Vocal Tonality

Have your heard yourself lately?

Learn these secrets to sounding like a celebrity.

There is a saying that some people learn visually, but that’s not the only way to learn or take in information. I have always been an auditory learner. Because of that, I’ve had a real connection to audiobooks almost since they were invented. I love to learn anything. 

Audiobooks today have become such an easy way for me to satisfy that thirst for learning I have. If you’re reading this, you understand that a little. You want to learn from audiobooks too. 

One thing that’s always fascinated me about audiobooks is how the narrators use their voices to tell a story. If you are an audio learner like me, you don’t even need to see the person or the character to really get a sense of what story they are telling you. I’m intrigued by this. It is an actual thing called vocal tonality. 

Vocal tonality refers to how your words resonate, and the phonation of your voice. Phonation is what happens with your vocal cords, while resonation refers to the other parts of your mouth and throat that make up words and sounds. That includes the larynx, pharynx, jaw, teeth, and lips.

Princeton University develops speakers that they call Word Smart speakers. They are among the most brilliant voice over workers on the planet. They’ve learned this craft of vocal tonality.

I’ve checked out a few audiobooks on vocal tonality that I think you will like that can help you master this. That includes the Word Smart product. Have a look, and see what you can do with your own voice afterward.

The Sound of Your Voice by Dr. Carol Fleming

Dr. Carol Fleming is a speech pathologist, a speech expert, and a consultant with speech communication. She’s developed this book that will help you to listen to how your voice sounds, and develop it into the voice that you want it to be. She calls it “voice image.” What does your voice sound like to the rest of the world? That’s a voice image. Dr. Fleming shows you what the fundamentals of voice image are and takes you through the process of understanding your voice better.

Through this book, you will understand more what your own voice says about you. You learn how to diagnose and analyze your own voice. You begin to understand what its problems are, and how to correct them. If you want to learn regional dialects or mannerisms, the tools are here to practice those. You also learn things like how to become more confident in your voice, and how to make it sound stronger and more clear.

What I liked about this one is that it focuses more on interpersonal communication, and it is not entirely about the business sense of things. You may not learn how to speak professionally here, but you will learn the basic skill of sounding more confident when you speak to people. This is a skill that can be built upon if you want to use your vocal tonality professionally.

Vocal Awareness by Arthur Samuel Joseph MA 

For many people, the first thing they get to know about you is your voice. When you call your bank for the first time, for example, the first thing they get to know about you is your voice. Are you aware of how that comes across? This is what fascinates me about audiobooks. If you have no idea what the narrator looks like, you can get an entire perception of someone by just listening to them. Vocal Awareness by Arthur Joseph tells you how to understand this identity part of your voice so that you can control more of what people see in you when they hear your voice.

Here you learn how to master your voice and coordinate it in your life in a way that is powerful. It’s an excellent tool to become more aware of what you sound like. We don’t often get to hear what we sound like or understand our own voice identity, and I love that this book gives you the tools to do that.

Voice of a Leader by Arthur Samuel Joseph

Another thing I love learning about audiobooks and their narrators is how much we learn about a person when we hear them speak. This concept goes beyond vocal identity and picturing a certain person when we hear them. Voice of a Leader by Arthur Samuel Joseph is an excellent sequel to Vocal Awareness. This is a book that is used by a number of professionals in speaking, from politicians to corporate executives. If you’re practicing the art of vocal tonality for professional purposes, this book is a good one to hit in the middle of your journey. Start off just learning how to learn more about your voice, and you will find that you’re taking this craft to an entirely new level.

One thing I liked doing when I listened to this is I took a recording of my voice before I listened to the book, and after. After I used the principles in this book to study my voice more. I really felt like I got to know myself better. That helped me to improve my vocal tonality. This book is worth the try.

Word Smart Genius Edition by The Princeton Review, Michael Freedman

Word Smart is Einstein-level vocal tonality work. This comes right from The Princeton Review, and it is used by the best in the world. It doesn’t feel like you are learning Princeton-style the whole time. You definitely get the sense that this is higher-level learning at a very elevated level. However, you have examples that make you laugh, monologues you will enjoy, and little quizzes that make it easy to retain information.

