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

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