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Monotone vs. varied intonation: How to change your pitch in English

What makes a voice interesting?
Why some speakers are charismatic and engaging, and others are just… blah.

Here’s how I see it.
It’s not just the level of their English or how native sounding their accent is.
Believe me, it isn’t.
Because you can have a non-native R,
and you can pronounce sheet and shit the same way
(I mean, I prefer you not to, but technically you can)
and still be a great speaker.
Engaging. Interesting. Inspiring.

In fact, the video today talks about a struggle not only non-native speakers face but also native speakers, and that is…
A monotone voice.
(Same note speech.)

I talked quite a lot about why changing your pitch is crucial for clarity and impact,
but I never spoke about HOW to raise or drop your pitch.

I have seen hundreds of students (not exaggerating)
THINKING that they are raising their pitch,
when in fact they are only saying the words a little louder.
Using the same tone.

This is why I decided to dedicate today’s video to the difference between monotone voice (because if you want to change it, you first have to HEAR it)
And varied intonation, which is the familiar melody of American English.

You will also learn:
1. A simple exercise that will help you to raise and drop your pitch consciously
2. How to recognize and avoid same note speech (monotone)
3. The melody patterns that will make you sound more interesting.
4. A fun exercise to practice American intonation and pitch changes


I really like this shirt but I don’t think I’m gonna get it.

I really like this shirt but I don’t think I’m gonna get it.

Hey guys, it’s Hadar, and this is the Accent’s Way.

Today we’re gonna talk about intonation and pitch.

What is pitch? And what’s the difference between varied intonation and different levels of pitch, and monotonous intonation and same-note speech?

You know us, accent coaches, we always talk about: raising your pitch – dropping your pitch, high pitch – low pitch. But what is pitch to begin with? How do we control it? And why is it so important to American melody and intonation?

So, let’s begin with defining ‘pitch’. Pitch is the level of your tone, the note that you’re playing with your voice. You have higher pitch, which is here, and you have lower pitch, which is here.

The higher the frequency of your vocal cords, the higher the pitch is. The lower the frequency of your vocal cords [the vibrations of the vocal cords] the lower the voice is.

Now. You can always play with higher notes and lower notes when you speak. You can also stay on the same tone and not change your pitch whatsoever, no matter what you’re saying. That would be more monotonous speech.

In American English, pitch plays a significant role. Because words that are stressed in English are higher in pitch. That means the pitch is always lifted when you stress a word.

But before that, let’s understand how you even control your pitch. Because, of course it’s easier to say: “raise your pitch when you need to stress a word”, but how do you even do that? To practice that, let’s start with a song.

Now, don’t tell me: “I can’t sing! I’m not musical” … A simple song. Happy birthday”. I’m sure you can sing it. So, listen up or… sing along.

‘Happy birthday to you’. Just that. Do it again with me.

‘ha-ppy birth-day to you. Every word had a different note.  ‘Happy bir..’, when I went to ‘bir’ I raised my pitch. I went for a higher note.

‘Happy birthday..’ [went back to a lower note] ‘to…’ So technically this is a more stressed word because it’s higher in pitch.. ‘to you’. And then, went back down. Ok?

Happy birthday to you. Now I’m speaking, not singing, but I’m still raising my pitch, according to the notes that I know from the song. So raising the pitch it’s going for a higher note just like in a song. Okay good.

Now that you know how to raise your pitch and how to control your voice to go higher in pitch and lower in pitch, let’s talk about the language. Let’s talk about how it comes to play in English.

So, in English when you stress a word or when you reach the primary stress of a word, then you go higher in pitch – tah TAH tah. to-MO-rrow. “Tomorrow”. “I’ll see you tomorrow”. Right?

I’m kind of singing it, but I’m not really singing it.. I’m speaking it – but playing with my pitch. ‘playing with my pitch’. Again, it’s harder to do it when you say it in words, but then when you turn it into music – tah tah tah tah tah tah, try it with me – tah tah tah tah tah tah.

It’s very easy when it’s not related to words. Why is that? Because a lot of speakers are used to playing the same note when speaking.

