Orchestral Speech

Orchestral Speech: Answers to some common questions

Everything that I read regarding stuttering tells me that I shouldn’t be thinking about words or planning them. What you suggest is the opposite… you suggest that I plan how I would say each phrase. Can you clarify this?

This belief that we shouldn’t be thinking about words or planning them is overly simplistic – even though it is widespread among both stammerers and also among speech therapists.   In recent years, psycholinguistic research has clearly demonstrated that non-stammering speakers regularly plan what they want to say in advance; it is a completely normal and necessary part of human communication. Actors, when acting on stage, plan every single word they say. If they didn’t do that, they wouldn’t be able to play the roles they play. The problem, the real problem, for people who stammer is that when they plan ahead, they plan in the wrong way. When they plan ahead, almost invariably they tend to focus on the wrong things.  When PWS scan ahead, they  tend to focus their attention on the words they think they will have problems saying – and then they tend to slow down just before those words – and this makes the stammering worse… because when they do that, they lose the sense of flow and their speech becomes dysfluent.  So, I am just asking you to change the way you scan ahead. I am asking you to scan ahead just to plan the words you want to say and the way you want to say them. When you plan what you want to say, if you want to be fluent it is important that you focus maintaining the intended rhythm and forward flow,  – not on identifying potential problem words and how to avoid stuttering on those words.  When you master the type of planning (in which you focus primarily on the rhythm and forward flow of your words) – and if you are strict, it may be possible to master this in just a few days  – you will find that when you use Orchestral Speech you almost never stammer – just like people who sing almost never stammer when they sing, and actors who stammer almost never stammer when they’re acting.

How fast should I speak when using Orchestral Speech?

There is no straightforward answer to this. Generally speaking, to successfully get a message across, your speech-rate needs to be in keeping with what is appropriate for the speaking situation. The overall speech rate of people who stammer is often too slow because they frequently get stuck. However, to counteract this they often try to speak individual words too quickly. So their speech-rate ends up being a mixture—alternating between too slow (when they block) and too fast (once they get going again). The most important thing with orchestral speech is develop a more regular rhythm, and this may involve both speeding up (by abandoning the words one is blocking on) and also slowing down (by saying the fluent words more slowly).  Having said that, some people who stammer may be slow at formulating what they want to say, and so they may need to aim for a somewhat slower speech-rate than that used by the people they are speaking to, especially if the subject-matter is complicated.

Clearly, the faster you speak, the more errors you will make. But, as a key aim behind Orchestral Speech is to make you more accepting of your speech errors, this is not a problem—provided you are not making so many speech errors that it is impossible for people to understand you. There is no point trying to speak faster than the speed at which you are able to formulate what you want to say. If you do, you will just become tense and more dysfluent.

So do feel free to experiment with a variety of different speaking rates while using Orchestral Speech, to see what suits you best in the various speaking situations you encounter.

How much should I practice this technique?

Practice Orchestral Speech to the point where you can use it without having to think about what you are doing, and you have confidence that it really does work, and that you can rely upon it to work.  Exactly how much practice this entails depends on the quality of your practice and the severity of your stammer. The more strictly you stick to the guidelines, the faster you will learn. Whatever the case, it is the quality of your practice that counts more than the quantity. “Distributed practice” (15-30mins. several times a day) is better than massed practice (practicing continuously for long periods). We don’t recommend massed practice. If your stammering symptoms are mild, you could potentially learn to employ it successfully and reliably within just a few days (indeed, many mild and covert stammerers already employ it successfully without even realising that they are doing it). If your stammering is severe and if you suffer from associated social anxiety and/or produce traumatic stress responses it will take longer to master, and initially, you may have to limit your use of it to relatively unstressful speaking situations.

Once I’ve got stuck, Orchestral Speech does not seem to work. What should I do?

The most common time why the technique fails to work is when the person who stammers panics and starts to use force to push through blocks. Once you have started to use force, and become stressed and tense as a result, it can be difficult to get anything to work. You may find that, at such times, you have to have a break from speaking for 15-30 minutes to allow your nerves to settle before the technique will work again.

