Your voice shapes the way you speak, and therefore it’s the start of everything for an actor. When performing on stage, actors must have the vocal strength to be able to project and fill a packed auditorium whilst not sounding like they’re shouting across the room or gasping for another breath.
And whilst screen actors and voice actors have super sensitive mics that pick up the quitest sounds, an untrained voice will be at a major disadvantage. An actor must train the voice on a daily basis. And for that reason, I’m going to be listing the best warmups and exercises that actors should be doing on a daily basis. Do these every morning, before every rehearsal and before every performance and you will see a major improvement in your vocal ability.
Table of Contents
Breath Control & Support
The first aspect of the voice you must focus on is your breath control. We can do this through the diaphragm. As an actor, you will hear about the diaphragm quite often. The diaphragm is a muscle that helps us breathe and by strengthening this muscle, we can make our breathing easier and stronger.
There are a few exercises to help us do this, here is the best one:
- Lay down with your feet placed flat on the floor and your knees raised. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed.
- Place one hand on your chest, and the other on your stomach, just below the ribcage.
- Steadily breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, taking a few seconds for each breath.
- Pay attention to the way your chest and stomach rise and fall as you breathe.
- Now, try keeping your chest still as you breathe, placing the focus of your breath into your diaphragm.
- Continue to breathe, keeping your chest still for a few minutes. Doing this each day will strengthen the diaphragm over time.
Resonance is the way that sound reverberates within something. Everything has resonance. Every object and every living thing. We’ve all seen this when opera singers smash a wine glass with their voice by making it resonate at a specific frequency.
As an actor, having good resonance will allow the sound you produce to fully embody you, and it will give you more size as a performer. Vocal resonance is improved by opening up the body to create wider cavities for reverberation. Here are a few exercises to help us do that:
Yawning is a great exercise to release tension and promote flexibility within your soft pallet and throat. There’s not necessarily a specific technique to this, simply yawn, opening up your inside areas, all the way up to the mouth. Do this as a daily exercise, just be sure not to yawn when talking to a casting director!
Humming is a great exercise for opening up space within the body by releasing tension:
- Stand up straight with your feet at shoulder width.
- Begin humming at a comfortable pitch. Feel free to change pitch as you go along.
- Feel the vibration in your body, chest, face, etc.
- Lightly pat any areas in which you feel tension. These often include the chest, face & back.
- Continue humming & open up your entire body by shaking your arms, legs and body.
- Feel free to stretch out your chest and arms to loosen yourself up.
- Finally, repeat these steps whilst humming at different pitches. Each pitch will resonate differently throughout your body.
Articulation and Diction
Articulation and diction are incredibly important for acting. It’s not just about ensuring you can speak clearly, or that you can pronounce complex terminology when playing certain roles. It’s about giving yourself full control of your voice so that it’s able to serve you for any role that you come across. We’ve all had times where we’ve stumbled over our own words, even when speaking in our own voices. Here are a few warm ups and exercises to help with that.
The chewing gum exercise helps work out and warm up the muscles in our mouth. Start by imagining that you have a piece of gum in your mouth and are chewing it, scrunching up your face as you chew. The gum gradually gets bigger and harder to chew until you have to open your mouth extremely wide to chew it. Try not to tense our neck muscles as we do this exercise, as this will make our vocals more tense.
Tongue circles are very simple and great for exercising and warming up our tongue to ensure we’re not tripping over it within our dialogue. To do these, simply close your mouth and point your tongue behind your upper lip, over your teeth. Then swirl the tongue around your mouth in a clockwise motion into your right cheek, lower lip, left cheek, upper lip. Continue this for a minute and then switch direction. After a few repetitions your tongue will feel exercised.
Consonant drills are great for articulation. In this exercise we’re going to work through each consonant in the alphabet, starting from B. We’re going to say the pattern “Buh buh buh, buh buh buh, buh buh buh, bah.” Then, “Cuh cuh cuh, cuh cuh cuh, cuh cuh cuh, cah.” All the way through the alphabet. This allows us to warm up the articulation muscles and get used to pronouncing each sound.
Tongue twisters! We all know know a few. They’re frustrating, but they’re very useful in improving our diction! The goal with tongue twisters is to be able to say them as fast as you can with proper pronounciation. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Do daily deeds diligently
- I am not a pheaseant plucker, I’m the pheasant pluckers mate, and I’m only plucking pheasants cause the pheasant pluckers late.
- Amidst the mists and coldest frosts, with stoutest wrists and loudest boasts, he thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.
Vocal Range and Flexibility
Vocal sirens are a great exercise for smoothing out the catches in our range. A good way of thinking of these catches are like knots in a muscle, we must massage the knots out of the vocal register by slowly sirening through them.
- Starting up high, sing the word ‘sing’, holding the note on the ‘ng’ sound.
- Slowly lower the pitch until you get to the bottom of your range.
- Do this again from low to high.
- Pay attention to breaks in your range where you seems to skip notes.
- If you find a break, slowly re-sing this part of the vocal range a few times, up and down until the break is gone.
- Redo this a few times until you’ve smoothed out the breaks.
As performers, it’s important that our voices are healthy. Losing, straining or overworking our voices could cost us work. For that reason, it’s important that we drink plenty of water as dehydration can hurt the vocal folds. Room temperature water is great when we’re using our voices a lot as it helps to reduce tension.
It’s also recomended to use a steam vaporiser before bed, especially when performing often. Actors that perform 6 days per week must ensure that they don’t lose or harm their voice, vaporising is an essential practice that can reduce wear and tear on the voice.
And finally, get plenty of sleep. We all know that sleep is good for us, but it’s really important when it comes to the voice. When we sleep, the body places its focus on mending our bodies, so any damage that we have done will be restored. Having too little sleep could cause your body to not restore itself and could cause further damage.
Remember, no matter what you take from this list, consistency and regular practice are key to seeing improvement in your voice. And remember that it’s important to listen to your body and voice, and if you experience any discomfort or pain during exercises, stop. Relaxation is essential in improving our voice. Have fun!