Now let’s compare monotonous vs varied pitch. And you tell me at the end what you think sounds better.

‘How are you doing today? How are you doing today?’ [monotonous pitch]

‘How are you doing today? How are you doing today?’ [varied pitch].  Every syllable receives a different note.

‘How are you doing today?’ ‘How are you doing today? [monotonous pitch]. ‘How are you doing today?’ [varied pitch].

‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ – ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ [comparing pitches].

All I did was change the pitch, and see how different it sounds?

‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ [monotonous]. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow’ [varied].

‘I really like this shirt but I don’t think I’m gonna get it’ [monotonous]. Now, my pronunciation is accurate, my rhythm is pretty good, but my intonation is flat.

‘I really like this shirt but I don’t think I’m gonna get it’ [varied]. All I did now was change the pitch. I raised the pitch for the stress words, and dropped it at the end, and played with the level. So every syllable was a little higher or a little lower than the previous word.

‘I really like this shirt but I don’t think I’m gonna get it’ [varied]. ‘I really like this shirt but I don’t think I’m gonna get it’ [monotonous].

Now, the reason why I’m doing this is because a lot of people are too afraid to play with their pitch. Because in their language, keeping the same note is the common intonation pattern. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, it’s just how it is in their language.

But when you apply it onto English, it makes it sound dull and boring, and less clear. Because when you go higher in pitch, you help the listener understand what words are more important, and what words are less important.

‘I really like this shirt but I don’t think I’m gonna get it’ [varied].

‘I don’t feel very well’- flat intonation. ‘I don’t feel very well’.

‘I don’t feel very well’ ‘I don’t feel very well’ [varied pitch].

So ‘feel’ was the highest note. I went higher in pitch for ‘feel’ – that’s the stressed word – and I dropped everything else. Stress is also on “I”. ‘I don’t feel very well’.

Okay that’s it for now. I hope it’s a little more clear – the difference between higher notes and lower notes. Why it’s important to change your pitch, and how it affects your speech when you’re using varied intonation, how it creates engagement and how it stirs emotions.

So this is why it’s something that you definitely want to work on when you’re learning English, because sometimes it’s even more important than getting the R right or the TH.

If you’re wondering how you can practice it, this is what you can do: look at the bottom right corner of this video, and you’ll see this small cog wheel. If you click on it you’ll see ‘speed’.

Click on it again, and see that you can change the speed to half the speed, 75% or x1.25%. Go to 50% and play the video in a 50% speed. When you do that you’ll notice the changes in intonation a lot more.

And what you want to do is just practice the melody. It doesn’t even matter where the words are. Just play the melody of the people speaking, whether it’s me or someone else. Just play the melody, and repeat it over and over again.

And then, go into fast speed and you’ll notice the changes in pitch a lot more, and you’ll be able to make these changes yourself because now you can control your pitch. Because you’ve got to think of it as music as if these are just notes rather than just words, and rather than just stressing words. Ok?

Leave me a comment below tell me if it’s clear, and tell me what you are doing to improve your intonation and melody in English.

And of course if you still struggle with something, let me know in the comments below as well. Don’t forget to subscribe and click on the bell to get notifications every time I upload a new video.

Thank you so much, have a wonderful week and I’ll see you next week in the next video. Bye.

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7 Responses

  1. Hi angel
    Your teaching is help me that improve english speaking and more understand what is melody..
    What is pitch ? so many thanks?

  2. I find these practices inspiring, exciting, productive and very important. Those, who wants to speak an English efficient for all possible purposes should take them seriously and apply in the everyday life..

  3. Hello Madam,
    I am a non native speaker and i am watching your videos.its very useful to improve the pronunciation and thanks for your service.

  4. for froncophone country and for the older person (40 th or 50th years old)
    there is no opportunity to practice english
    usually limitted in listening some video or writing some phrases in chat or reading
    few paragraphs
    so talking english is very difficult

  5. Very beneficial lesson . In the mean while I will keep it in my mobile for frequently practising .
    I really enjoyed it . You always surprise us . Iam so Grateful .

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