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Chapter IV. Efficiency Through Change Of Pitch

Speech is simply a modified form of singing: the principal difference being in the fact that in singing the vowel sounds are prolonged and the intervals are short, whereas in speech the words are uttered in what may be called "staccato" tones, the vowels not being specially prolonged and the intervals between the words being more distinct. The fact that in singing we have a larger range of tones does not properly distinguish it from ordinary speech. In speech we have likewise a variation of tones, and even in ordinary conversation there is a difference of from three to six semi-tones, as I have found in my investigations, and in some persons the range is as high as one octave.

- William Scheppegrell, Popular Science Monthly.

By pitch, as everyone knows, we mean the relative position of a vocal tone - as, high, medium, low, or any variation between. In public speech we apply it not only to a single utterance, as an exclamation or a monosyllable (Oh! or the) but to any group of syllables, words, and even sentences that may be spoken in a single tone. This distinction it is important to keep in mind, for the efficient speaker not only changes the pitch of successive syllables (see Chapter VII, "Efficiency through Inflection"), but gives a different pitch to different parts, or word-groups, of successive sentences. It is this phase of the subject which we are considering in this chapter.

Every Change In The Thought Demands A Change In The Voice-Pitch

Whether the speaker follows the rule consciously, unconsciously, or subconsciously, this is the logical basis upon which all good voice variation is made, yet this law is violated more often than any other by public speakers. A criminal may disregard a law of the state without detection and punishment, but the speaker who violates this regulation suffers its penalty at once in his loss of effectiveness, while his innocent hearers must endure the monotony - for monotony is not only a sin of the perpetrator, as we have shown, but a plague on the victims as well.

Change of pitch is a stumbling block for almost all beginners, and for many experienced speakers also. This is especially true when the words of the speech have been memorized.

If you wish to hear how pitch-monotony sounds, strike the same note on the piano over and over again. You have in your speaking voice a range of pitch from high to low, with a great many shades between the extremes. With all these notes available there is no excuse for offending the ears and taste of your audience by continually using the one note. True, the reiteration of the same tone in music - as in pedal point on an organ composition - may be made the foundation of beauty, for the harmony weaving about that one basic tone produces a consistent, insistent quality not felt in pure variety of chord sequences. In like manner the intoning voice in a ritual may - though it rarely does - possess a solemn beauty. But the public speaker should shun the monotone as he would a pestilence. Continual Change of Pitch is Nature's Highest Method

In our search for the principles of efficiency we must continually go back to nature. Listen - really listen - to the birds sing. Which of these feathered tribes are most pleasing in their vocal efforts: those whose voices, though sweet, have little or no range, or those that, like the canary, the lark, and the nightingale, not only possess a considerable range but utter their notes in continual variety of combinations? Even a sweet-toned chirp, when reiterated without change, may grow maddening to the enforced listener.

The little child seldom speaks in a monotonous pitch. Observe the conversations of little folk that you hear on the street or in the home, and note the continual changes of pitch. The unconscious speech of most adults is likewise full of pleasing variations.

Imagine someone speaking the following, and consider if the effect would not be just about as indicated. Remember, we are not now discussing the inflection of single words, but the general pitch in which phrases are spoken.

(High pitch) "I'd like to leave for my vacation tomorrow, - (lower) still, I have so much to do. (Higher) Yet I suppose if I wait until I have time I'll never go."

Repeat this, first in the pitches indicated, and then all in the one pitch, as many speakers would. Observe the difference in naturalness of effect.

The following exercise should be spoken in a purely conversational tone, with numerous changes of pitch. Practise it until your delivery would cause a stranger in the next room to think you were discussing an actual incident with a friend, instead of delivering a memorized monologue. If you are in doubt about the effect you have secured, repeat it to a friend and ask him if it sounds like memorized words. If it does, it is wrong.

A Similar Case

Jack, I hear you've gone and done it - Yes, I know; most fellows will; went and tried it once myself, sir, though you see I'm single still. And you met her - did you tell me - down at Newport, last July, and resolved to ask the question at a soiree? So did I.

I suppose you left the ball-room, with its music and its light; for they say love's flame is brightest in the darkness of the night. Well, you walked along together, overhead the starlit sky; and I'll bet - old man, confess it - you were frightened. So was I.

So you strolled along the terrace, saw the summer moonlight pour all its radiance on the waters, as they rippled on the shore, till at length you gathered courage, when you saw that none was nigh - did you draw her close and tell her that you loved her? So did I.

Well, I needn't ask you further, and I'm sure I wish you joy. Think I'll wander down and see you when you're married - eh, my boy? When the honeymoon is over and you're settled down, we'll try - What? the deuce you say! Rejected - you rejected? So was I. - Anonymous.

The necessity for changing pitch is so self-evident that it should be grasped and applied immediately. However, it requires patient drill to free yourself from monotony of pitch.


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