Reading well: five basics

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

In my previous post, I mentioned a list of five key things to watch out for which will help you to read well. Today I want to go through that list in more detail.

Pitch

All of us speak with a varying pitch, and it helps people understand what we say. Normally, for example, we end a question with a rising tone1. As a basic rule, in most contexts for public reading, it is good make sure we do end questions on a rising pitch, and statements on a falling one.

Most of us do better reading in a slightly lower tone than we speak naturally in. It helps our voice carry more clearly. However, I have heard people lower their voices drastically when reading or praying: it is incredibly distracting. Your voice should be as near to your normal one as possible, but slightly lower in its overall pitch. Avoid anything that sounds “put on” or artificial.

Get to know your sound system. (Image is CC.0 – Public Domain)

Pace

Listen to anyone speaking: they will speed up and slow down as they speak. One of the ways we typically emphasise something as important is to speak more slowly. (This can be exaggerated for comic effect, and if we do over-exaggerate our changes of pace when reading, people will instinctively wonder if we’re trying to be funny.) Varied pace is not only natural, it adds interest, and a good reader injects some variation into the speed of the reading. Just as you will normally want to read at a slightly lower pitch than you speak, so also you will want to read at a slightly slower pace than your average speaking voice. As a rule of thumb, the larger the building you are reading in, the more slowly you will want to read.

Sound your consonants

In ordinary speech, we don’t always speak very clearly. The most common consonants that go missing are the “t” and “d” sounds in the middle of words, and the “g” sounds at the end, especially words ending in “-ing”. These are the key ones to watch out for when listening to yourself read, but keep an ear open for the others as well. Doing this will also help you slow down a little bit.

Keep your voice up

It’s surprising how many people drop the volume of their voice towards the end of a sentence. It’s the most common reason you might turn to your neighbour and ask “what did they just say?” As I noted above, you will probably want to lower the pitch of your voice at the end of a statement. You may even want to end the sentence more slowly. But do not lower the volume at the same time. I suspect this is the most common mistake people make, and you may want to practice until you can lower your pitch without turning down your volume control.

Speak at a good volume

Some people simply speak too quietly, yet almost all of us are capable of speaking with sufficient volume to read loudly enough to be heard. This is something that needs practice, so that we can learn how our voice is carrying, and what the right volume for any particular building is. The best way to do this is to ask a friend – and this is another good reason for churches holding group training sessions – to listen, while seated in different places in the church building. It is worth remembering that in most of our congregations many people have a degree of age-related hearing impairment, and in almost all of them, people are more likely to sit nearer the back than the front.

Practice with the sound system

Most churches have some kind of sound system, although these are of variable quality. The most important reason for using it is where, as is usual, it is linked to a loop system for those with hearing aids. Because each sound system has its own peculiarities, it helps to be comfortable with the one you’re using, and that usually means practicing with it. The biggest thing to watch out for, and this is particularly the case with microphones placed close to your mouth, is “p” and “b” sounds. The air hitting the microphone from these plosive sounds can make a very distracting “popping” noise.

The other thing I always do nowadays is make sure my phone is in flight mode. This is not only so that I don’t get a phone call while in church: it is to avoid interference with the sound system.

Put these five basic things into practice, and you will find you’re reading clearly and engaging your listeners.


Notes

  1. In a great many social contexts, people increasingly also use a rising inflection at the end of statements, a practice often referred to as “uptalking”. It is best avoided when reading in public.

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