In the last Quickie, you learned a small exercise to improve breath support. Taking support another idea further, now that you have breath enough, FINISH YOUR SENTENCES! You’ve heard speakers who leave off the final ‘d’ on the end of ended, the ‘z’ on the end of crazes. The solution is multi-faceted: 1) Keep the intentional energy of the sentence going, along with 2) the energy of breath that provides the actual physical form and sound of the letters. Like baseball players who run not just to but past first base, keep the energy going to truly complete all the words in the sentence.
Imagine throwing a ball. It needs to get all the way to the catcher, and not slide in the dust, as it were. As an exercise, pick up a book, any book will do. Begin reading out loud. Notice how you end the words—do you really make all the sounds of the letters? It is the letters that give us the meaning*, we don’t hear just a mass of noises!
Now pick up a story to read out loud. Again, notice how you end the words and sentences. Invest energy and breath in the sounds, consonants in particular. The next activity is harder- do this sound-awareness with a story you tell. You’ve already formed a performance pattern with this set of words, so it’s more demanding to listen to your speech habits.
Keep your sound awareness going, both in rehearsal and performance. You will be rewarded with clearer expression of the meaning and content of words, sentences—and story.
*Many voice teachers (including me) are of the idea that consonants carry the meaning or sense of a word, while vowels express the emotional content. You can hum a love song, yet you need consonants to tell your loved one exactly what is admired…for example!
I’ve posted several times about breath, and how it is the foundation for speech. Here’s a little exercise to support your breath support:
- Begin by taking large breaths. Slowly in, slowly out.
- Now do this through your mouth.
- Now add a little pressure, make a sssss noise or a zzzzz noise. Keep the breaths long and even.
- Do this sitting down! Lots of oxygen can make you quite dizzy!
This is a ground-work kind of exercise. It’s not something you think of consciously while performing, but the practice will bolster other voice work. As you do this one, be aware of your rib cage and the lungs inside that bony protection.
People say “I don’t like my voice, it sounds horrible on a recording!” I am often asked if listening to recordings helps you work on your voice. Well, yes and no. Mostly no.
- Be careful of the quality of the recording you are listening to. It may not sound like the Real You in the first place.
- The voice you hear on the recording is one you will never experience — when you work/rehearse or perform. You hear your voice in a way that no one else will ever — from the inside of your body. Therefore, to take that recording as some where to start from, as a voice professional you will never really be starting from there. You will never hear your voice like that. So to a degree, that recording is false information.
- We all have the resident critic who tells us we’re no good. It’s not helpful to give it more fodder for criticism. I’m wary of listening or watching tapes for fear that my ability to respond to a story will hit a wall of self-consciousness. ‘You can’t to that, that looks/sounds ______________ (fill in words of deprecation).’
- What recordings can do is provide a record of a specific telling so that you can remember how you told the story that time. They can give you feedback on how a particular vocal experiment is working, as long as you can keep a level head about how you perceive quality of your voice.
- The best feedback on your voice comes from listeners you trust and, most importantly, from your own physical experiences.
I would love to hear comments on this!
Voice requires continuous practice and adventuring to new places. The more exercises you do, the more frequently you work your voice out, the fuller and more responsive your voice gets. Good for you!
Here’s a fun game for the car (or during chores- a time when your body might be busy): sing along with the radio or CD or Pandora, however you get your music. Now, add intention to your interpretation. You can chose the positive side: sing to attract a lover, sing to invite someone in, sing to thank someone (even Mother Nature). Then there’s the opposite: sing to kick someone out, to refuse a gift, to bring down a plague of scorpions- you get the picture. Go to extremes with these.
Try not to imagine how you will sound as you are choosing your intention. Let your voice surprise you.
A variation on this: choose a character to sing. it might be a stereotype (a witch, a handsome prince, the eldest son), or one from a story you are working on, or maybe someone you just met. These are explorations in voice response to input, and allow you to find new expressions.
Like always, have fun!
We have more daylight than a month ago– seven minutes more than at the solstice! More happiness for 2018: I was given my 12th summer reading series grant. This year is FUN, the theme is music. I’m trying out the dulcimer my husband gave me many years ago. You may smile, the goal is to play the Green Grass Grows All Around. My fingers are a wee bit sore…to a great end. Check out the new Voice Quickies post- coming up next.
So we tell tales in various places and spaces. Sometimes with microphones, many times without. So you need to fill a big space with your voice, your characters. Yell? Please don’t! First, remind yourself to talk to the back row. Voice, the production of words and sounds, comes from the desire to communicate. Just keeping those people back there in your mind will improve your vocal carrying power.
