Voice as Instrument: Rhythm, Pattern and Music in Storytelling

STF Presenter, Heather Forest

© Heather Forest, STF Presenter

Since early childhood, I have always enjoyed playing my favorite instrument, the voice. My kindergarten teacher tactfully wrote home that my impromptu and frequent outbursts of song were disruptive to the class but that I had a pleasing sound. I grew up to be a self-taught folk musician who delighted in each musical discovery I made on my guitar. As a teenager, growing up during the folksong revival of the 60s, I sang on my front porch each day with gusto. I never learned how to read or write music, so this workshop for non-musicians on the use of the voice and music in storytelling is built on my homespun intuitive skills learned from personal exploration and listening.


The human voice is a flexible instrument supported by both breath and muscle, the voice is a cross between a smooth toned violin, a horn, and a percussive drum.  Human vocal sound is produced by two tiny connected muscles deep in the throat. These tiny muscles conjure a wide range of sonic possibilities. The human voice can whisper, speak, sing and scream. Masterfully controlling one’s speaking voice with creative intention is a skill that improves performance. Subtle changes in tone, pitch, timbre, dynamics, and rhythm can radically change the meaning of the words a storyteller says. It not just “what you say” but “how you say it.” Engaging the imagination in vocal sound production can layer spoken words with subtle nuance and add to the storyteller’s authentic presence. This ring of truth, or “verisimilitude,” can generate trust on the part of the listener and reveal the teller’s perspective on the text.


At my workshop on the voice as instrument, we will examine the joy of singing and speaking with intention. We will observe and explore compositional qualities of pattern and form. We will investigate the range of what the natural speaking and singing voice can produce. Each voice is unique. Each voice has its beauty. Confidence, imagination, breath, and deep listening contribute to the improvement of intention and authenticity in our vocal utterances. People read meaning into the sound of words. The meaning that is derived by the listener is rooted more in the musicality of speech than in the actual words spoken.


All levels of experience are welcome! Rise and shine and come explore the natural rhythms of language, simple song making and the creative potential of the voice as an instrument for nuanced speaking and singing with clarity and truth.



Want to learn more about using your voice as an instrument? Take Heather’s workshop , Voice as Instrument: Rhythm, Pattern, and Music in Storytelling, (Sunday, March 25  from 9:15 am – 10:45 am) – part of Sharing the Fire 2018.  Visit the STF Conference Details page to register for the conference.  Want to share your own experiences on this topic?  Leave a comment.

STF Presenter, Heather ForestAbout:

Heather Forest is a modern-day bard. Her storytelling performances of world folktales are a fusion of poetry, prose, original melody, and the sung and spoken word. An award winning storyteller, author and recording artist, she has been featured in major storytelling festivals throughout the United States and abroad. She is a recipient of the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence Award.

Post a comment