When working to improve a student's pitch, there are three basic phases that you must complete:
- identifying the target voice,
- habituating the target voice and
- stabilizing the target voice.
In the first phase, it is important for the student to identify instances when he/she uses a lower pitch and can discriminate high versus low pitch. Following discrimination, the student needs to voluntarily produce a lower voice. The discrimination of high versus low pitch and the voluntary production of a lower voice is key to success. After a student can voluntarily produce a lower pitch he/she then needs to learn to habituate that target voice.
Habituation depends on the complexity of the utterance, so the student must carefully move from simple to complex. That means moving from production of vowels to words to utterances to spontaneous speech. In the process, it often becomes apparent that the alterations in pitch are contextual. For example, pitch may be related to particular vowels, or it might be related to the position of words in sentences, or it might be related to the length of sentences. A long sentence requires careful control of respiration and phonation and, therefore, it becomes much more difficult to control the voice.
After the target voice has been established and can be used in continuous speech, it is important to achieve stabilization. This also varies with the complexity of the task and possible involvement of some psychological issues. So, it is important to help the student carry over the voice into situations that might be difficult and to use the voice with individuals with whom he/she might not feel comfortable communicating. It is also true that it will be easier to use the target voice for certain types of communication. For example, if somebody is tense or excited or is communicating about something with high emotional content, the target voice may be harder to control and maintain.
The following audio clips present examples of going through these phases with a student who began with a voice pattern characterized by frequent breaks in pitch of high magnitude. This student had received negative feedback regarding his pitch and so had chosen not to use his voice in any communicative situations. The instructional sequence illustrated occurred over a one-year period involving three sessions per week.
Phase I – Identifying Target Voice
Sample of conversational speech
Shifting from high to low pitch on problem vowels
Phase II – Habituating Target Voice
Using low voice when producing newly established vowels in words
Using low voice when producing newly established vowels in phrases
Using low voice when reading sentences
Using low voice when describing picture series
Phase III – Stabilizing Target Voice
Answering questions and describing events
Expressing personal feelings and ideas