I Don't Like The Sound Of My Voice! How To Improve Your Tone
Camille van Niekerk
If you dislike your own voice, you’re not alone. And if you’d like to understand why, I encourage you to read this article from Live Science: https://www.livescience.com/55527-why-people-hate-the-sound-of-their-voice.html.
Maybe you feel a little better knowing that most people (even professional singers) have that “cringe” reflex when they hear their recorded voice -or at least they did. More on that later -I’ll address how you can get used to hearing your recorded voice from my own experience of doing just that.
But aside from disliking your general tone, there may be some real issues you’re hearing! Let’s address some of the most common.
1. My voice sounds really nasal.
First - understand that the way you shape your mouth and throat has the greatest impact on your resulting tone quality. That’s because your mouth (and your throat, above your vocal folds) are your primary resonators. The sound wave created at your vocal folds is filtered through your mouth and throat, and in the process, different frequencies are boosted.
A really easy way to experience this for yourself is to sing an EE vowel on a comfortable pitch and then -very slowly -shift to an OO vowel on the same pitch. Listen to the brightness of the EE vowel, compared with the “darker” quality of the OO vowel. Try some different vowel shapes (AH, OH, UH, EY, etc) and notice how your tone changes.
Back to that nasal sound: a lack of SPACE in your mouth and throat can easily lead to a tone that’s overly “nasal” or “bright”. Here are a few ideas to create more resonant space and achieve a richer, more balanced tone:
- Modify your vowels to be more neutral. For example, instead of a bright and closed EE, sing a slightly richer version of that vowel by adding a “shade” of UH. You can think of it as an EE vowel within the mouth shape of an UH, and you’ll probably end up closer to IH as in “live”.
- Drop your jaw (a little). A gently dropped jaw increases the size of your mouth resonator, which translates to richer tone and greater volume.
- Pay attention to your tongue height. Sing that bright EE vowel again and notice how high the back of your tongue is. If your tongue remains high, your sound will be brighter. Train a more relaxed tongue position by singing on a neutral UH vowel (and using syllables like MUM or BUHB in your warmup).
- Lift your soft palate. The easiest way to lift your soft palate is to inhale while imagining you’re right at the beginning of a yawn and then sing, maintaining that open space in the back of your mouth.
- Maintain a neutral larynx position (unless you’re choosing to raise or lower your larynx for stylistic effect). Oftentimes, beginning singers (without realizing it) let their larynx rise as they sing higher pitches. This shortens your resonant “tube”, resulting in a thinner tone. Retrain your larynx to keep a relatively neutral position by singing on a slightly “dopey” MUHM or BUHB - both in warmups and as a syllable to use in your song work.
2. It sounds like I’m speaking, not singing.
If all you’re doing is singing the melody - even if it’s perfectly in tune and well supported -you probably don’t sound nearly as interesting or emotionally connected as your favorite singers do when they sing. See below for different stylistic elements that, when incorporated, will help you sound like you’re really singing, not just speaking on pitch.
- Dynamic variety
- Stylized onset (demonstrated here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhH5CNabCSI&t=923s).
Listen to music with more than the melody in mind. The more stylistic elements you can pick out, the easier it’ll be to create them.
3. I just don’t sound like __________ (fill in the blank with your favorite singer).
Well, you’re right. You aren’t Adele or The Weeknd or Brendon Urie. But why would you want to be? We don’t need two Adele’s! Your job is to be the best you, and I promise if you’re open to that, you’ll learn to love your own voice and embrace your natural strengths.
Technique and training aside, our anatomy determines much of our vocal tone. It’s why your speaking voice sounds the way it does. Wecan learn a lot from other singers - just look up your favorite artist and see the singers they list as influences! But great singing doesn’t stop at imitation. While it’s possible to sing like someone and sound similar to them, your voice will always be uniquely yours.
Speaking from personal experience, I used to absolutely hate listening to my own voice -despite any positive feedback I received. In fact, I’d leave the room if my husband was watching a video or listening to a song I’d recorded. Over the last five years (since I began recording from home), I’ve become way more comfortable listening to myself, and here are my best tips from that experience:
1. Rip off the band-aid. Recording and listening to yourself is such a valuable tool, especially for self-taught singers. Jump in with the knowledge that it will help you improve.
2. Separate you, the listener from you, the singer. Of course, you’re the same person. But in the moment that you’re listening to a recording of yourself, step out of the performer’s shoes and into the teacher’s. Listen to yourself as a vocal coach would: pointing out weaknesses and coming up with solutions to sound better. Don’t be defeated. Be a problem solver!
3. Make note of both likes and dislikes. No performance is perfect. But on the other hand, no performance is all trash. Force yourself to pick out even one thing that you did well. You’re going to kill your motivation if you’re always hard on yourself. Celebrate small improvements and take pride in the things you naturally do well.