As I explained in my last article, genetics does play a (surprisingly small) role in your voice by determining, among other things, the size of your vocal tract (the space in your mouth and throat which “shapes” your vocal sound so-to-speak). If we are talking about nature vs. nurture here, I would say that nurture absolutely wins hands down when it comes to what influences our voices.
Your current vocal habits play a HUGE role in what makes your voice sound unique. Even though the size of your mouth cavity would be determined by genetics (you can’t grow a larger skull) the parts within the mouth and throat can, (obviously) move. This means they can create a larger space, a smaller space, but also many, (many!) other sound qualities. So now we have a vast amount of possibilities when it comes to what movements we make, and therefore, the opportunity to, essentially, “design” a vocal sound.
So what decides how our sound is “designed” via the movements possible with our mouth and throat? Well that’s the million dollar question! When we are children, we don’t exactly decide how to sound. We instead are influenced by all the sounds around us, to the point that we pick up our native language and all of its sounds, regional dialect, and even our parent’s vocal habits, without really trying the way we would have to do today if, let’s say, we moved to foreign country.
Now add to all of this your temperament, and the forces of society that (over time) tell children to STOP yelling, crying, whining, (insert other potentially annoying sounds here) plus more factors I’m sure I’m not aware of and you get the default sound of your speaking voice.
There is a clear difference between the variety of sounds you would hear at a playground vs. a business meeting. Because a vast variety of vocal sounds are not generally accepted in society unless you are singing or a child, (or a child singing), we essentially forget that even though our voice may be unique, we have more options in how we sound, and there is much, much more pliability in our sound…to the point that we could consciously decide to change everything about our voice that sounds unique.
To give an example from my own life, my father has somewhat of a sound quality to his voice that would remind you of Marlon Brando from the movie “The Godfather”. I grew up thinking that this was just how his voice sounded. Over the years of singing, I recognized that this sound was in my voice, and connected it to a specific tension in my throat. That sound, which was in my default speaking and singing voice, is now completely gone, as I essentially trained it away.
There are so many ways to influence the sound of your voice that you could experiment your whole life and never run out of options! This is partly why there are so many different genres and vocal styles. Is each one of these singers designed genetically for the one and only genre or blend of genres they’re singing? Would Pavarotti only be genetically able to sing classical music? Of course not. We brand singers by what we know them by, but that is not connected to what they’re capable of. Often though, it’s what singers heard and then what they wanted to create that influences their sound, not so much their genes.
Now what if you hear specific sound, you want to re-create that sound, but it seems like your voice can’t? That’s when we run into the next factor that influences the sound of your voice, which is your vocal skill level. To be continued!