I stammer severely and in most speaking situations Orchestral Speech doesn’t work. What can I do?

Some stammerers, especially those whose stammering is very severe, have such strongly ingrained habits of slowing down or speeding up before blocks, and using force to push through blocks that the temptation to do so is almost impossible to resist. The way to tackle this problem is to start by practicing Orchestral Speech only in easy situations. Then, as you get a feel for it, you can go on to expand your practice of it into more difficult practice situations. Until you can employ it successfully it in practice situations, don’t even try to employ it in real-life situations as it almost certainly won’t work and you risk becoming disheartened and giving up. When you’re confident that you can use it successfully in practice situations, then start using it in relatively unstressful real-life situations, and then when you are confident with that, you can start employing it in more stressful situations.

I am already using a fluency shaping technique to stop me from blocking. Is there any benefit in changing over and using Orchestral Speech instead?

If you are already using a fluency shaping technique that works for you—such as syllabic speech, smooth speech, or the McGuire technique, feel free to continue to use it instead of (or in addition to) Orchestral Speech. All the same, we recommend that you do not slow down when you anticipate a block, as doing so is likely to reinforce the tendency to anticipate blocking in similar situations in the future. Whatever the case, it’s important to remember that none of these techniques will reduce your stammering iceberg—and it is important not to use any of them all of the time. To reduce your stammering iceberg, you need to allow yourself to stammer mildly—and you will reduce it fastest if you learn to then use the Jump to get started again when you get stuck.

Orchestral speech works well for me, so is there any need for me to bother to learn The Jump?

Yes, definitely. Remember, Orchestral Speech is just a quick fix. A bit like taking an aspirin for a headache.  In common with all so-called “fluency shaping” techniques, it is essentially a way of avoiding blocking, but it does not provide lasting relief. Indeed, if you avoid blocking too often, you may end up fearing blocks even more.

To reduce your tendency to block and also to reduce the size of your “iceberg” you need to learn to be stop avoiding blocks. And, for this you will need an easy and reliable way  pulling yourself out of them when they occur. The Jump can enable you to quickly and easily get going again. So, The Jump can substantially diminish your fear of blocking and your tendency to avoid blocks. Unlike Orchestral Speech, regular use of The Jump will diminish the iceberg.

When using Orchestral Speech, is it really always necessary always to pre-formulate what you want to say?

No, it is not always necessary. You only need to pre-formulate what you want to say if you want to guarantee that you will be completely fluent (such as when speaking into speech recognition software). If you don’t pre-formulate when using Orchestral Speech, although you will stammer less, you are likely to produce “formulation dysfluencies”, especially in spontaneous conversation. Although these formulations dysfluencies are completely normal (indeed they are often referred to as “normal dysfluencies”), people who stammer tend to produce more of them than non-stammerers. Normally, this is not a problem. However, in situations where you really need to speak as fluently as possible (e.g. when speaking into speech recognition software, or when asking for something in a language that is unfamiliar to you), you can avoid such dysfluencies by pre-formulating.

In fact, people who do not stammer naturally use Orchestral Speech without pre-formulation as their default way of speaking. In other words, they naturally pay more attention to the forward flow than to the accuracy of what they are saying. And they too will often pre-formulate in situations where they really need to be fluent. So, Orchestral Speech without pre-formulation is simply a natural way of speaking for most people most of the time. Ultimately, once stammering is no longer an issue for you, Orchestral Speech without pre-formulation will become your natural way of speaking. However, this will happen spontaneously, as a side-effect of losing your fear of blocking and of speech errors. So, your first priority needs to overcome the fear of blocking and fear of speech errors—and we recommend using The Jump as the best way to achieve this.

It may help to read our article entitled “The uses and abuses of dysfluencies” for further clarification.

Email us your Questions

If you have any further questions about Orchestral Speech that you would like to ask, please feel free to contact us at question@stammeringresearch.org and we will do our best to answer them.

End of the Orchestral Speech Module

Orchestral Speech