Voice Acting/Basic Voice Acting Skills< Voice Acting
—Speak like you mean it
Speak to be understood. Speak to be believed. Although we speak often and hope we are being understood, the exercises provided in this course can help you speak more clearly, express emotion, improve your speaking endurance, and establish a tone that better conveys your message. These skills are useful in your everyday speaking, at business meetings, when leading groups, giving presentations, addressing the town council, or even as a professional voice actor. This course can help you learn to speak with confidence and clarity.
The objective of this course is to improve your speaking voice. While many of the exercise are described in the context of delivering prepared materials, the course is useful for improving your speaking during everyday conversations, leading small groups, being clear and articulate during dialogues, interviews, and public speaking opportunities; instructing, formal presentations, podcasting, narrating videos, and preparing to work as a professional voice actor.
Practicing the exercises in this course can help you:
- Improve the clarity of your voice so that you speak more clearly.
- Improve your literacy so you can read without hesitating or stumbling,
- Vary the volume and tone of your voice to convey emotion and motivation,
- Choose phrasing that clearly communicates and allows you to breath effectively.
- Speak so that people listen, understand, and respond.
By conscientiously practicing the exercises in this course you can progress from being an unconsciously incompetent speaker toward becoming an unconsciously competent speaker.
There are no prerequisites to this course and all students are welcome. This is the first course in the Voice Acting series. Although this course is oriented toward American English speakers, much of the material is useful to any motivated students.
Because voice acting is a performance craft, It is important to supplement these course materials with the personal help of a well-qualified voice or vocal coach who will assist in your vocal pedagogy. Several references in this course include videos that demonstrate relevant exercises. These videos are important supplements to the text of this course because they demonstrate skillful voice acting performances. Voice acting requires experiential learning.
The freely available WikiBook Announcing, is a good complement to this course material.
Because poor health will result in poor voice performance, it is important to maintain your overall health and fitness. It is especially important to maintain your speech organs in peak fitness.
Care for your voice. Avoid screaming, yelling, and whispering. Stay deliberately silent when you can to rest your voice.
Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
Get enough sleep and eat healthy foods.
Avoid coffee, soft drinks, smoking, alcohol and prohibited drugs. Each of these can impair vocal performance by causing your mouth to dry out or by contributing to general dehydration. Drink water to stay hydrated.
Breath only clean air.
Nasal congestion, colds, influenza, allergies, and other respiratory tract infections will seriously affect the quality of your voice and your overall ability to perform. Prevent such illnesses and take steps to clear clogged or stuffy sinuses before a performance. Nasal irrigation can help flush out the nasal cavity.
Sore throats and laryngitis are often longer lasting and potentially more serious conditions that can degrade your voice quality and performance abilities. Prevent these conditions and treat them promptly when they occur. Overcoming laryngitis may require your complete silence for several days.
Voice Training ExercisesEdit
To check your breathing, stand in front of a mirror and place your right hand on your stomach below the rib cage. Place your left hand on your chest, over the sternum. Exhale fully and feel your stomach contract as your right hand moves toward your spine. Relax and allow your lungs to fill with air. You will feel your stomach expand. Your left hand should not feel expansion or contraction of the chest during correct diaphragmatic breathing. Your shoulders should not rise. As you continue to breath, your stomach should expand as you inhale and contract as you exhale, and your chest should remain still.
As an exercise, inhale while silently counting slowly 1-2-3-4, notice the stomach expand, hold the breath counting slowly 1-2-3-4, exhale counting slowly 1-2-3-4-5-6, notice the stomach contract, and then hold counting slowly 1-2. Repeat several times.
As another exercise, place the fingers of both hands on the belly and open your mouth wide in a yawn. Inhale a deep breath and then exhale with a long yawn-sigh making a “haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” sound, pushing your diaphragm with your fingers toward the spine as you continue to exhale. When there is no more air, relax, allow the diaphragm to lower and draw in your next breath.
These exercises are helpful in developing strong diaphragmatic breathing, however to breath conversationally, it is important to only take in enough air for what you need to say. Breath after expressing a complete thought, as you typically do in ordinary conversation.
Because the diaphragm is our primary breathing muscle, we naturally breath diaphragmatically. A problem arises, however, when we unknowingly hold our breath while trying to speak. The goal of these exercises is to practice diaphragmatic breathing, so it becomes natural during speech performances.
Practice sounding conversational as you read copy. Record yourself, listen to the recording, and continue to practice until you sound relaxed and natural. Copy can be obtained from many sources, including various books, advertisements, instruction manuals, and even cereal boxes. Useful practice copy is also included as part of this course. Practice often.
