The Art of Public Speaking
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.