyrics to move the melody along without rhythm. Beside the length of notes, rhythm is also created when some notes are emphasized over others.

Read more.

For you non-musical folks, don’t let the technical discussion above overwhelm you.  We keep the concept of pacing, or tempo/rhythm quite simple when training voices.  In fact, pacing is fundamentally a training tool rather than a goal.  There is no ideal tempo that you need to establish. Many people assume that women tend to speak more quickly than men, but this notion has been difficult to substantiate. See SEX AND SPEAKING RATE (August 2006) http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003423.html

Thinking that you must speak more quickly isn’t at all necessary!

The way that pacing becomes useful in your training is to help you set a pace so that you more effectively “code” the other training elements (posture, breathing, pitch, resonance, etc.).  Practicing at too quick at tempo will impede your progresss.  And conversely, practicing words and phrasing too slowly tends to have a  negative impact on resonance and melodic intonation.

Practicing your words and phrases at “just right” pace will greatly enhance your training.

We use a metronome in VFT (voice feminization therapy), but we don’t get too picky about accuracy.  Unlike music, our speaking pace (and thus, beats) has a lot of wiggle-room.  It’s not about counting beats or understanding time signatures on a musical staff; it’s about developing an internal sense of tempo.

Listen to these two tempos:

72 bpm

This is a relatively slow beat.  Try to sense this rhythm; feel it move with it.   Use a thought experiment (like we talked about in June Step 6 Resonance) and is something to consider when practicing.

120 bpm

This is a much faster tempo.   It’s too fast, in fact to speak with good breath, pitch, articulation or resonance control.  But some people are very successful with a pace like this.

Listen a bit to these speakers.  What do you think of their tempo/pace?

John Korrey,  World Champion Auctioneer

Emily Wears, female auctioneer

I found this video and like it a lot because it shows a very typical, well spoken professional woman speaking at a comfortable pace.  What do you think?

Perfectly paced speech

This last video, of Jean Kilbourne, who is a feminist author, speaker, and filmmaker is a fine example of wonderfully paced female speaker!  Listen to her tempo, and while you’re listening, notice her melodic intonation and fluency.

Exercises:

These three exercises are designed to give you a sense of pace or tempo when you speak.

One: count the beats

I know I said counting beats wasn’t necessary, but initially (for you non-musical folks) it’s a good way to incorporate the notion of pacing.  Listen again to the three samples above.

Two: Phrases

Recall, that one important strategy to mastering your feminine voice is to chunk down all the tasks into manageable sizes.  Working with phrases is one way to implement this strategy.

Let one of the above beats play in the background as you read each phrase.  Remember, it’s not about saying one word per beat, but just having a general sense of how fast/slow you’re going and what feels right to you.

Three Syllable Phrases Four Syllable Phrases
Not right now. Cream and sugar.
Time to go. Bread and butter.
Close your eyes. Salt and pepper.
Fine report. Toast and butter.
Read the book. Pie and coffee.
Who is it? Needle and thread.
Pick it up. Turkey and cheese.
Take a nap. Nice to meet you.

Three: Reading

This fun little limerick has a rhythmic pace to it.  Let any of the tempos above play in the background as you read this poem.  Which tempo feels right?

SMILE FOR YOU


Smiling is infectious; you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today, I started smiling too.
I passed around the corner and someone saw my grin
When he smiled I realized I’d passed it on to him.
I thought about that smile, then I realized its worth,
A single smile, just like mine could travel round the earth.
So, if you feel a smile begin, don’t leave it undetected
Let’s start an epidemic quick, and get the world infected!

Step 9:  PACING

For September, your goal is to apply your metacognitve strategy to the pacing of your daily practice routine and to your daily speaking.

I’d LOVE to know how you’re doing with Step 9. Stay in touch over the month.

Keeping you and your voice close to my heart,

Kathe

Denver, Colorado

WHAT IS PROSODY?

Prosody (pronounced pross-ə-dee) is the study of the timing and rhythm of speech and how these features contribute to meaning of what we say.

When one studies prosody, one studies the suprasegmental features of speech. These features of speech typically apply to a level above that of the individual phoneme or sound (the consonants and vowels), and very often to sequences of words (in prosodic phrases), and are referred to as suprasegmentals.

Feminizing your voice is so much more than pitch and resonance.  Your prosody–melody, flow, rhythm/tempo, the timing, the pauses, the phrase length, etc.–ALL communicate something about you.  These prosodic features of you (the speaker) or what you say (the utterance) reflect your emotional state; the form of the utterance (statement, question, or command); the presence of irony or sarcasm; emphasis, contrast, and mental focus/attention; or other elements of language that may not be encoded by grammar or choice of vocabulary.

Prosodic features are suprasegmental, because they are not confined to any one segment or phoneme, but occur in some higher level of an utterance. These prosodic units are the actual phonetic “spurts” or chunks of speech that hold the meaning of what we’re saying. They need not correspond to grammatical units such as phrases and clauses, though they may–these facts suggest insights into how the brain processes speech.

There are small but systematic differences in the way that men and women use language,
both in terms of what they say and how they choose to say it.

How you choose to say it is the essence of prosody.

A compelling study (2008) – “Gender Differences in Language Use: An Analysis of 14,000 Text Samples –asked that age-old question: Do men and women use language differently?

