Voice Warm-up Exercises from RADA

Here are some exercises that are useful for actors.  I’m a great fan of David Carey’s voice work.  He hired me to work as a visiting lecturer to give Grotowski Workshops at CSSD, when he was head of the Voice MA course.  He was a support and inspiration to me in my research.  A gentle man.  He and his wife Rebecca wrote Vocal Arts Workbook when he was Senior Voice Tutor on the B.A. Acting course at RADA.  With his wife Rebecca, they helped put the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art back on the map. The book is a must have for drama students http://vocalandverbalarts.com/page2.htm

Voice exercises

1. Begin on the floor, lying semi-supine with your feet flat on the floor and knees pointing to the ceiling, and become aware of your breathing. Let your breath deepen, and then focus your attention on the movement of your ribs. Place your hands on the sides of your ribs so that you become aware of the lateral widening of your ribcage as you breathe in. Encourage this sideways movement on each in-breath by thinking: ribs widen. On the out-breath, begin by releasing a steady, sustained SH sound for a mental count of 10. Repeat, and then produce an easy, sustained SS sound for a mental count of 12. Repeat, and then produce a clear, sustained ZZ sound for a mental count of 12. Repeat, aiming to keep the sound at a steady intensity for its whole length. Now bring your lips gently together to create a hum (MM) on your next out-breath. Monitor how long you can sustain this sound. As you do so, imagine there is an AH vowel waiting behind the hum – let your tongue rest in the floor of your mouth, feel the tip of your tongue resting against the back of the lower front teeth, let your jaw soften, creating space between your back molars, and think of lifting the soft palate away from the back of the tongue. On your next out-breath, establish the hum in this way and then let the jaw drop open to release the AH vowel Repeat, and then do the same with the vowels OO and EE. Aim to maintain all of these vowels for a mental count of 12. If you find yourself running out of breath before that, don’t worry – just keep exercising regularly and the muscles will respond.

2. Still on the floor in semi-supine position, focus your attention on your abdominal muscles as they respond to the movement of your diaphragm. Place your hands on your stomach, and notice how your hands rise as you breathe in, and lower as you breathe out. Encourage your abdominal muscles to release as you breathe in and to engage as you breathe out – place the impulse for breathing in this action of the abdominal muscles. Now, on the out-breath, produce a sustained SH sound with a steady engagement of the abdominal muscles throughout. Repeat, but this time complete the sound with a CH, and feel the added contraction of the abdominal muscles supporting this sound. Build on this sense of abdominal support by producing a long FFF sound, feeling the engagement of the abdominal muscles sending the air to where the sound is made at the teeth and lip. Do the same on a long VVV sound, feeling the vibrating air focused on your teeth and lip. Now use the engagement of the abdominal muscles to touch off a short, easy HUH sound – think of it as a little spurt of sound going up to the ceiling. Repeat, feeling the support of the abdominal muscles. Do the same with a HAY sound, but give yourself an imaginative impulse – for example, calling to a friend across the street. Repeat, and then do the same with a HI sound (like greeting a friend you haven’t seen for a while).

3. Now bring yourself up on to all fours. In this position, think of your back lengthening and widening as you breathe. Focus on the movement of the ribs again, but think particularly of them widening in your back as you breathe in. (If you find it difficult to be aware of this movement, try lowering yourself into a prayer position for a while as this can create a greater sensation of the ribs opening across the back.) Repeat the MM exercise described in step 1, thinking of sending the sound into the floor Now focus your attention on your abdominal muscles. Think of engaging the muscles to lift your stomach up towards your spine as you breathe out, and then release the muscles to allow the stomach to drop towards the floor as you breathe in. Continue with the exercises in step 2 in this position.

4. Now sit well forwards in a chair, so that there is space between your back and the chair. (The chair should be of a height where you can sit comfortably upright, feet flat on the floor, and thighs parallel with the floor.) In this position, think of your back lengthening and widening as you breathe. Think of your neck being free rather than fixed, and your head facing forward with the top of your head parallel with the ceiling. Focus again on the movement of the ribs, and feel them widening out to the sides from the spine as you breathe in. Encourage this sideways movement on each in-breath by thinking: ribs widen. In this position, try the MM exercise of step 1, and then the SH and CH exercises of step 2 for your abdominal muscles. Now combine your awareness of the ribs and the abdominal muscles. Allow the ribs to widen and the abdominal muscles to release as you breathe in. Release your out-breath on a hum (MM), imagining an AH vowel waiting behind it. Feel your abdominal muscles actively engaged to support this sound. Repeat and open the jaw to release the AH vowel, thinking of sending the sound across the room. Repeat several times, focusing on the AH vowel – let your tongue rest in the floor of your mouth, feel the tip of your tongue resting against the back of the lower front teeth, let your jaw soften, creating space between your back molars, and think of lifting the soft palate away from the back of the tongue to create space in the back of the mouth. Repeat with the vowel sounds AY (as in “hay”) and OH (as in “hoe”), feeling the space in the back of your mouth. Continuing to use a supported breath, now begin to work your pitch range by sirening on a pitch glide using first a NG sound (as in “sing”) and then on AH.

5. Stand up and continue to sound on AH while shaking out, swinging your arms and sirening through your range. Now stand easy, think of your back lengthening and widening as you breathe. Think of your neck being free rather than fixed, and your head facing forward with the top of your head parallel with the ceiling. Think about your ribs and your abdomen again; allow the ribs to widen and the abdominal muscles to release as you breathe in. Release your out-breath on a hum (MM), imagining an AH vowel waiting behind it. Feel your abdominal muscles actively engaged to support this sound. Repeat and open the jaw to release the AH vowel, thinking of sending the sound across the room. Repeat several times, focusing on the AH vowel as before. Repeat with the vowel sounds OO, OH, AW, AH, EY, EE.

