Central Baptist Church of Southington Connecticut


The Preacher's Voice

  • Jim Townsley
  • Jul 22, 2009

You open your mouth and out comes sound and you don't even have to think about it. The use of the voice is taken for granted until something goes wrong with it. The voice is a very complicated function of the body. Did you realize there are six intrinsic (inside) sets of muscles that operate the vocal folds? In addition, there are six sets of extrinsic (outside) muscles that help produce sound. The larynx, the pharynx, the diaphragm, the lungs, the nasal passages, bones, and cartilage all play an important role in the production of sound. From the head to the stomach several parts of the body must work in unison if the voice is to work properly. No one ever thinks about it, unless the voice begins to fail.

I personally experienced the loss of a normal voice. For ten years I began to have a reoccurring problem with my voice. One or two days a week I struggled getting a clear sound. It seemed as if I had a hoarse voice, but my voice was not sore, it simply did not work properly. Eventually, my voice stopped working completely and for three years I could not conduct a simple conversation. I eventually was diagnosed with a disorder called spasmodic dysphonia and according to a top New York otolaryngologist it was incurable.

As a young preacher I heard all of the macho cliché's. "If you ain't walking on half your pant leg, drip'n wet with sweat, and so hoarse you can't speak above a whisper, you ain't preached." When I had a normal voice its misuse seemed unimportant. Upon losing my voice I suddenly realized my voice is my ministry. After three years of silence gradually my voice began to return. I attribute my recovery to many people praying and from some key people who believed this disorder could be overcome.

I have learned a great deal about the voice and its proper function. I believe I can safely say that the majority of preachers misuse their voices as did I. In some cases preachers are committing voice suicide. I recognize the importance of fervency, intensity, and preaching loud; but, I believe preachers can preach with fervency while using proper vocal techniques which will save their voices. The voice is an amazing and complicated part of the human body and I don't want to oversimplify its function, but for the sake of keeping this article short I intend to give some basic information that can help save your voice.

Sound that is high or sound that is low determines the pitch. Some people have a low sounding voice, while others have a high sounding voice. Everyone has a pitch that is normal for them. The voice is meant to have a varied range of high sounds and low sounds, but everyone has a pitch that is their voiceprint. One of my problems in preaching was when I raised my volume I would raise my pitch and keep it in an abnormal range for an extended period of time. This is a common mistake of many preachers. Listen carefully to a recording of your sermons to see if you can detect a problem with this issue. Another way to determine voice misuse is to ask your wife to listen for this while you are preaching.

Breathing is a basic and simple function, but unfortunately many preachers develop bad habits of proper breath control. Breathing often becomes shallow and does not give proper support for good voice quality. The chest, the stomach, and the back should all be understood as imperative for good voice quality. The torso should be similar to blowing up a balloon. The balloon expands on all sides, but often preachers utilize only the upper portion of their lungs to support their voice.

Mike White, a breathing expert, has given the following explanation about breath control. Begin by taking in as large of a breath as you can, while you feel the strain, breathe in as deeply as you possibly can. Exhale and let the breath go. Call that uppermost in breath a 10. Now take a deep breath but stop when it gets full, but not strained. Exhale. Call that comfortable uppermost in breath an 8. Now breathe into your "8" and just let the breath escape in a relaxing exhale. So if you were to breathe out more, you would have to force it. Call that point a 2. Then breathe naturally. Now breathe in to an 8, and let the breath go to 2, then immediately exhale, forcing the breath out with your belly muscles like blowing out the candles on a birthday cake to as close as you can to no breath left at all. Feel the strain and tension in your body from 2-0. Breathe naturally. Try that again. In to 8 ......then relaxed out to 2, then forced out to 0. Breathe naturally. Call that uncomfortable lower most out-breath a 0. To clarify, many do not breathe very deeply, so they mostly breathe in to say 4 or 5. Then they use or spend 3, 4, 5, or more of the air while speaking or singing, and end up at 0-1.9, in other words, below 2, the point where tension begins. This causes a great deal of restriction in the same area as does the abdominal startle response. Then one is so out of breath, they pull in or gasp the air, causing friction and further tension. The cycle keeps repeating and worsening with every sentence. So when I say breathe during practice between the window of 2 and 8 or 3-7 as a softer form, you breathe to 7 or 8 and never strain on the inhale, then make sure you do not go past 2 on the exhale. In this way you begin to develop a habit of staying mostly between 3-7.

Preachers are notorious for speaking after they are out of breath and continue to tighten and force the words without inhaling. Developing this bad habit and continuing it for many years is dangerous to the voice.

The use of some simple exercises can help strengthen and maintain good voice quality. Humming is the most important exercise you can do. Humming up and down scales are excellent exercises to strengthen the voice. I followed primarily three exercises.

1. Begin humming very softly at a comfortable and normal pitch and hold the hum for ten to fifteen seconds. It is important to relax the neck muscles and hum as softly as possible. Raise the pitch one step and hum for another 15 seconds. Then continue the same procedure until you can not go any higher. This will seem abnormally high, but the extremely high humming will help to stretch the vocal muscles and eventually strengthening them. Then go down the scale until you can not go any lower.

2. Follow the same procedure, but using intones. Intones is making a humming sound while inhaling rather than exhaling. Intones are extremely important, because you can not tighten your vocal muscles while making sound in this way.

3. Follow the same procedure but sliding up five notes and back down five notes. Raise the pitch until you can not go any higher and then go down the scale in this fashion until you can not go any lower.

These exercises should require about 30 minutes and should be repeated every day for the best results. These can be done while driving in a car or sitting at a desk.

Tension is a voice killer. Stress can cause extreme tension that interferes with voice production. Laughing and relaxation are important factors of a happy life and a strong voice. Too much stress equals a tight and strangled voice.

Because of my voice disability I have garnered a considerable amount of information that I can share with others upon request. Please feel free to email if you have additions questions.