[NB: A slightly different variation of these exercises has been presented elsewhere on this website (see Voice Projection Exercises). However, they are re-presented here to keep the materials readily accessible under the rubric of Strengthening the Speaking Voice.]
A set of self-explanatory, graded exercises is presented that progress as follows.
- Varying the volume using vowel sounds.
- Varying the volume using numbers.
- Projecting the voice by humming.
- Projection using words and phrases.
If you are carrying out this work in a sufficiently large room it is useful to experiment with altering the distance between you and the clients. So, for example, you can practice Exercise 1: Varying the volume using vowel sounds with a relatively short distance between you and the clients. Then, increase the distance between you and repeat the exercise, asking the clients to increase their volume to compensate for the greater distance. Make it clear, however, that they should not try to push the sound from the throat/voice box but, instead, they should increase the force of the abdominal breath through the voice box: their head and neck area should be just about as relaxed as when you were practicing this sitting closer.
The aim here is to help clients realize, and feel for themselves, how they can control volume primarily through control of abdominal breathing (in combination with easy phonation, good posture and relaxation).
A few pointers on some of these exercises are given below.
Exercise 1: Varying the volume using vowel sounds
These exercises require clients to make a contrast between relatively quiet sounds and relatively louder sounds: the transitions may be from quiet to louder or from loud to quieter. Transitions should be smooth. As this is an exercise in volume control, the ideal is that clients keep the pitch of the note constant and only vary the volume. However, this is a particularly difficult skill and one which usually only clients with some experience of singing can master. Typically, as volume rises smoothly so a client’s pitch rises. Similarly, as volume decreases smoothly, the pitch tends to drop as well. When introducing these exercises, therefore, tell clients not to be overly concerned about the pitch and to allow it to settle into whatever pattern is comfortable for them. Clearly, if a client is straining or over-correcting their pitch, and consequently either speaking with an atypically high or low pitch, then you will need to correct this and assist the client to achieve a range that is more typical for their gender and age. However, for the most part, you can ignore pitch in this exercise and keep the focus on the contrasts in volume.
Exercise 2: Varying the volume using numbers
You can explain to the clients that a very rough guide is that the average spoken utterance in an informal, spontaneous conversation is about seven to eight words, e.g.
can I have a cup of coffee, please? = 8 words
I’ve just been in the car park = 7 words
so, how are you today, Emma? = 6 words
I really never thought you would put it there = 9 words
Note that the length of the counting sequences in Exercise 2 varies from 10 to 15. These are, therefore, longer than the (rough guide) average number of words in an utterance in an informal conversation. It is likely, therefore, that clients will need to take a breath at an appropriate point when speaking each sequence aloud. Of course, this depends on the speed at which one speaks any sequence. If it is spoken quickly then it is more likely that a sequence up to, say, 12 could be spoken on one breath. However, when promoting good volume control in clients with functional dysphonia, good breath control and the use of a slower pace is recommended.
Encourage clients to experiment with these exercises and determine for themselves when they feel the need to take another breath. You can also quiz clients as to whether they are taking a complete breath or whether they are simply ‘topping up’ their air supply. You can remind clients that the yawning technique is especially good for ‘topping up’ the air supply because, as the throat is open and relaxed, it is easier to take a rapid intake of breath.
Exercise 3: Counting
When carrying out this exercise it is again important to encourage clients to think about when they will replenish their air supply. Do they, for example, hold the breath when the other person is speaking? If so, for how many counts do they hold it? Do they replenish their air supply every time when they have finished speaking? If so, are they taking a full breath or just ‘topping up’ the air supply? There are not really any right or wrong answers to these questions and each client will find a method that is most comfortable for them. The thing to emphasize, of course, is that clients should take sufficient breaths for the task. Explain to the clients that failure to take sufficient breaths to support what needs to be said typically leads to straining and forcing the voice, as the client strains to complete the utterance without enough air to do so.
Exercise 4: Projecting the voice by humming
Humming, especially using the sound /m/, is useful to help clients gain a sense of resonance in their projected voices. If they are using a relaxed abdominal breathing technique (perhaps still preceding the intake of breath with a gentle yawn), and if they initiate with easy onset, they should feel ‘resonant’ vibrations in the upper chest and the ‘mask’ of the face (see ‘A right way to hum’ under Limbering on ‘m’).
long hum + long vowel
Beginning the practice with a long, extended /m:::/ serves to more easily initiate the required resonant voice quality which can then be readily carried over into the immediately following vowel sound.
short hum + long vowel
Since we do not usually lengthen word-initial sounds in everyday speech, this exercise now reduces the length of the initial /m/. However, it is still important that clients gain a sense of initiating a good resonant quality and then of carrying this over into the immediately following vowel.
