So, you’ve heard that you should be warming up your voice before you speak. But how?! I hear you cry…
Let’s define what we mean by ‘voice warm-up’ to start with. Preparation – that’s what! Getting you ready to do the job of speaking. Whether that’s recording your podcast or voiceover, or speaking at a conference, being an expert on a panel or being interviewed in the press. Your warm-up isn’t about spending a lot of time using your voice, it’s about getting your voice ready to be used.
I do lots of warm-up tweaking with 1:1 voice coaching clients. Everyone from podcasters to audiobook narrators, athletes to comedians. Many people have warm-ups that have been set in stone since drama school or from tutorial videos on the internet and they are too long. So I’m here to make your life a lot easier!
Let’s start by being responsive…
Firstly, your warm-up needs to be responsive to how your voice feels in the moment, on the day before you start your work. It also needs to be completed with mindfulness and presence. A voice warm-up can literally be 5 – 15 minutes if you’re doing the right exercises for your voice and the job you’re recording. What a relief! That’s more time for a brew and a biccy.
It also needs to go in a specific order to have optimal efficiency. I’m going to outline this order with the proviso that the elements can overlap, but it should go a wee bit like this…
Here comes the science!
Breath from the lungs travels up through the windpipe, hits the larynx and makes the vocal folds vibrate. Those vibrations travel up through the vocal tract (the space from the vocal folds up to the lips and the mouth). Vibrations travel up the vocal tract. They are shaped by the spaces through which they travel – that’s the throat, mouth and nasal cavities. Those vibrations go through the air, hitting our eardrums and becoming the voice we hear.
My point is, that there’s a lot more to making your voice than just the buzzy bit in the middle of your neck.
That’s what the structure takes into account. You prep the body, then the breath which is housed in the body, then the vocal folds which turns the breath into vibrations, then the vocal tract which helps those vibrations buzz and take on particular sound qualities and eventually become the voices that your listener can enjoy. Simple, eh?
Ok – nerdy moment over.
Let’s start with the body.
Give your body a bit of attention before you do anything else. That could just come from your morning yoga session if you do one, or a walk or run. It’s about getting your body going, released, aware and energised. A few spine rolls and a few neck and shoulder stretches, a mad jiggle of your limbs – anything that helps you release some of the tension you’re holding in the body.
Then you should think about breathing.
The good thing is that you can incorporate some breath into your bodywork. This is what I mean about the five stages overlapping. Breath awareness is key to a lot of physical practice and can help with that element of mindfulness which is essential to an efficient speaker warm-up. Once you become aware of your breath you can do a few exercises that focus the breath and encourage consistent air flow. This makes talking easier. Try blowing through your lips like a disgruntled horse, or maybe humming buzz-ily from high to low in your voice.
Now onto the sound!
Sound is vibrations. To get the most out of your vibrations, you need to release as much tension in the vocal tract as you can with, to be frank, quite silly exercises. You’re going to start doing stretch and release work for the articulators. That’s the tongue, lips, jaw and soft palate. This helps your mouth shape the sounds freely and ensures tension in the vocal tract doesn’t dampen the vibrations and sound potential.
Next up is speech!
This is where you’re shaping the vibrations into recognisable words. It’s really good to energise the articulators. Tongue twisters are really useful! But not just any tongue twister. So start keeping a note of the words that trip you up. Can you see a theme or pattern emerging? If so, pick whichever tongue twister you can find that targets the sounds you need to work on. Practise it lightly with precision and accuracy.
Finally, now you can get onto the words. This is the optional step as you can just get on with your recording work – it’s what your warm-up has prepared you for after all! But if you’re recording a podcast you could run your intro a few times. If you’re a presenter you may wish to do a wee chunk of the piece you’re going to be speaking. It’s a good idea to use the same piece before and after your warm-up so that you can measure its effectiveness.
Okay, that might seem like a lot after having said that warming up shouldn’t be a lot, but when broken down it’s four steps, with an optional fifth, which do overlap and with awareness and practise you can play around with all sorts of combinations and find yourself with an efficient five to 15 minute warmup routine.
To recap, physical release of the body, bring in the breath, release the articulators and the resonance area, then explore that resonance, get those articulators energised and then speak your words. So what should you do now? What I would do is, look at your warmup and maybe write it down, can you work out which bits fit into the categories that I’ve outlined? And are you doing them in the right order? Use this insight to make your warmup even more effective.