Try this: Find a biggish space to work in (even your living room or basement will do). Breathe deeply for several breaths. Then add sound, just ahh. Now add your hand in a throwing motion toward the farthest wall. Throw, literally throw your hand and with it your voice. Keep your breath going! Try not to make short sounds, but keep the breath — and therefore the sound — going
Another game for this exercise: Imagine that your breath and voice can paint. Using deep breaths, paint the opposite wall full of color. Let your sound flow out and fill the space. Use your hands, your body to create “shapes”. This practice will show you the connection between voice and body. Repeat in your practicing, and the effects of the work will remain in your performing.
The human voice seems to have two parts — high and low. You have resonators: in the head, and in the chest. Your sound changes depending on how much resonance is focused on which part of your body. You’ve tried sirens up and down, yes? And there’s the clunk when you move between the two. Well, here’s some quick exercises to make each stronger, and merge the two.
When doing sirens, make sure your breath continues strong to support your sound. While sirening, use your hands to pantomime pulling the sound out of your mouth. This increases the energy you’re investing in the siren, and enables your voice to make the bridge between registers more fluidly. You can also make circling motions, as though your breath were a mill wheel.
Use different registers as you speak, just every day. This might perhaps be by yourself to start with (we all talk to ourselves, yes we do). Use the register you are the least comfortable with! For me, I use my lower register much more. So my challenge to myself is to focus UP.
The exercises will have two effects: 1) your everyday speaking voice will be fuller, and 2) your search for character voices will be easier and you’ll find more possibilities. Enjoy the process, and practice often!
Here’s a few interesting websites:
http://www.thenakedvocalist.com/the-mixing-myth/ Long but interesting conversation.
http://www.voicecouncil.com/increase-vocal-power-with-mixed-voice/ This has videos, is more for singers but is a detailed explanation.
Voice needs air! Air takes up room! You need room for your lungs to expand, so there will be plenty of air to support your sound. Here’s how to expand your ribcage volume: spine curls. These can be done standing or seated.
- Let your head fall forward onto your chest (I promise it won’t fall off altogether).
- Allow the weight of your head, about 2 pounds, to pull your head over toward the ground. Keep your neck loose, like the clapper of a bell.
- When you’ve ‘unrolled’ as far as you can, let the weight of your head stretch the torso out, lengthening the spine.
- Now roll back up your spine, little at a time, like stacking blocks in order. LEAVE YOUR SHOULDERS ALONE UNTIL YOU GET TO THEM! And your head is the very last to be added to the top of your spine- cherry on top. Imagine your head is a helium balloon, easily floating at the top.
This exercise will add space between the vertebrae—you might even get taller.
Remember: the spine goes up your back. To stand taller/longer/straighter, to float that balloon, think about being taller with your neck, the back of your head.
If you’re sitting down with the exercise, spread your legs apart and let your body curl down between them.
Standing taller allows the lungs to fill more fully with less effort.
So this year I was honored to tell a story at one of the showcases at the National Storytelling Conference. Grand! Telling a story I’ve told before, to the best audience in the world! What could go wrong? Who me, nervous? Well. yeah. And with that, tense. SO! Here’s a tension quickie.
We carry lots tension in our jaws. To relieve that: With the soft part of your palm (that bit at the base of your thumb), find the joint of your jaw. It’s in front of your ear. Press gently on that joint. This pressure will cause your mouth to drop open slightly. Now smooth softly along your jaw line toward your chin, allowing your jaw to open further. Softly! Repeat several times. The more you do this, the more aware you will recognize tightness in that area. And also the more you do this, you can suggest relaxation to your jaw without the motion.
(Hint: this is the same trick we play on pets to get them to open up and take a pill. Our jaws work the same way!)
PS The showcase went beautifully! DO come to the conference next year!
Breath control, support your sound. We’ve heard these phrases–but how to practice this? I play the tenor saxophone, and my tone was uneven. Hmmm–support your sound… Horn players do ‘long tones’, one note played loud-soft-loud for the entire length of a breath. SO! For speakers like us, try these: Pretend you are a fire hose with air. Expel the breath as completely as you can, let the lungs fill, repeat. Notice the muscles you’re using: the diaphragm, and those little ones between the ribs, called intercostals. Now don’t so this too many times in a row! You’ll hyperventilate and get dizzy. With sound: hum on a pitch for as long as you can. You can add volume, but go gently. Another one is to count for a long as you breath lasts–and see if you can add numbers. Keep your tone even. As you practice this, your voice will become more supported with stronger intercostals and bigger lung capacity.
For the visual learners-