INTRODUCTION The following notes will concentrate on exercises designed to release your true voice and develop the instrument to give you the best opportunity to communicate with ease and variety. There are exercises for relaxation, breathing, resonance and articulation.
When you were a baby you were capable of being incredibly loud, most babies can produce a scream louder than a pneumatic drill. A baby could scream for hours without causing damage to their larynx. If you were to scream as loud you would probably feel the strain in a very short space of time. Can you remember the last time you were louder than a pneumatic drill? I suspect not, certainly not without feeling discomfort and hearing a change in your vocal quality. Many people find speaking to a large audience puts a strain on their voice, or they simply don’t feel they are loud enough. The most common cause is excess tension. A baby will breathe deeply using the whole of their lungs, they have a very soft neck and shoulder muscles, the larynx rests comfortably and the folds come together gently, producing a high, even tone. We instinctively know the more breath we exhale the louder we will be. This is fine when we breathe deeply onto the diaphragm and squeeze with the abdomen but if we breathe high into the chest and squeeze from there we create excessive amounts of tension in the larynx and experience vocal strain. Therefore relaxation and Alexander breathing exercises can release the tension, centre the breath and prevent vocal strain.
When your voice is working efficiently then you can consider adding vocal variety to hold an audience attention. There are just four things you can do to add that variety. You can vary the pace, pauses, power and pitch of our voice. Whatever you do physically you will do vocally and so the pace at which you move and gesture will be reflected in your voice. The use of silence can be very powerful, so vary the length and frequency of your pauses. Every room you work in will have an acceptable maximum and minimum volume, using the full volume range will add impact to your presentation. When you speak with ease your voice will naturally express your emotions through pitch and tone changes. There is no need to force pitch and tone changes as this will sound artificial. Warm up your voice to free up your range and allow it to express your enthusiasm for your subject.
PHYSIOLOGY AND HEALTHY PRACTICE
What voice is and why we speak the way we do Voice is quite simply vibrating breath. The breath passes up through the trachea, comes into contact with the vocal folds, which approximate and begin vibrating. This causes the air passing over them to vibrate and create a small sound (voice). This small sound is then amplified when it reaches the pharynx, mouth and nose.
It is very important to maintain a suitable level of hydration, as the small vocal folds can become dry when speaking and if they should then become tense and rub together they can become sore and damaged. Therefore, drink plenty of water before a presentation and try to avoid anything, which will dehydrate your body, such as smoking, alcohol, caffeine etc. Sipping small amounts of water throughout your talk will keep your saliva glands working to moisten your mouth and vocal folds.
Why we speak the way we do. We speak the way we do because of three things.
Habit. Muscles become used to working in a certain way due to tensions or laziness.
Psychological effect, including sociological, environmental conditions, trauma and stress.
Physiological: bone, cartilage, muscle and tissue formation.
Habits are relatively easy to change; they simply take a lot of commitment and time. Psychological effects can be more ingrained and may well need to be tackled by a professional counsellor before the voice can be successfully worked on. However, this is not always the case and minor changes of mood and health can have a fairly dramatic affect on vocal quality. As physiological effects can only be changed through surgery we simply look at ways of using your body to best effect. But it is this very factor that makes our voices so different and interesting to listen to.
Whatever the reason for you sounding the way you do, the end result is a series of habits. These muscular habits can, therefore, be tackled through a routine of exercises; always beginning with relaxation.
RELAXATION It is important to remove any excess tension before doing voice work. Release tension from your neck and shoulders by shaking out and rolling your shoulders. Stretch up towards the ceiling to release tensions and open up your ribs to allow your breath to drop lower. Bend your knees and allow your body to flop forward, with your arms hanging heavy by your ears. Breathe easily into your back. Come up slowly, building up your spine to a comfortable, easy posture. Be aware of your breath beginning to drop lower into your body.
Try lying on the floor on your back, with your knees raised to lower your spine onto the floor. This will encourage your breath to sink lower and help to improve your posture. A relaxed, comfortable and balanced posture is very important for voice work.
Be aware of how you feel, tense and relax all your muscles. Feel your body spread across the floor, as your muscles become heavy.
Take yourself off to a warm imaginary place and allow all your muscles to become heavy. Be aware of your breath and allow it to drift lower into your body. Feel your abdomen rise and fall as you breathe easily on the diaphragm.
BREATHING For a clear, free voice your breath must go low into the body. When you breathe in your lower floating ribs will swing out as your diaphragm falls and your stomach extends. As you breathe out your stomach reduces and your ribs swing in. This is referred to as intercostal diaphragmatic breathing. There should be minimal movement in your shoulders and chest, as tension used to raise the chest and shoulders can lead to tension in the larynx. This would result in a restriction of pitch and tone and in extreme cases, damage to the vocal folds.
It is important to begin to take control of your breath. By doing this you will have the flexibility to speak loudly or softly without too much effort and certainly without pushing on the throat and risking damage. The method we use is known as Support. It is quite simply a way of controlling the rate at which the diaphragm rises and the ribs swing in to allow or force the breath to escape.
