Your Voice – Vocal support and tone part 1
As we’ve discussed before, both a steady, confident voice, and a rich vocal tone (which includes intonation and resonance) make a big difference to people’s perceptions of us and how we make them feel, both for aesthetic and interpretive reasons.
The voice is an instrument which is played by the relationships between: breath, larynx and vocal folds, resonating spaces and articulating muscles. (See Anatomy, Physiology and the Care of the Voice). An easy relaxed voice suggests confidence and authority, whereas a tense nervous voice suggests the opposite.
Breath support and tone are the factors most relevant here, so I’m going to suggest some straightforward exercises to get you going. Always remember, you can’t force it: staying released and open is crucial. If you are comfortable in your skin, we will see it and hear it.
So. Having used the centring exercises (from the last blog) to physically prepare, we look first to our breathing.
Breath is the fuel for the voice.
When the brain receives a signal that oxygen is required, the diaphragmatic muscle at the base of the lungs contracts and flattens. The base of the lungs moves down with it, and the increased capacity in the lunges creates a vacuum to draw air in. If the rib cage moves up and out, additional capacity is created.
Diaphragmatic breathing is deep and even, slows the heart rate, lowers the blood pressure, and oxygenates the blood stream. Obviously this will also help with relaxation.
The following exercises will help you breathe more deeply and easily and start to control the breath supply. This will support your voice, helping you keep it steady under pressure.
Easy and relaxed breathing
Sit on a chair and lean forward, elbows on knees, and support your forehead with your hands, keeping the neck long.
Let the breath out and wait until you feel the need to breathe, then allow the breath to drop in and fill your lungs.
Let the abdominal muscles release towards your thighs to make space for the air. Feel the expansion in the back of your ribs and lower back.
Release the breath on a steady ‘shhhhhh’ sound, feeling the abdominal muscles contract again as everything pulls back in.
Sit easily but now upright, allowing the shoulders to relax and drop. Get a sense of pushing the shoulder blades down the back, then release them. Lift them and release back down.
Breathe easily, with the same expansion and release in your lower back and abdomen. Place one hand on the chest and one on the stomach. Check that the lower area, not the chest, is where the activity is happening.
Try breathing out again on a ‘ssshhhhh’ sound, feeling the muscles engage and pull back gently towards the spine.
Stand and think tall. Unlock the knees, rise through the crown of the head, stand centred on both feet. Keep the chest and shoulders open and relaxed. Same breathing as before.
Now slow down: breathe in for 4 and out for 4, imagining the lungs like a balloon or bellows. You can try imagine breathing in calm and breathing out tension as a relaxation exercise (which is good before speaking in public).
Repeat several times.
Connecting your breath to the voice
(Sitting and standing)
Breathe out, let the breath back in easily.
Breathe out on ‘fffffffffff’ feeling the breath passing through lips and teeth (unvoiced).
Then ‘vwww’ feeling vibrations around teeth and lips (voiced).
Yawn, then rest your tongue flat behind the bottom teeth, and, hum feeling the vibrations build on your lips.
Using the breath with words: extending the length of the breath
Use one breath for each line. Think through to the end of the phrase each time, emphasising the last word. Go back to the beginning each time, but as ever, don’t force it.
Allow the support to build up as you practice, and then experiment with inventing additions and reading different pieces of text.
I want to see.
I want to see you today.
I want to see you today to give you a present.
I want to see you today to give you a present I think you’ll like.
I want to see you today to give you a present I think you’ll like and take you for dinner.
I want to see you today to give you a present I think you’ll like and take you to dinner at your favourite restaurant.
Next week: exercises for tone and resonance