You also get some good vocabulary lessons here. These are words you’ve never heard of, most of the time, and it makes the process fun. The work here is done in a very clever but easygoing way that makes the process of learning something fascinating very easy. This one is a must-have, and worth every penny.

Study Vocal Tonality Today

There isn’t one book here that I recommend over the others. They are all industry leaders developed by industry leaders. Get them all. I learned so much more about vocal tonality, and me, by working with these audiobooks. Have fun!

25 Responses

  • It’s really fascinating how there are so many little, intangible aspects of our personality and communication type which add up into a fuller impression. Over time, the ability to speak well, with the correct tone and style, could make all the difference, especially in the corporate workplace. However, I wonder if the importance of vocal tonality and the way we distinguish the “right type of tonality” from “the wrong type” is based in societal norms, and thus arbitrary. For example, vocal fry. Vocal fry is a phenomenon where when we speak our voice sometimes dips into its lowest registers, making a deep, creaky and breathy sound. In men, vocal fry is actually considered favorable, making them sound powerful and masculine. To contrast, women who use vocal fry are seen as incompetent and unhireable. I wonder if we can ever detangle these more questionable aspects of impression, or if they’re permanently a part of the way we perceive each other.

  • Vocal tonality is something that could be a game-changer in employment and professional settings. Another huge market for vocal tonality coaching is working with transgender men and women. Transitioning with hormones is still a lengthy and difficult process for many. A majority of transgender men and women never have their voices match up to how they want to be perceived. Vocal tonality courses are a great resource to help increase confidence and overall health and happiness in the transgender community. Unfortunately, gaining access to this kind of coaching can be a long and arduous process. Some have to wait months to get into a qualified speech therapist. I think resources like the ones you have shared above could be very helpful to those who otherwise would have to wait for a space to open up.

  • Another point not made in this post is that singing is another way we share with our voices. In fact, kids learn many things such as the days of the week and the alphabet through songs. So vocal tonality being educational stretches much further than just audiobooks. Furthermore, the way someone’s voice sounds can make a person seem more trusting, or more approachable. So much can be taken away from understanding how to use your voice better and see the way you can change its impact.

    I think even more emphasis should be put on how important confidence is to having a better voice. I think it’s most of the battle. One’s voice is how others often will measure your confidence. It’s essential when giving a speech or hosting a podcast one must have a confident voice, but it’s of course even rather important for everyday life as well.

  • Hi Taylor,

    I have recently been intrigued by audiobooks as well! On a kick to be more productive while walking the neighborhood, I have started listening to audiobooks on my walks. So far, I have been listening to biographies or non-fiction books, and have found the readers are very talented! The way they use their voice to tell the story is incredible! I have not heard of vocal tonality until I read your blog post. Now I have to look into this further, so thanks for the recommendations on the audiobooks about the topic!

  • Hello, Taylor,
    I am one of those people that hates hearing recordings of their voice. I knew there were people making a living with voice acting, but I assumed it was a talent you were born with—not something learned. There is a huge market for audio book recordings, and as an indie author, it can save me a tremendous amount of money to learn this skill for myself. How long did it take you to see improvement?

  • This is a subject I look forward to exploring more. My voice has always been a touchy subject for me. My confidence is not as high as it should be. Being confident in your voice is incredibly important for business owners like myself. Like any thing, it requires patience and practice to grow your vocal presence. I intend on looking into the suggestions for help with building my voice. As the mother to a child who required years of speech therapy, I am intrigued by Dr. Flemings’s work. Who better to help with vocal tones that a speech therapist?

  • The topic of this article grabbed my attention as every time I hear my voice played back on an audio or video recording, I cringe. Do I really sound like that?
    And like you, I am hooked on audio books and am always enjoy learning new things, especially when it falls into the category of self improvement. Putting Voice of a Leader on the top of my list to try, as I’m looking for specific techniques that I can put into practice in both my work and my side hustle as a running coach.

  • Vocal tonality is interesting topic. I didn’t realize when I clicked into this that it would audiobook focused, so it cool to find out that there are so many audiobooks out there to help you work on your tonality. Another thing that can help you with your tonality is to take a dive into linguistics. Specifically, look into the phonetic alphabet, and the different sounds in English. When you learn about language sounds, you learn about how those sounds are formed within the parts of the face. It’s also worth studying if your tying to learn a new language, as it can help you pick up vocal sounds that don’t exist in your language.

