Women at Work – Tone and colour
Watching ‘The Voice’ this week, we saw Jessie J coaching one of her team members to ‘change the shape of her mouth’. This was for both resonance (tone, colour and tuning) and articulation (clarity and accuracy): the two are inextricably linked. In other words, if you want to make a good sound, you need to attend to the muscles and bones in the head and neck as well as the breathing and body apparatus.
We have previously explored some foundation breathing / vocal exercises, and the next step is to think about how we can best use the sound we’ve created to create colour, depth, and clarity. A warm, confident voice uses range and variety, and this means enlisting the different resonating spaces in the head and neck, and developing flexibility in the articulating areas.
Just to remind you again, you can’t force it: staying released and open is crucial. If you are comfortable in your skin, both relaxed and alert, we will see it and hear it.
As you very likely know, (but just in case), words are formed from vowels and consonants. The vowels are the ‘open’ sounds (ah, ay, ee, oo etc.) and the consonants are created when the actions of the lips, teeth, tongue or soft palate interrupt the air flow and sound (t, b, d, v, etc)
The sound of words and the tone / resonance of the voice are therefore affected by the shapes we make with our larynx, tongue, and mouth muscles. Tension will get in the way, but being over-relaxed, or lazy, will obviously create sloppy under-articulation and a poor sound-board for the vibrations we produce in the larynx.
Exercising these muscles helps us achieve clear articulation without obvious effort, which in turn will enhance your vocal tone.
It can help to use a mirror.
First, let go of tightness in the throat by yawning, then smiling. Take this smile into a giggle, and then giggle silently, feeling the throat widen and release inside. Try and come back to this sense of space in the throat regularly.
Relax the jaw:
Stroke down and massage the jaw hinge (the TMJ).
Say ‘Yah. Yah, yah’, letting the jaw drop loosely.
Stretch your tongue tip towards your nose, chin, each ear.
Lick your lips all round, lick your gums inside the lips in both directions.
Say: Lah, lah, lah – keeping your tongue flat, moving from top to bottom of your mouth
Then say La, la, la in groups of three, increasing the speed.
Relax the lips:
Blow through them like a horse
Make a wide ‘ee’ sound and then a narrow ‘oo’. Alternate the two.
Make the sounds: K,K,K; G,G,G; ung-uh, ung-uh, ung-uh; feel the soft palate and back of the tongue meet and separate.
Try: ‘King kong; gang; go and get’
Lips: p. b, m, w. Practice:
‘Possibly wherever and maybe whenever; but probably what will be will be’
Tongue tip with upper gum ridge:
‘Talking, debating, listening, narrating: ears and eyes choose the right style to use.’
‘Soft, silent, timelessly slow, silvery moon shine on descending snow.’
Soft palate with back of tongue:
‘Clocks ticking, cut-glass glistening
Acoustically enhancing, yet time considers passing’
Tongue with upper teeth:
th, th Practice:
‘There was a thin tinker called Keith,
Who looked thinnest when viewed from beneath
That lack of a chin, whether fat bone or skin,
He thought was from absence of teeth’
Lower lip with upper teeth:
‘Five from four fives leaves fifteen’
‘Vacuum the various fluffy bits vigorously’
Tongue blade with upper gum ridge:
ch, j, sh, zh. Practice:
‘Seize Joshua’s sheep!’
‘Jessie’s confession jolted our vision’
‘Suddenly we envisaged invasion’
Resonance and tone
Release your back, shoulders and neck; let the breath drop in as before; open your chest and collarbone.
Yawn and speak to stretch the face. Chew.
Slide the back of the hands down the jaw and let it hang. Say the days of the week with a heavy jaw and loose tongue, leaving space between the teeth.
Now say ‘hi, how are you, Charlie?’ staying very relaxed.
Now try just the vowels: “ai, ow-ah-oo-ah-ee?”. Join them up as much as you can. Repeat a few times, imagining the sound filling a large circle, letting the vowels flow together.
Hum a note, feeling vibrations on your lips. Change pitch. Repeat over three breaths.
Over-articulate the days of the week, opening up the space in the middle and back of your mouth. (Imagine you have a huge audience, but don’t push the voice, just imagine you are an old-fashioned grand actor.)
Now take something to read out loud, or something you know by heart, or the beginning of a speech or presentation, and tell it to an imaginary audience of children, using all the variety you would use to engage them. Think about the way you switch between registers.
Now say it in a normal voice, but keep the energy and variety very alive.
There are of course hundreds of variations on these, but the combo of the posture, breathing, articulation and resonance sections is a solid starter-pack.
If you have questions or comments, get in touch.
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