Applying what I do when I play music to my speech
Ross Dunne decided to analyse what happens physically when he plays the tenor horn. Would this help with his stammer? he wondered. Here Ross tells us what he found.
I'm Ross, I'm 25 and I'm a musician. I can't recall when my stammer started; it was something that developed over the first ten years of my life, and was at its height during my teenage years.
I am a quiet person and when I was younger, in social situations I'd usually only utter a few syllables or say short and clipped sentences. I had lots of good ideas in my head but wasn't used to expressing them in speech. I'd often stammer more when I became overwhelmed by stressful situations.
Over the years, I have felt humiliated and embarrassed about my stammer. This led to mental health issues as I started to question whether I was able to do things everyone else could do. It even made me worried about finding a job.
STAMMERING AND MUSIC
In the past I used performing as an escape from speaking, having played tenor horn in brass bands since I was seven. However, the social aspects of music terrified me due to the pressure of trying not to stammer. I longed to be performing on stage, for that is what came most naturally to me.
I started to analyse and compare the physical processes involved when I stammer to what I do when playing the tenor horn. I used to stammer the most when going from vowel to consonant. I also realised that when I stammered, my tongue and face muscles were rigid, breathing shallow, and posture slightly hunched. As a brass musician, the fundamentals of playing are built on deep breathing and maintaining good posture by keeping the chest raised. You also have to focus on the flexibility, strength, and positioning of the tongue and face muscles.
My stammer has had a positive impact on my approach to music. It has made me more open-minded and calm about playing wrong notes!
I wondered if it would help if I tried to incorporate these things while speaking — changing my posture, thinking about what my tongue was doing and relaxing my face muscles. I'm aware that different approaches work for different people, but linking the fundamentals of brass playing with speaking seemed to have an impact. I started to stammer less often and it definitely instilled greater confidence in me.
Conversely, my stammer has had a positive impact on my approach to music. It has made me more open-minded and calm about playing wrong notes! I feel there shouldn't be such negativity surrounding mistakes, especially in live performances, for it is only natural and we all stumble occasionally whether in musical performance or in speech.
IN A BETTER PLACE
Now in my mid-twenties, I'm thankfully in a better place and feel ready to move forward meaningfully. Surrounding myself with the right people and right environments have also had a big impact. The positivity and support I have received from family and friends have helped me come to accept that it is normal for me to stammer.
I would love it if society today could reach a point where it can fully accept it as a natural expression of language and speech; after all, we cannot help stammering.
I don't let judgemental comments hit me as much as they used to; simple to say, I know, but I think I needed to go through a period of feeling at rock bottom about my stammer before things could improve. Just like any other struggles in life, it's always the lowest points I have learnt the most from. My confidence continues to improve every time I speak to people and I finally feel that I have a voice. This has also helped me to process past experiences and think about the reasons behind them.
Trying to analyse the physical processes involved when I stammer can only go so far. Even though I get fewer judgemental comments nowadays, I think it's important to raise more awareness of stammering.
In my experience, I've found that people find it uncomfortable to hear a stammer. I think this is because it does not sound like the fluent version of the English language they are used to hearing. Simply because the sensory motor system may affect my pronunciation and articulation, this does not mean people cannot intuitively interpret what I mean. Also, when speaking, I may change the word order or use a turn of phrase that is unusual, but I make sure it still makes grammatical sense to the point that people can, again, interpret what I mean. I always hope that people will be patient and respectful whenever I stammer or say something slightly unusual.
Stammering has made me realise that there are an infinite number of ways to express yourself, and I would love it if society today could reach a point where it can fully accept it as a natural expression of language and speech; after all, we cannot help stammering.