  • I’d never heard of vocal tonality before stumbling across this blog post. It reminds me of the David Foster Wallace “this is water” story. We don’t observe phenomenon basic until we can name and quantify how it impacts our lives.

    I really appreciate the time you took to list and summarize those books. Next time I need to give a speech, I will already have my study materials picked out, haha.

    …Actually, I should probably start reading now. In the age of endless Zoom meetings, tonality probably carries more impact on our professional lives than ever before.

  • While I do not listen to audiobooks, I do listen to meditations and podcasts. I have noticed that when I do this, there are some meditations I prefer over others and some podcasts I can not listen to due to the individual’s voice. After reading your blog, I looked up some tips to improve vocal tonality. When I was in high school, I was in the choir. One of her suggestions with singing was to use your diaphragm; it did not surprise me; it was the same with speaking. If you mumble, open your mouth wider. I remember recording myself in high school frequently and thinking I sound odd. One of the tips I found was to record yourself and pay attention to your own voice. It was surprising to me to learn how much we really pay attention to voices and how they influence our perception of another person.

  • Yes! Finally, people are realizing the importance of how they sound. I began learning about vocal tonality when I often wondered what my voice sounded like to others. Not only is tonality useful for seminars and speeches, but also for podcast recording artists. Being able to speak clearly and concisely has helped me to close contracts as a vocal artist. Knowing how to tone the voice so that others want to listen and collaborate with your point of view is crucial. Vocal tonality should be taught at any business where team bonding and communication are important to success.
    Thanks Taylor for writing about a forgotten, yet relevant, topic!

  • I have heard my voice recorded and I think it is totally different than I sound to myself when just talking. I just thought that it was due to the electronics of it.

    I will definitely have to give this some thought, I would like to come off a little stronger without having to raise my voice, making me seem angry.

    I do notice the tone in others but never thought about how my own tone came across. Thank you for the list of books that can help me come across more confident and assertive without just raising my voice.

  • Hello Taylor, great to read your article! I can relate to this as I have been singing for decades, albeit for academic and pedagogical reasons. Some of the things you have mentioned in your article, such as phonation, were applied in the same way my previous voice teachers and past conductors have taught to me, in terms of singing. I strongly agree with your point that vocal tonality is also important in honing one’s storytelling/narration skills. We must be expressive in narrating a story and even telling an inspiring story. Regarding “voice image,” I remember the time when I wrote an academic paper regarding different vocal personas in a Filipino televised singing competition. The same rule applies, as each person’s “voice image” may define one’s identity/personality. I would like to know more about Word Smart soon.

  • So, to be totally honest with you Taylor I had never heard of vocal tonality until now. That was the most exciting thing about this article is learning something new. I’m usually a reader. Growing up I always had a book in hand but becoming an adult and mother I had to learn to adapt because sitting down and reading wasn’t always a viable option. I took to audiobooks myself fairly quickly, along with Ted talks and podcasts. Things where I could hear a voice and paint a picture in my head without having to hold a book. I can definitely see where vocal tonality comes in with all of this because anytime the speakers voice wasn’t able to paint a picture for me it would be hard to focus and want to dive deep into that head space. I think many people, including me at one point, assume speaking, reading things for people is something anyone can do. A simple skill like having a conversation. The article truly goes into the mechanics of what makes up the hard and powerful skill called vocal tonality and how to use it to captivate people and send a real message which resonates. To this date what recording sticks out to you the most that comes into your head that truly nailed the vocal tonality to you?

    • Thanks for your comment Olivia. It took me many years to realize how important vocal tonality is to my success is so many areas of life. Dr. Mehrabian concluded that the interpretation of a message is 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal and 55 percent visual. The conclusion was that 93 percent of communication is “nonverbal” in nature.

  • I always take notice of the tones I use when speaking to someone knowing how it can affect effective communication. Some people will opt to stop listening to you when your vocal tone contradicts that message you want to say. Some may even take offense to what you’re saying just because of how it was said. The worst part is how a lot of people don’t realize there’s anything wrong with their tone.