If clients find this exercise a little difficult initially, then you can have them repeat the above long hum + long vowel exercise but, after each cycle, gradually reduce the length of the initial /m/, e.g.
moo….. /m u:::::/
Exercise 5: Projection using words, phrases and texts
These exercises are designed to further assist clients to project their voices by intoning (1) single words, (2) phrases, and (3) sequences and longer texts. Intoning is a way of speaking such that there is relatively little rise and fall of the pitch of the voice. Vocalization of vowels is exaggerated by lengthening each one and attempting to continuing the voicing, as far as possible, through the whole word, phrase or longer text. It can be described to clients as being like the chanting of, for example, Buddhist monks. The quality is rich and resonant and appears to fill the room.
The technique is first practiced with single words and then with phrases.
Finally, sequences and longer texts can be incorporated. Any sequences such as reciting days of the week, months of the year, speaking song lyrics, and so on, can be used to practice projecting the voice towards differently spaced objects in the room. Clients can be encouraged to select an object in the room and try to ‘reach’ the object by imagining that they are joining the object to themselves by sending out a spoken sequence at an appropriate volume: louder for objects at a distance, quieter for objects that are close by.
Voice Projection Exercises
There should be no straining when working with your voice, this is especially true of working on the loudness of the voice. The energy required to increase your volume should be directed to controlling your diaphragm. You should, therefore, use a good abdominal breathing technique throughout. Your throat should be open – if you feel it closing then introduce a yawn before taking a breath, this will open up the whole of the back of the throat. There should be no increased tension in your larynx. You are aiming to relax the muscles in the head and neck area, open the throat, use a proper abdominal breath and use the upper chest as a resonator to amplify the sound.
1. Varying the volume using vowel sounds
Take a breath and say the vowel sound ah as follows.
ah…… (soft → loud)
ah…… (loud → soft )
ah…… (soft → loud → soft )
ah…… (soft → loud → soft → loud → soft ……)
Now repeat the above exercises, this time using the vowels oo, oh, aw, ay and ee in turn.
2. Varying the volume using numbers
Count and gradually increase the volume
Count and gradually decrease the volume
Count and increase the volume on every 2nd number
… on every 3rd number
… on every 4th number
… on every 5th number
For this next exercise you will need to work with a partner. Take it in turns to complete the counting series with the loud number (i.e. one of you will be speaker A and the other speaker B, then swap over). It is important to keep the counting flowing smoothly. This means that your breathing must be accurately timed so that there is no gap between your partner’s turn and your own.
Now complete a similar exercise, again with your partner. This time you will alternate between soft and loud on every count. Take it in turns to be speaker A and speaker B.
4. Projecting the voice by humming
In order to produce a sustained humming sound m… your lips should be held together very lightly, your teeth should rest apart and the throat should be as open as possible. You should project the sound forward so that a slight vibration is felt in the lips. For some people, if this is performed properly, they can feel a slight tingling in the sinuses of the face as well. The important point is that the sound should not be constricted in the back of the throat but should be projected forward into the ‘mask’ of the face.
long hum + long vowel
Begin by humming m… and then add a vowel. Try to keep the vocalization going smoothly from the start of the hum right through to the end of the vowel.
- m….. oo…..
- m….. oh…..
- m….. aw…..
- m….. ah…..
- m….. ay…..
- m….. ee…..
short hum + long vowel
Now, shorten the length of the m and increase the length of the vowel sound. Again, keep the vocalization going right through from the hum to the end of the vowel. Try to fill the room with a rich, resonant sound. You should continue to feel a tingling in your lips and, if you place your hand on your collar bone, you should also feel a slight vibration in your upper chest.
- m oo……
- m oh……
- m aw……
- m ah……
- m ay……
- m ee……
5. Projection using words, phrases and texts
In these exercises the idea is to sustain and project the voice by ‘intoning’ words and phrases. This means that you exaggerate the vocalization of the vowel sounds by lengthening each vowel and continuing the voicing through the whole word. Again, imagine that you are filling the room with a rich, resonant sound but be careful that you are not increasing the muscle tension in the head and neck area or in your general posture.
When speaking the following phrases, imagine that you are speaking just one long word and keep the vocalization going from the start of the phrase until its end. There should be an almost continuous voicing with no breaks between the words.
- many men and women manufacture them
- Maid Marion met the merry men
- my members might manage the magazine
- Mary may move to Manchester in May
- my mummy made macaroni for me
- Maya makes metal machines for Mehmet
sequences and longer texts
Using the same intoning technique recite the following. You will need to give some thought as to when you will take a breath, e.g. after every three words when reciting days of the week and months of the year; after every five numbers when counting.
- days of the week
- months of the year
- numbers 1 to 100
- reading a newspaper
- speaking song lyrics
- reciting a poem
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