How to strengthen your voice – with Robert Burns!

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie… Not!

One of the most useful ways of exercising your vocal muscles, sharpening up your articulation and generally strengthening your voice is by reading aloud. And, with the annual celebration of his life and work falling in this month, what better material to use than a choice extract from the work of the national bard of Scotland, Robert Burns?


As well as making sure that people can actually hear and understand what we say, the sounds we make as we speak make a considerable difference to how others interpret what we mean and influences how they react. Great poets like Burns understand this. In the past we used to read aloud to our children and to each other and use our voices in other creative and energised ways, such as singing in the parlour or the pub. When we are not using our voices expressively we sound less interesting and meaning becomes less clear. It is essential for those making presentations to rehearse out loud and it is an excellent way to help introduce variety of pace, intensity and tone into any speaker’s voice. You can’t read Burns without expression!

  • To strengthen articulation – make sure you are enunciating every syllable you read.
  • To help you focus sound – fix on spots in the room at different distances and send phrases to them all in turn.
  • To add variety and richness to your voice – allow it to soar and dive with the poetry or prose.

Do this in the privacy of your home and your mind will retain a memory of how you sound. When you present for real you can simply concentrate on the meaning of what you want to convey and let your subconscious look after the rest. You will be amazed how your voice takes on more colour.

Five minutes of practise a day, reading out loud, will make an appreciable difference to the strength and power of your voice. Winston Churchill did it and so did Abraham Lincoln and they are still regarded as two of our greatest orators.

Let your voice out and you’ll find that your general confidence level will lift too. No cow’rin, tim’rous beasties in sight.

Try this – one of my favourites:

Ae Fond Kiss

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerful twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me. 

I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy:
But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love for ever.
Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met-or never parted,
We had ne'er been broken-hearted. 

Fare-thee-weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare-thee-weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace, Enjoyment, Love and Pleasure!
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever!
Ae fareweel alas, for ever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.

(There is a video of Eddi Reader’s wonderful sung version of this, from Celtic Connections 2009)

Ae Fond Kiss sung by Eddi Reader

Robert Burns image by
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