These researchers examined language usage of men and women in a large, heterogeneous sample of written and spoken texts. For the women (who contributed 8,353) text files to the study, language was more likely to be used for discussing people and what they were doing, as well as communicating internal processes to others, including doubts. Thoughts, emotions, senses, other people, negations, and verbs in present and past tense figured high on the list of words that women used more than men. For the men (who contributed 5,970 files), language was more likely to serve as a repository of labels for external events, objects, and processes. Along with discussion of occupation, money and sports, were technical linguistic features such as numbers, articles (like “a”, “an”, “the”), prepositions, and multi-syllabic words. Profanity added emphasis to male language.

Contrary to popular stereotypes, men and women were indistinguishable in their references to sexuality, anger, time, their use of first-person plural, the number of words and question marks employed, and the insertion of qualifiers in the form of exclusion words (e.g. but, although).

The results of this study provides further insights:

Different words. Women’s greater use of pronouns mirrored previous work by other researchers. This study also found that women used more intensive adverbs (e.g. carefully, 
eagerly, 
easily, 
loudly, 
quickly, 
quietly, well).

Successful replications for men’s language included substantially greater use of numbers, articles, multi-syllabic words, and profanity.

Reflecting the mixed bag of earlier work on emotional references, women use more affect words, but this was not restricted to positive emotions, as earlier studies have suggested.  Women were more likely than men to refer both to positive feelings and to negative emotions—specifically, sadness and anxiety. The previous finding of a male advantage in anger words was not replicated. The most striking discovery was that women, not men, were the more prolific users of first-person singular pronouns (i.e. I, me, and my).

This study found no evidence of any differences in overall word count between men and women in their language usage.

Different phrases. Polite forms of such phrases as “Would you mind if … ,” or “Should I get the …” appeared more often in women’s texts.  Women were more likely to hedge, by using such phrases as “I guess” but were no more likely than men to use words from the tentative category (e.g., maybe, perhaps). The use of phrases, such as “I guess” may reflect previous findings that women use more polite forms and are reluctant to force their views on other people.

Different sentences. This study found a small difference favoring women in use of negation (words such as no, not, never). They failed to find any tendency for women to use question marks, contrasting with earlier reports that women asked more questions and inserted more tag questions into their sentences.

Different messages. It is informative to consider the types of topics that men and women use their words to talk about. This study provides strong evidence that women seem to have more of a “rapport” style, discussing social topics and expressing internal thoughts and feelings more often, whereas men “report” more often, describing the quantity and location of objects.

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Over the next couple of months, we’re going to consider several prosodic features–the naturalizing elements of the feminine voice, which in my voice feminization training method include:  phrasing, pacing, melodic intonation and fluency.

Phrasing:

Your breath bookends each phrase you speak:  breathe – talk—breathe.  The root components of posture, breathing and pitch which were the first three steps in your year through the steps, hopefully are quite habituated by this time, eight months after you began your steps.

Continue to be metacognitive about your breath flow – in-breath; talk; in-breathe; talk, in-breath…

Why is phrasing important to you?  Let’s look at the practical side of this particular prosodic element – phrasing.  We just learned that women (more than men) tend to use polite forms of phrases such as,  “Would you please…”  “Is it possible for you to…”  “Might I ask you to…” to request an action or make a command of someone.  These extra words lengthen the phrase and thus require more air.  Notice that!

Exercise #1:

In-breath:  feel your belly gently expand as you breathe in.  Count: “1 – 2 – 3”.  Be metacognitive about the out flow.  Did you have too much air left over?  Did you use most of the air to say this three-syllable phrase? Did you forget about the other elements when you were just focused on phrasing?

Exercise #2:

Phrasing literally refers to words per breath.  So, how can you integrate the breath and maintain the other elements (such as pitch, articulation and resonance)?  You chunk down the overarching skill into manageable pieces and phrasing is one of the ways to do this.

Let’s consider some polite forms of requests or commands.

  • May I use your pen, please?
  • Would you mind bringing me a glass of water, please?
  • I guess I need to use your phone for a minute; mine doesn’t seem to have a connection.
  • Might I ask you for directions; I’m lost.

Use the bookend idea.  Take a gentle in-breath, feel the airflow outward as you speak, then take a gentle in-breath again. Voilà! The breath bookends the phrase.

NOTE: you don’t need a lot of air for these simple phrases.  In fact, many people take too much air and end up feeling light-headed when they speak.

Now, decide which element you want to train.  For example, if you want to be sure you’re mastering your feminine pitch tune your voice to the A3 pitch as you already know how to do.  Watch your frequency tuner as you use your phrasing technique and repeat the phrases above.

Exercise #3:

As we just learned from this study, men and women tend to talk about different things.  As women, we appear to have more of a “rapport” style of communicating.  We talk about social topics, our internal thoughts and feelings, and we use chit-chat with girl friends to process our experiences.

Create a list of things your feminine self likes to chat about: how you feel, what news story has you worked up, what thoughts are waking you up in the middle of the night, what great joy you’ve experienced, what deep fear is keeping you realizing your dream.

In case you’re feeling stuck for ideas, try this blog post Knight Stivender’s  Life in Full.

Now, shape these ideas into phrases and practice. Oh, and remember to record yourself occasionally. You’ll be shocked in about six months what you once thought was “pretty good.”

Step 8:  Phrasing

For August, your goal is to observe polite forms of request and command phrases.  Then create a list of phrases that would apply to you and your world.  Now practice, practice, practice.  And always, use your metacognitive and proprioceptive strategies.

I’d LOVE to know how you’re doing with Step 8. Stay in touch over the month.

Keeping you and your voice close to my heart,

Kathe

Denver, Colorado

30-Day Crash Course

Fundamentals of Your Feminine Voice

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