Work to improve the clarity of your speech as you practice reading copy. American speakers should begin by using General American (also known as Standard American English) as your pronunciation reference standard. Recorded samples are available from the General American collection of the International Dialects of English Archive.
- Avoid over-emphasizing the “s” sound, known as sibilance, by clearly differentiating between the “s”, “sh”, and “z” sounds.
- Take care to pronounce the ends of words, especially those ending in “b”, “d”, “g”, “p”, and “ing”. Use proper breath control to provide adequate breath support throughout the passage.
- Avoid lowering your voice and trailing off toward the end of sentences.
- To convey emotion, emphasize vowel sounds.
Activating your ResonatorsEdit
The voice, like all acoustic instruments, has its own special chambers for resonating the tone. Once the tone is produced by the vibrating vocal cords, it vibrates in and through the open resonating ducts and chambers. Since the vocal tract is often associated with different regions of the body, different resonance chambers might be referred to as: chest, mouth, nose ("mask"), or head.
Because we have several vocal resonators we can learn to place sound primarily within a particular resonator. Our vocal resonators include our chest, the larynx, the pharynx, the oral cavity, the nasal cavity, and the sinuses. Each resonator creates a distinctive sound quality.
- Head resonance should not be confused with head register or falsetto. It is used primarily for softer singing in either register throughout the range.
- Nasal (mask resonance) is present at all times in a well-produced tone, except perhaps in pure head tone or at very soft volume. Nasal resonance is bright and edgy and is used in combination with mouth resonance to create forward placement (mask resonance). Nasal resonance adds overtones that give clarity and projection to the voice.
- Mouth resonance is used for a conversational vocal color in singing and, in combination with nasal resonance, it creates forward placement or mask resonance.
- Chest resonance adds richer, darker, and deeper tone coloring for a sense of power, warmth, and sensuality. It creates a feeling of depth and drama in the voice.
To explore these resonators, begin by humming. While humming feel your throat with your hands. You should notice the hum vibrating the throat area as the sound resonates in the throat. Now try moving the hum so it resonates in the head. This head voice will shift to a much higher pitch. Now speak the line “’The time has come,’ the Walrus said, ‘to talk of many things’” placing the sound in your head resonators.
Now hum using your nasal and sinus cavities as the resonators. This area is called your “mask.” Try speaking while resonating in your mask. Finally try humming then speaking using chest resonance. This chest voice has a lower pitch. Confirm the chest resonance by using your hands to feel your chest. You should feel the hum and speech vibrating in the chest.
Choose a variety of phrases from this list of tongue-twisters to practice. Begin speaking them slowly out loud while focusing on speech clarity and maintaining diaphragmatic breathing. Enunciate clearly, accurately, and completely. Maintain your speech volume, pitch, and pacing throughout the phrase taking care not to trail off at the end of the phrase. Repeat each phrase and work to increase speed as you maintain speech clarity. It can be helpful to practice while watching yourself in a mirror. Listening to recordings of yourself can help identify speech elements and combinations that are difficult for you and require more practice. Practice often.
Inflection and EmotionEdit
Vary your inflection to express emotion and convey a particular attitude, mood, or intention.
For example, speak “How would you like to go to the mall today?” as if you are lonely, then again as if you are joyful.
|Emotions for Practice||Negative Affect||Positive Affect|
|High energy||Angry 😠
|Low Energy||Sad ☹️
Practice a variety of emotions using other phrases, such as:
- I would like some more please! (Vary the emphasized word.)
- How do you know?
- Some food is pretty bland without salt
- I hope it does not rain again today.
- The Eiffel tower is 300 meters tall.
You can also perform a similar exercise using various intentions rather than emotions.
Practice delivering copy using a variety of postures to vary the tone of the performance. Try speaking using each of these postures:
- At attention—chin up, chest out, shoulders back, stomach in,
- At ease— feet shoulder width apart, hands clasped behind back but with upper body half still in position of attention,
- Hands behind head with fingers clasped,
- Arms akimbo— the hands are on the hips and the elbows are bowed outward.
- With your hands in your pockets, or clasped together in front of your body.
- While jumping rope, waking, marching, running in place, skipping, or other playful postures.
Varying the tone of your performance can create a wide variety of distinctive voice qualities, including: rich, ringing, booming, deep, breathy, cracked, gravelly, thin, flat, nasal, shrill, sing-songy, velvety, and glib.
Each of these tonal elements is described below.
Pacing, Volume, and RangeEdit
Pacing, volume, and range are the vocal elements you can vary to create a dynamic performance.
Pacing describes the variations in speed of your delivery. You can speed up or slow down, and vary the pacing within a phrase, or among phrases to provide interest and express emotion during your performance.