6. Finally, work on the articulators. Yawn fully, and then scrunch the face up, and release. Repeat several times to awaken the face muscles. Massage the muscles of your jaw, and around your lips. Now blow your lips out on a BRRR sound (the shivering sound we make when we are cold) – glide this sound through your pitch range. Flick your tongue in and out of your mouth very quickly, making a rapid series of LA sounds – and glide this sound through your pitch range. Now stick your tongue out and point it and flatten it several times. Anchor the tip of your tongue behind your lower front teeth, then stretch the body of your tongue forward into a hump over the lower front teeth, and then release it back into your mouth. Do this several times, making a YA-YA-YA sound as the tongue moves forward and back. Glide this sound through your pitch range.

These exercises have helped to release tension from the jaw, lips and tongue. Maintain this sense of release as you exercise the articulatory muscles on the following sound sequences: repeat the syllable BUH in two groups of three (BUH-BUH-BUH, BUH-BUH-BUH), followed by a single BAH. Then do the same thing with PUH and PAH, MUH and MAH, DUH and DAH, TUH and TAH, NUH and NAH, GUH and GAH, KUH and KAH, NGUH and NGAH. Play with your pitch range on these sequences, and instead of AH at the end of each sequence, try substituting other vowel sounds. Keep your neck and jaw relaxed.

Finally get your tongue round these: A cheep chick sleeps in cheap sheets, The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick, Two toads totally tired of trying to trot to Tewksbury. Keep trying!

• Ellen Newman was head of voice at RADA for seven years until 2011. Voice exercises for how to act, adapted from Vocal Arts Workbook and DVD by David Carey and Rebecca Clark Carey, published by Methuen Drama, 2008. All rights reserved. © 2009 David Carey and Rebecca Clark Carey

People who Love being Leaders

Harvard Business Review has confirmed that the 2 golden nuggets of influence and leadership are projecting warmth and informal networking.  These are the key to having influence.  Leaders who try immediately to project strength, run the risk of instilling a counterproductive fear in the very people they want to inspire.  Without a foundation of trust, a company’s employees may comply outwardly with their leader’s wishes, but they’re much less likely to comply privately – to adopt the values, culture, and mission of the organisation in a sincere, lasting way.
And how can someone influence change within an organisation?  What matters most, according to Julie Battilian of HBS and Tiziana Casciaro who wrote ‘Network Secrets of Great Change Agents’ is how well a person understands and mobilizes the informal networks needed to effect change.  People will help, if they owe you for something you did in the past to advance their goals.”

Unless you really enjoyed the job and working closely with all kinds of people, would you be able to do both of these?  Sincerely project warmth and get on with lots of different sorts of people?  Probably not.  Great leaders love their companies and really enjoy being great leaders.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England
Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England

Taking the Speak English Clearly Course to Spain

 Teachers of English from different parts of the world often attend the Speak English Clearly course here in London.   Usually they come individually or in small groups to a course that coincides with their holidays.
 It’s an added bonus for us here at Max Your Voice because we get to hear more about the places they come from:  Jersey, Japan, Italy, France, Nigeria, India, Malaysia, China, The Seychelles and  Hong Kong to name but a few.  The standard of English grammar among these teachers is always high.  Having met quite a few Spanish teachers of English on the UCL Phonetics course, it was a pleasure to be invited to take the Speak English Clearly course to Elda in the south of the Valencian Community in Southern Spain.   The three main teachers from the school would have come over to a course here in London but 11 other teachers of English from the same region also wanted to receive coaching in Standard English pronunciation.  One teacher wrote:  “Many students depend on us, so for me pronunciation is very important.”
The head of the school, Francisco, was included in the group.  This was nerve racking as it transpired that he’d taught English to all the other teachers on the course, including his son, from the age of 9.  His knowledge of English grammar is profound and his students are a credit to him.  Over lunch at the Santa Ana where I was staying, he told me of his early years spent in Hampstead and of the work he’d done in London and the English exams he’d taken.  J Clifford Turners Voice and Speech in the Theatre was the text book he used for English pronunciation.  This is the black, early 80s edition, with the introduction by Dame Peggy Ashcroft.   J Clifford Turner set the benchmark for actors in his time, including Laurence Olivier, and his textbook was the first voice and speech book we were asked to read when I studied at the Guildhall.  Standard English speech has  moved on by eons unless you’re an actor in Downton Abbey. Francisco took some persuading that RP has had its day in contemporary English speech.  He also took some persuading on how to achieve fluency and intonation in contemporary Standard English.  I admire him so much because the reason why he chose the Speak English Clearly course was because the course has its roots  in vocal communication.  Not just in English, but in any language or dialect.  His inner struggle was letting go of the English accent  he’s had for so many years and taking on board the new flow of English sounds and rhythms.  The process of how the voice is made, is key to fluency with bilingual speakers.  Some Spanish speakers find the letting go of their Spanish accent while speaking English especially hard, because of the joy in their culture of expressive communication in Spanish.  Letting go of the Spanish accent with the wonderful breathy tongue sounds and back rs, runs deep into  psyche and sexuality.   You can always tell when there’s  resistance.  The concentration on individual sounds persists long after the all the sounds are perfected and the speaker would normally just “let go” and speak English.    Eventually, it’s consideration for their listeners that motivates people and once they’ve achieved clarity and flow in spoken English, their confidence grows along with their inner security, as did Francisco’s.
Speak English Clearly – next course August 17th and 18th, Harley Street, London W1

Teachers on the Speak English Clearly Course