While lying on the floor breathing deeply, begin to take control of your abdominal muscles. Ensure that you only apply tension to these muscles and no others. Pay particular attention to your neck and shoulders. Allow your stomach to rise as you breathe in. Hold these muscles out to retain the air. Begin to slowly release the breath by allowing the muscles to relax down. Begin by allowing this process to happen fairly quickly, maybe over a count of four and then build up the count as you feel you have more control. When you feel you are running out of breath, apply an external pressure to pull the stomach in and squeeze out the remaining breath. You can then begin the process again by relaxing your muscles and allowing air to rush back into the base of your lungs and so opening your lower ribs and raising your stomach.
In time, when you have mastered this technique, it will become automatic. You will then have the opportunity to speak loudly, by squeezing your abdominal muscles to force out lots of breath, or softly by slowly releasing your breath on a constant flow.
RESONANCE Any hollow structure with air inside it will amplify sound by increasing the resonance or vibrations. Many areas of your body can be used as resonators, either directly or indirectly.
Direct resonators are the pharynx, oral and nasal cavities. Vibrating breath passes through these sound boxes and is amplified in the process. It is important, therefore, to keep these passages open and clear for maximum effect. Secondary resonators are areas of the body, which vibrate in sympathy with vibrations around them, such as sinuses, chest cavity, head, and any hollow bony structures.
When you are confident that you have control of your breath and are not tensing any other muscles at any time then you can begin building a greater resonance into your voice. These free vibrations will give you a pleasant, rich tone and allow you to reach the back of a large lecture theatre without the aid of a microphone or straining your voice.
Ensure that your jaw is relaxed by giving it a massage. Open the pharynx with a relaxed yawn. Hum the voice forward onto your lips and feel the vibrations building. Encourage this by maintaining a relaxed state. Vary the pitch of your voice to allow other parts of the body to vibrate. Feel for vibrations in the head, chest and back as well as the mask of your face. It is very important to maintain a forward resonance (facial resonance), as this is a good indicator that your voice is free and not trapped with tensions.
If you feel your voice is too nasal, then raise your soft palate and you will hear a greater oral resonance. If you feel you have little nasal resonance, maybe sounding ‘plumy’, then drop the soft palate and bring the voice forward through the nose.
MODULATION This is simply the variety of pitch and tone that you use. Most of us use very few notes when speaking and are unaware of the opportunities of a greater vocal variety. All of the previously mentioned exercises will give you the opportunity to explore your full range. It is up to you to experiment with it to achieve a pleasant, interesting sound. I believe it is this variety that will ensure maximum impact in your presentations.
Allow your voice to rise and fall in pitch, making a siren sound. Use an extended HAY. Build your range slowly, allowing the voice to go higher and lower each time. This should always be free and relaxed, you should never feel that you are straining.
Try reciting nursery rhymes and allow your voice to rise and fall in pitch as it wishes.
Use a favourite poem or piece of text, which moves you and allow this to change the pitch and tone of your voice.
When you prepare a presentation, think of key words and phrases and experiment with pausing and stressing them more fully. Think of the emotional content in what you are saying and allow this to colour your voice.
ARTICULATION It is important that all this good work in creating a free, pleasant voice is not wasted through lazy inaccurate articulation. Regardless of your accent or dialect you can still articulate clearly to ensure everyone receives the message accurately. The tongue is a very complex and flexible muscle. It has to be very agile to create the many consonants and vowels that go into making speech.
Although the tongue is solid muscle different parts of the tongue need to be isolated to form sounds accurately.
The tip is used to form sounds such as T, D and L. the back is raised to form K and G. the sides of the tongue are raised for vowels such as OO (as in Sue) and so on.
Try exercising the tip of the tongue alone. With a relaxed jaw, push the tip of your tongue forward between your teeth. Raise the tip towards your nose, return to the middle, pause and then lower the tip towards your chin. Repeat several times. The whole of the tongue can be exercised very effectively by moving your tongue quickly around your mouth, feeling around your teeth and gums.
It is important to ensure your tongue does not become too tense. Drop your head forward, relax your jaw open, allow your tongue to fall out of your mouth and gently shake your head from side to side, allowing your tongue to flop about freely.
Repeat various tongue twisters to ensure accuracy.
Put it too your lip a little
Tip a little tap a little
Not into your lap or it’ll
Drip a little drop a little
On the table top a little
Creative concoctions of confectionery. Did you choose to tutor her?
Giggle gaggle gurgle gargle. I’ll meet you at the tube on Tuesday.
My particular line is linen. I tickled little Mallicie.
A particularly singularly silly sort of fellow. Anonymous nonentities.
Will you wait for Winnie and Willie. Remember the money.
I miss my Swiss miss and my Swiss miss misses me.
FAH KAH SHE FAH RAH
5 MINUTES Standing or sitting Ensure your posture is balanced and relaxed. If sitting place your back into the back of the chair.
Release any excess tension from your neck, allow your chin to sink into your chest and then roll your ear to your shoulder and back again. Gently place your head back in the upright position, balanced and relaxed. 15 – 20 seconds.
Relax your jaw with gentle massage. 10 – 15 seconds.
Raise your arms above your head and breathe deeply onto the diaphragm, feel your middle expand as you breathe in. 10 – 15 seconds.