Volume, also known as dynamic range describes the variations in loudness in your delivery. You can be soft, loud, or moderate and vary the volume throughout the delivery.
Vocal range describes the highest and lowest pitch, tone, or frequency of the voice. Pitch can also be varied throughout the performance. These are the basic tools available, and a skillful voice actor will apply these tools to convey emotion, intention, and communicate effectively.
Articulation is the movement of the tongue, lips, jaw, and other speech organs—known as the articulators—in ways that make speech sounds. In speech acting, articulation refers to the clarity with which words are spoken. Enunciation is a close synonym and refers to the art of speaking so that each word is clearly heard and understood to its fullest complexity and extremity. This clarity is accomplished through accurate pronunciation and tone choice.
Practice these enunciation exercise paying particular attention to:
- Speaking the ends of every word. Say “going to do this” rather than “gotta to this”
- Distinctly articulating both letters when the same letters appear back-to-back in adjacent words as in “success seeds success”
- Pronounce “ing” rather than “ng” in words like lightning, clothing, and everything.
- Differentiate the (unvoiced) “s” and the (voiced) “z” sounds so that “bells” sounds differently than “buzzer” and “zoologists” sounds different at the start than the end.
- Accentuate the pronunciation during these practice exercises but be sure to speak naturally when using a conversational style.
Listen to recordings of your vocal performances to assess your diction. Have others also listen to provide constructive feedback. Use this feedback to improve your diction.
Tempo is the speed or pace of the performance.
Whereas tempo is the overall speed of the performance, rhythm is the variations in speed.
As you practice each performance, play with a variety of pacing and rhythms until you find the best emotional expression and most accurate communication.
In language a phrase is a group of words that convey some meaning. In music a phrase a unit that has a complete musical sense of its own. Phrasing in voice acting refers to how the speaker chooses to group words. Phrasing is a particular grouping of words marked by pauses, breaths, emphasis, speed changes, or tone that convey some coherent thought and emotion. Use pauses to establish phrasing and indicate importance. Whatever follows a pause is perceived as being more important.
Various phrasing choices can substantially alter the meaning of a passage.
Compare “The panda eats shoots and leaves.” to “The panda eats, shoots, and leaves.”
Compare “Let’s eat, Grandam” to Let’s eat Grandma”
Speak “The British left waffles on the Falklands” or “We saw a cave walking down the road” using a variety of phrasing.
Choose phrasing carefully to correctly resolve syntactic ambiguity.
Attitude refers to your overall state of mind with respect to some person, place, thing, or event. Your attitude reflects your evaluation of the situation, which may range from extremely positive—I really like this—to extremely negative—I really hate this. Your attitude may also be indifferent, conflicted, or ambivalent. Your attitude determines your readiness to act in some certain way.
When voice acting, read the copy to determine what attitude to adopt to convey the intended meaning most accurately. Rehearse by experimenting with a variety of attitudes to find the one most suitable. Express emotions consistent with that attitude during your performance.
Subtext is any content of a creative work which is not announced explicitly by the characters or author but is implicit or becomes something understood by the observer of the work as the production unfolds.
Understanding the subtext of the copy will help determine your attitude.
Your signature voiceEdit
Work with a voice coach to determine your vocal range and suitability of various vocal registers. Your signature voice will be comfortably within your vocal range. Find the musical note that is most characteristic of your range and begin speaking on that note. This is your note. A pitch pipe, key board, tuning fork, or electronic tuner may help by providing a reference sound at the intended pitch.
It may be helpful to hum your note, or voice it as “me, me, me, me” or “om” before starting to speak.
Preparing to PerformEdit
The work of reading, researching, understanding, and interpreting the material that comprise the performance is called wood shedding. Careful preparation is essential for a peak performance.
Read the copy silentlyEdit
Read the copy completely and carefully several times to fully understand the message, and to identify any words that may be difficult to pronounce.
Understand the copy as well as if you wrote it yourself. Determine what is happening, who is talking, when, where, and why actions take place, and the various desirable outcomes. Become comfortable enough that you can genuinely express the message in your own words and you will be believed when delivering the performance.
Determine your roleEdit
As a voice actor, your role may be to converse, instruct, persuade, inform, entertain, captivate, narrate, or tell a story.
Read the script to determine:
- The role you are playing,
- What you want to communicate,
- When the story happens,
- Where the story takes place, and
- Why you are speaking.
Use a conversational delivery style.
Learn and practice any unusual pronunciationsEdit
Mark any words that you are unsure how to pronounce. Consult a reliable reference to determine the correct pronunciation.