    It’s great that more resources are becoming available to help people with vocal tonality. I’ll definitely pick one of these up to improve and may even gift some copies to friends. Thanks for sharing!

  • When I took speech class in college, we learned how to put together and deliver a presentation, but we never discussed how to actually use the voice itself. I come from a performance background where vocal tonality is used in a different context, so it’ll be interesting to see if there are any parallels between stage presentation and everyday professional communication. The lessons on dialect will be especially intriguing, since the only generic speech advice I was ever given was “never speak with an accent; even your own natural one.” Vocal tonality isn’t a topic I ever thought about for non-theatrical purposes, so I look forward to learning more about it.

    ~Cory S.

  • Taylor,

    As someone who doesn’t like to hear their own voice, I found this article to be interesting. I’ve done podcasts in the past and whenever I went back to hear myself, I hated it. I’m from the south, so my tone is a little different from most Americans, plus I have a little accent. But the tone of your voice matters and learning how to control it in different settings is also important. In addition to the books you listed, I plan on doing more research on vocal tonality. Thank you for this post.

  • My friends and colleagues told me that I have a good speaking voice and I sound pretty pleasant over the phone. However when I tried recording my voice and even sang a few songs I must say that I sound more like a kitten which for me is pretty embarrassing. This is the first time that I have read about “vocal tonality” which can really help me a lot in improving my overall voice, tone, modulation and delivery. The tips that were mentioned are very practical and easy for me to follow. I will commit to practicing my tone as often as I can do it. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I’d be able to see some improvements and sound less squeaky. I’d like to be able to deliver some of my speeches and presentations in front of the group sounding like a pro. Thanks again for the wonderful tips! Rock on!

  • To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of audiobooks because of the tone of voice some narrators operated in and I preferred to have physical books on hand. After diving deeper into some different types of audiobooks that are out there, I realized that certain narrators just know how to convey the story, keeping their listeners engaged and interested and others are more mundane. Bring that same principle into everyday life with zoom meetings and Microsoft team meetings and you have the same concept, some people know how to control their tone to convey a message and others don’t. I never thought to record my voice and play it back! Makes me want to work on my vocabulary and my tone so that I can better articulate myself!

  • I’ve already listened to The Sound of Your Voice by Dr. Carol Fleming twice and loved it! She really made me think about how I sound when I tell a story. I’m going to check out the other ones you suggested and see what I can learn from them. It always fascinates me to see the different perceptions people get from the way somebody sounds. Somebody’s tone can automatically resonate with trust or warning, which I love to study!

    Thanks for the recommendations; I’m excited to learn more about my own tone for personal reasons and business.

  • Hi Taylor,

    I’ve always been conscious of my voice. My friends always tell me how squeaky I sound. I always wanted to penetrate podcasting, and I feel like I have so much to say. This article really gives helpful tips to sound like a professional! Now I can project my voice in Morgan Freeman style!

  • One thing this made me think of when I read it was how many people have commented that I sound angry when I am trying to express a point. If it’s something I am passionate about, I do get pretty worked up, and apparently that comes off as mad. This made me realize I need to be more self-aware of how I present myself when I am talking. Not only that, but the company I am talking around. It’s one thing to be in front of friends, and another to be in front of business associates. I definitely don’t want to come across the wrong way. I hope to take this into my future affairs with me and remember to stay calm, haha!

  • Vocal tonality? I never thought I’d see a blog focused on something so rare, yet so important. Thank you Taylor for being one of the only people I’ve EVER seen talk about the importance of your tone. It’s funny because I’ve always said “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”, and being aware of your voice and how you sound is more important than anyone realizes. I really appreciate you bringing awareness to vocal tonality …though I’ve never heard of voice image, and voice awareness – it makes complete sense. This is how people view you and think of solely based on your voice and the tone used. I want to see more about this [in your eyes and in your opinion], I might even buy this book you speak of! Really, thanks for bringing awareness to “voice awareness” hehe.

  • I agree, vocal tonality helps to build trust. It’s important to a successful communication. It makes you seem genuine and your customers feel at ease.

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