Lower your arms to your side and continue low breathing into your body. Feel your lower ribs swing out as you breath in. 10 – 15 seconds.
Rest for 10 seconds.
Take a large breath and sigh out. 5 seconds.
Produce short, rapid puffs of breath by pulling in your abdominal muscles sharply. Always ensure your jaw is relaxed and you are not pushing from the throat. 5 seconds.
Breathe in on a count of four, hold and release on a hum, release on a count from four to twenty. Begin with your middle note (keep the teeth apart and lips gently touching and listen for a constant note and volume). 2 minutes.
Take the note up and sustain and then down and sustain. Feel for forward resonance, (use a more open Whooo). 1 minute.
Allow your voice to slide up and down the scale. 20 seconds.
Shake your head forward with a brrrrrrrr.
WEEKLY EXERCISES 30 MINUTES
Stand with your feet between shoulder and hip width apart. Unlock your knees.
Close your eyes and allow your body to sway gently. Feel your body being pulled gently into a relaxed balance posture and rest in this position.
Release tension from your shoulders by gently rolling them around, lift and drop.
Release any excess tension from your neck, allow your chin to sink into your chest and then roll your ear to your shoulder and back again. Gently place your head back in the upright position, balanced and relaxed.
Relax your jaw with gentle massage.
Stretch up towards the ceiling. Walk your hands up, one after the other, until you are at full stretch. Release the excess tension from your wrists, elbows and shoulders, allowing your arms to fall gradually to your sides, continue to release from the neck, down your spine until your upper body is hanging over your legs. Release your arms and neck.
Breathe deeply into your lower body. Feel your back expand with the inward breath.
Build your spine slowly into an upright posture. Feel a slight extension from the top of the spine, stretching you gently toward the ceiling.
Repeat 6 to 8 three times.
Stretch up and clasp behind one wrist and gently stretch over to one side. Breathe deeply into your opened lower ribs. Repeat on the other side.
Relax with back on the floor, with your knees raised. Feel your lower back flatten and spread against the floor. Check that your spine is straight and that your neck is relaxed.
Raise your arms above your head, resting on the floor and breathe deeply. Be aware of your middle expanding as you breathe in. Breathe in and out five times.
Place your arms by your sides, take a deep breath on the diaphragm and sigh out. Repeat five times, (do not breathe in until you feel your body wanting to and then give in to this natural impulse).
Produce short, rapid puffs of breath by pulling in your abdominal muscles sharply. Always ensure your jaw is relaxed and you are not pushing from the throat. Repeat for ten seconds.
Rest for 15 seconds.
Breathe in on a silent count of four, hold and release on a count of four. Build the outward count to twenty. Concentrate on producing a constant flow.
Breathe in on a count of four, hold and release on a hum, release on a count from four to twenty. Begin with your middle note, (keep the teeth apart and lips gently touching and listen for a constant note and volume). Feel for forward resonance.
Take the note up and sustain and then down and sustain. Feel for head and body resonance while maintaining forward resonance.
Allow your voice to slide up and down the scale, making a sirening noise. Feel the resonance travel through your body while always maintaining a free forward sound.
Rest and breathe naturally for a few seconds.
Slowly sit up, ensuring you do not feel dizzy and then sit up straight on a chair to work on articulation.
Blow out and suck in your lips.
Let your head drop forward, relax your jaw open and shake out your tongue, (adding voice will often help the relaxation process).
Sit up straight, with a relaxed jaw and move your tongue around inside your mouth. Feel all your teeth.
Count your teeth with the tip of your tongue, taking your tongue away and placing it back again.
Work through articulation exercises such as:
LLL LLL LLL LEE
LLL LLL LLL LOO
LLL LLL LLL LAW
LLL LLL LLL LAH
LLL LLL LLL LAY
Repeat with other consonants.
Repeat various tongue twisters, paying particular attention to the exercises you need to work on most, whether it be your tongue, lips, jaw, or soft palate.
Drop your head forward, let your jaw fall open and shake out your tongue.
Stand and shake out the whole of your body on a haaah.
Bring yourself back into the centred, balanced standing position you had at the beginning. Try walking and then stopping naturally in this position.
Walk around the room, first slowly, repeating exercises from the floor. Begin with a quiet voice and when you are confident that you are relaxed and in control, then build the volume to the level you require to present. Ensure that your arms hang freely, allow them to flop around as you walk.
Take a few words from a lecture, maybe the introduction – Good morning my name is A and I’m here today to talk about XYZ etc. Repeat this phrase several times. Begin quietly and then build the volume as before. Try this in a variety of styles, feel for control, support and complete freedom.
Use the key words and phrases you have selected and experiment in the same way as 32.
Stand and shake out the whole of your body on a haaah.
It is important that you remain relaxed, with a voice warm, ready for work. Check your posture, breathing and placement of voice before beginning any lecture or presentation.
This may all seem a little tedious at first but I guarantee you will feel the benefit in time and so will your audience.
Questions to – firstname.lastname@example.org Free audio downloads at www.effectivespeaking.com
Jabberwocky LEWIS CARROLL
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”