- The pronunciation of names of people and places are best determined by asking the named person, or someone who lives in the named place.
- Ask the author, director, or qualified representative how to pronounce product names, brand names, corporation names, or organization names.
- Research the pronunciation of technical terms, medical terms, legal terms, foreign-language terms, and other specific language using a reliable reference such as subject matter experts, native speakers, the author, or director.
- The pronunciation of many words can be checked using on-line references such as the Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary, or the For Voice-over pronunciation dictionary.
Mark the copy using some form of phonetic transcription, pronunciation respelling for English, alternative spelling, the International Phonetic Alphabet, or some other prompt, cue, or notation that is helpful to you.
Read the copy out loudEdit
Practice reading the copy out-loud several times. Play with a variety of delivery approaches to find a tone, inflection, and emotion that best conveys a believable message. Speak to be understood.
Mark the copyEdit
As you read and re-read the copy out loud, begin to mark the copy to indicate:
- Where to pause or breath,
- The tone, inflection, and pacing,
- The volume of your voice,
- Pronunciation of difficult words, and
- Other dynamic elements contributing to the tone of your delivery.
|Circled words||Check and mark pronunciation before performing|
|↗ or ↑ or <||Raise voice or pitch|
|↘ or ↓ or >||Lower voice or pitch|
|UPPER CASE, or bold||Raise Voice|
|Underline||Emphasize by raising or lowering your voice or pitch.|
|H or 😊||Happy mood|
|E or 😄||Excited mood|
|C or 😌||Calm mood|
Study this example of marked up copy.
Dress for SuccessEdit
Wear comfortable clothes that stay quiet as you move. Avoid jewelry, loose change or keys in your pockets, and other accessories that can make noise or cause distractions during your performance. Flat sneakers are more practical than high heels. Put your mobile devices aside so you will not be disturbed.
Stand at the microphone with your feet shoulder width apart. Keep your upper body upright, with your shoulders in line with your hips. Imagine a string pulling the top of your head up as if you were a marionette. Attain a well-balanced neutral spine posture. Stay relaxed and don’t stand stiffly.
Because emotion is the by-product of action, it is important to be physical while you stand and deliver. Move your hands, wave your arms, use hand gestures, walk around, bend over, shake your head, make facial expressions, and don’t be afraid to overact as you speak. Only your engaged and expressive voice, and none of your thrashing about will be captured in the recording.
To try this, deliver the phrase “You want me to do what?” first while seated and still, and then again while standing and fully animated. Use body language and facial expressions that convey how you feel about being asked to do something surprising, arduous, or outrageous. Listen to the difference in delivery.
Hydrate before each performance. Drinking water at room temperature is best. A spray bottle of water can be used to irrigate your mouth during a performance. Episodes of dry mouth can be relieved by using saliva stimulants such as dissolved vitamin C, a throat lozenge, or a throat spray before the performance.
Swishing a small amount of olive oil can lubricate the mouth and reduce mouth noise.
Eating Granny Smith apples may reduce mucus buildup in the mouth and help clear your throat.
- Inhale a slow deep breath through your nose. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then slowly exhale through the mouth. It may be helpful to voice “ooooh”, “om”, or “haaaaa” as you breathe out all the air and relax. Repeat this about 10 times.
- Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Breath deeply. Stretch your hands over your head, reaching toward the ceiling. Bend forward at the waist, lower your arms toward the floor. Slowly straighten the body, returning to a standing position. Repeat this slowly a few times.
- Stand as above, let your arms hang limp at your side and shake them out.
- Scrunch up your face, closing your eyes and closing your lips tightly. Hold this tightly. Then make a big face, opening your mouth widely, opening your eyes widely. Hold this, then relax. Repeat this several times.
- Inhale deeply and slowly, then release the air through your relaxed lips. They should flutter and make a sound like horse lips or lip trills . Repeat several times increasing the length of each repetition.
- Stick you tongue out as far as you can. Try to touch your tongue to your chin, then your nose, then your left ear, and finally your right ear. Repeat several times.
- Yawn , vocalizing with a low pitch “haaaa” sound.
- Obtain a cork from a wine bottle. Hold it loosely in your teeth with about ¼ inch of the cork extending behind your teeth like a stubby cigar. Inhale and exhale a few breaths with the cork in place. Read a few sentences of copy slowly and clearly. Ensure your pronunciation is accurate, clear, and complete. With the cork still in place, read the copy a few times. You may notice your mouth and tongue muscles getting tired. This is a result of exercising these muscles. Remove the cork and read the copy normally. You should notice improved clarity. The SpeechMaster pro is a device that may be more effective than a cork in this exercise.
