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What Is ‘Bad Sound’?

Since I began teaching voice in South Africa in 1997 I have heard some pretty interesting definitions of ‘bad sound’. Some people have said that “‘bad sound’ is when an accent is ‘too strong’”, “when someone veers ‘too far’ from an ‘expected sound’” when a voice is very ‘raw’ (and by raw I mean rural) and so on. In other words I have heard so many people describing ‘bad sound’ in relation to their very personal aesthetic or social preferences. This is not what I think constitutes ‘bad sound’.  

I think that ‘bad sound’ is:

-any sound produced that is not connected to thought or intention. Sound that is not
triggered. (You could say that it is when you hear the speaker speaking, but you do not listen to what they say)
-sound that is produced in a manner that could damage your vocal apparatus such as pushed, squeezed or tight sound
-de-powered sound
-breathy sound
-lazily articulated speech (excluding certain natural articulatory differences that occur as a result of accent) 

What are the clues that someone is producing sound in an ‘abnormal manner’?

I notice ‘bad sound’ when I hear ‘shouting’, pushed sound, unsupported sound, odd or abnormal vocal patterns, odd or abnormal vocal emphasis, odd or abnormal variation of pitch, odd or abnormal variation of pace, unclear formation of words and so on. And I hear ‘bad sound’ when I see odd or abnormal physical behaviour. Shortness of breath too often alerts me to a potential vocal problem. And a hoarse voice is an alarm bell warning that something is very wrong! 

© Donald Woodburn

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