A good way to work on the voice is to follow the natural progression of events that take place physically when we produce sound –
- We have a thought we want to communicate to someone.
- That thought generates a response in the diaphragm muscle which results in air being drawn into the lungs.
- The air, supported by an upward movement of the diaphragm and the inward movement of the abdominal muscles, is spun and propelled upwards through the windpipe towards the larynx where it generates a vibration of the vocal folds.
- This vibration is released as a sound wave into the resonating cavities of the throat and mouth spaces where it gathers substance, volume, texture and tone.
- The sound wave is shaped by the tongue and the other articulators (the tongue tip, upper tooth ridge, hard and soft palate and the lips) into the vowels and consonants of speech and language.
This progression can be described in just three words…
We think, we breathe, we speak.
It is important to create the best possible conditions for the breath to flow and the voice to resonate. Some physical release exercises, such as stretching, rolling the shoulders, swinging the arms and rolling down the spine, help to release unnecessary tension and allow the muscles and organs involved in producing the voice to function freely and optimally. An effective voice practice session could therefore follow the progression of –
- Connection of Breath to Sound
The ‘Three Suns’ Exercise
This is an excellent exercise to start with because it works on several different levels.
- It works on the flow and support of the breath.
- It works on the connection of breath to sound.
- It opens the body up to resonance.
- Bring your hands up to your diaphragm as your breath drops in. Then bring them down as the in-breath turns into the out-breath
- Bring your hands up to shoulders on the in breath, then out and back down to your sides on the out-breath.
- Hands and arms stretch up above head on the in-breath and stretch out and back down to your sides on the out-breath.
- Practice a few times on breath first, then try the sequence MMM – OO – OH – AH – AYE – EE
MAH – MOR – MOO – MOR – MAH – MAY – MEE – MAY – MAH
This is a very useful exercise that works to blend and balance the lower throat and mouth space resonators. The first group of vowels (AH – OR – OO) are shaped by the back of the tongue towards the back of the mouth space naturally drawing up resonance qualities from the lower throat (warmth, depth and richness). The second group (EE – AY) are shaped by the front of the tongue towards the front of the mouth which draw the sound forward where it can begin to bounce off the hard palate and penetrate through to the cheek bones, nasal bone and skull, bringing clarity, brightness and definition to the sound.
Once you are familiar with the vowel sequence, repeat it two or three times on one breath. You can also try intoning it on different notes.
Finding your centre note
Your centre note is the place where your voice will feel comfortable, easy to produce and be at its most vibrant. It may take a while to find, but the following exercise will help.
- Glide down your voice on an NG sound trying to imagine the sound travelling down from the crown of your head to the base of the spine. Glide down 2 or 3 times and then open the sound into an OO vowel. Repeat and open into a count of 1-2-3-4-5.
- Glide down to the base of your sternum (breast bone). Open into AH. Repeat and count 1-2-3-4-5.
- Glide down to the space just above your larynx (the lower throat). Open into AYE. Repeat and count 1-2-3-4-5.
- Glide down to the space between your eyebrows. Open into EE. Repeat and count 1-2-3-4-5.
Think about the level at which your voice felt the most comfortable, it is usually somewhere between the base of the spine and the base of the breast bone or between the base of the sternum and the larynx…
Articulation – A short sequence to sharpen and tone the speech muscles.
peh-peh-peh peh-peh-peh peh-peh-peh pah
beh-beh-beh beh-beh-beh beh-beh-beh bah
meh-meh-meh meh-meh-meh meh-meh-meh mah
leh-leh-leh leh-leh-leh leh-leh-leh lah
teh-teh-teh teh-teh-teh teh-teh-teh tah
deh-deh-deh deh-deh-deh deh-deh-deh dah
neh-neh-neh neh-neh-neh neh-neh-neh nah
Back of the tongue
keh-keh-keh keh-keh-keh keh-keh-keh kah
geh-geh-geh geh-geh-geh geh-geh-geh gah
Back of the tongue and tip of tongue
keh-keh-keh teh-teh-teh keh-keh-keh teh-teh-teh
geh-geh-geh deh-deh-deh geh-geh-geh deh-deh-deh
Lips and tip of the tongue
meh-meh-meh neh-neh-neh meh-meh-meh neh-neh-neh
Now try to integrate the voice work into a piece of text making sure each speech sound is properly articulated – especially the consonants that come at the end of words. Try to become aware of the feeling of the speech muscles as they work to shape and articulate your speech. The muscularity of speech can become one of our main pleasures when using our voice as well as providing us with useful sensory feedback as we talk.
Try this short piece of Shakespeare, or choose a poem or passage of prose…
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them,—ding-dong, bell.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (from The Tempest)