- The pitch of your voice is the frequency or tone of the sound. You will naturally have some particular vocal range. The highest female voices are in the soprano range and the lowest male voices are in the bass range. Begin this exercise with a deep inhale, then slowly release air making a “haaaa” sound like a slow siren beginning with the lowest tone in your range and then gradually increasing the pitch toward the highest tone in your range. After sweeping low to high, take another breath and sweep from high to low. Repeat several times.
- Perform exercises chosen from this collection of enunciation exercises.
- Practice exercises chosen from this list of tongue twisters. For an additional challenge, practice the tongue twisters while holding a cork in your teeth, as described above.
A relaxed performance is a believable performance. “What is needed is to get into the flow of the copy, breath naturally, relax, have fun, and let the performance take you where it needs to go.”
A few simple “yawn-sighs” at the start of your performance may be enough to relax you. If you are still tense, choose from these relaxation exercises to relax before your performance.
The most important characteristic of your communication is that it be believable. Often a simple, natural conversational style is the most effective delivery approach.
Don’t try to speak, simply speak. “The best voice actors do not sound like someone ‘doing’ voiceover. They sound like your best friend talking to you—comfortable, casual, friendly, and most of all, not ‘announcery.’”
Express the message, don’t just read it. “As a voice actor, you will need to learn how to read out loud in a way that sounds like you are just talking to another person, as if you were having a casual conversation.”
Explore a wide variety of delivery styles to search for the most effective delivery. This playful experimentation is called “character departure”. Try delivering each line faster, slower, louder, softer, higher pitched, lower pitched. Try a rising emphasis, a falling emphasis, with longer pauses, with shorter pauses, with no pauses, with pauses in different places. Emphasize different words by increasing or decreasing their speed, volume, or pitch. Change up the rhythm. Modify the transitions. Vary your inflection when delivering lists. Mix up the phrasing, breathing, and intonation until the delivery captures the intent.
It can be helpful to memorize the start of each phrase, so you can deliver part of it from memory. You are less likely to sound like you are reading if you aren’t reading. During your performance, choose one person to speak to. If you can have a person sit a few feet away, listen, and remain interested as you speak, this is ideal. Lacking that, choose some object in the room and imagine you best friend there, hanging on your every word.
- Read this article on Reading Copy.
- Carry out the exercise in that article.
- Relax and converse when you perform.
Speak to be understood. Relax and breath from your diaphragm without unwittingly holding your breath. Practice elocution, tongue-twisters, and a wide range of inflections and emotions so you can speak clearly. Experiment and choose a tone to fit the message. Find your signature voice and use it comfortably. Practice, research, warm up, and relax so your delivery is clear and believable.
Study these great speeches to improve your voice acting skills.
Speak like you mean it.
Students wanting to learn more about voice acting may be interested in reading the following books:
- Ciccarelli, 2013, Page 32
- Alburger 2014 @ 27 of 465
- To learn to breath diaphragmatically breath out first then relax. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bs7a5lt1kx4
- Adapted from Alburger 2014 @ 29 of 465 adapted from The 3-Dimensional Voice, by Joni Wilson
- Alburger 2014 @ 30 of 465
- Long, Lecture 15, Vocal Dynamics—Your Best Voice
- Long, Lecture 15, Vocal Dynamics
- Alburger 2014 @ 106 of 465
- Alburger 2014 @ 97 of 465
- Alburger 2014 @ 99 of 465
- Alburger 2014 @ 63 of 465
- Alburger 2014 @ 106 of 465
- Eats, Shoots, & Leaves, by Lynne Truss
- See, for example: http://azaleamusic.com/the-importance-of-woodshedding/
- Ciccarelli 2013 Page 70
- Ciccarelli 2013 Page 78
- Announcing/Five Steps to Building a Better Voice#Posture
- Long, Lecture 20
- Alburger 2014 @ 79 of 465
- Alburger 2014 @ 49 of 465
- Alburger 2014 @ 40 of 465
- Announcing/Voice Exercises
- How to develop a ‘Radio Voice’”, WikiHow Article.
- Alburger 2014 @ 16 of 465
- Alburger 2014 @ 18 of 465
- Alburger 2014 @ 64 of 465
- Alburger 2014 @ 66 of 465
- Alburger, James (July 19, 2014). The Art of Voice Acting: The Craft and Business of Performing for Voiceover. Routledge. p. 492. ISBN 978-0415736978.
- Ciccarelli, David; Ciccarelli, Stephanie (January 29, 2013). Voice Acting For Dummies. For Dummies. p. 384. ISBN 978-1118399583.
- Long, Melanie M. Mastering Stage Presence: How to Present to Any Audience, available from The Teaching Company