Speaking is a physical process

Notes from an interview (2003) with Patsy Rodenburg on NPR’s “Fresh Air” about your Voice (Author of the book, “An Actor Speaks: Voice & the Performer” and 7 others)

When you are nervous or self-conscious, it can affect your voice.

When we get nervous we tend to lift out of the body, our shoulders lift up and our jaw tightens.  Then no breath comes in – because of this we can’t think and we can’t feel.  It is unnatural for our bodies to be in this condition.  When the breath fails, our voice diminishes.  Many people will say ““I am much more interesting than I sound.”

We send subliminal communication long before we speak.  We know if we want to listen to someone by the way that they stand.

Warm up exercises:

  1. Align your body
  2. Proper placement of head
  3. Release shoulders, chest, spine, rib cage

You can center your breath by warming your voice up: gentle humming with an “mmmm.” warms the voice, gets it “motoring”.

Get the resonators in your head, throat, nose and chest going – get it going by placing a hand on head, nose, etc. and create a buzz with humming.

As the voice becomes stronger and stronger, when you are excited and passionately connected to the feeling your voice wants to move.

When something matters to us, we get animated and the voice moves.

Stretch out your voice by gliding up to down in the scales until you no longer “break”.

When we want to command attention our voice perks up.

Open up our voice by “intoning” (singing) one, two, three, four, five, six to speak – seven, eight, nine, ten – all on same breath.

Have no judgement of the voice.  Find natural range and placement.  Release useless tension from the body.  Breathe freely.

We come to life as a baby with a fantastic voice.  It was full, free, not trapped, powered by proper breath with no tension.  We formed bad habits and now we can unlock bad habits. Worst we can do is to push our voice.  It blocks our voice.  De-voicing with a breathy voice is only a half of voice.  We don’t feel our voice.

Make a gentle “oooooo” sound – there is no pressure in throat – there is a voice that just leaves us.

With a Yawn our voice escapes effortlessly.

A free voice gives you more options and people want to listen to you.  Projection is brought about by a free voice.  It is supported with a breath “underneath’ to power the voice.

Exercise:  Push against a wall and breathe freely you can locate and engage the abdominal muscles and feel that support.  Now speak with an outward breath.

In a meeting when you are being “bullied”, push against the desk – breathe and settle into your body.  Doing this you can’t tighten your shoulders.  It centers your breathing, therefore you are centered.

Great communicators act out of grace giving out words to people.

A false voice is off-putting.  Release the tension in your body – relax chest from lifting, shoulders from lifting.  When you “center” you provide yourself with a full range by opening up the whole voice.

Communicators need a full voice to create a full range to express feelings, emotions and to create meaning.

In her work with politicians, particularly young women Parliament members who were having trouble getting notice and being heard, she recommended to stand up with breath at center able to show greater presence, authority and get noticed.

A frequent problem that shows up is the voice trailing off – a “falling line” when the speaker gives up half way through the sentence.  Follow the energy through to the end.  Take your right to speak.

Speaking is a physical process.

Read out loud – When reading from script or notes – rehearse by first, warm up the voice and breathe; second, you must work on it out loud – can’t work on it silently.  Provide yourself with a physical memory of what it will be like.

Talking too fast – When we are nervous physical tension and constriction is created.  When we are self-conscious we could tend to talk faster which is hard to control because we rush to breathe before we speak.  Our head is working faster than the mouth.

Fix this by adjusting your shoulders, quietly sigh out and your breath slows down to slow, deep and calm.  When we are stressed place hand on chest or push with your hand against a wall.

Mean what you say.

Exercise:  Breathing from the lower abdomen holds our greatest power.

Practice this by:

  1. Sitting in a chair with feet firmly on the floor
  2. Flop over and put elbows on knees with head over
  3. Feel the back of your rib cage expand as abdominal area releases
  4. Then sit up and breathe from that very place.

(Variation:  stand up and hug yourself, release shoulders and knees, flop over and breathe – notice rib cage expanding.)

Patsy Rodenberg has worked in South Africa with Zulus in Soweto – who are known for their singing and beautiful full voices – they told her that they grew up believing that their vocal chords were in their stomachs.

Her final word is that we would all be a lot better if we would just breathe.

You can listen to the original interview here: http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=1413885&m=1413886

Patsy Rodenburg, Voice and acting coach. She’s worked with some of the world’s leading English-speaking actors, including Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, Maggie Smith and Nicole Kidman. Rodenburg is the Director of Voice at London’s National Theatre and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She’s the author of many books including, Speaking Shakespeare, and The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer and Presence: Second Circle Energy.