Saturday, 31 October 2015

The Right Way to Speak

  Thank you for your click.  If you want to know anything more/specific, please do ask me. 

  Where you are is actually a follow up to:  Keeping your Voice Healthy Which I learned through having a scare with my vocal cords. May this never happen to you.  Perhaps clicking through to that blog entry, you'll find some safeguards against this. 

  Why do I suppose I have something to say? 

  Well, I was trained at Southwark Cathedral, Guildhall, British Youth Opera.  While I was teaching singing at the Guildford School of Acting, twenty-one of my pupils took West End leads. 
  And these days, every Saturday at Cafe de Paris, London; on a tour of the biggest literary festivals with the vaudeville show of my best-selling book My Tutu Went AWOL; for royalty all over, I use these techniques myself.

  The bottom line?

  Technique is all I've got.

  More about my background...


Contents:


How to breathe correctly 

How to support your voice

Spoken voice exercises

Singing exercises

How to learn a song 


  
  How to Breathe Correctly/How to Support your Voice 

  1.  Do a minute or so of cardio.  
  2.  Lie on the floor with a book under your head.  Massage your head, neck and shoulders. Put the backs of your hands against your ribs.  Shoulder blades down, neck free.  Breathe in and push your hands away from your body.  Next, with your hands by your sides, imagine that your ribs are making snow angels as your breathe in and out. 
  3.  Go on all fours and imagine your hamstrings are your lungs. Arch your back, flatten your back.  From your hamstrings you could yawn, laugh, cry, speak, sing, and take a sharp inward breath. 

  Do I know this sounds crazy?  Yes.  

  Do I care?  Only when I'm tired. 

  4.  Stand up slowly, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees unlocked.  Put your middle finger tips on your thighs.  Make your neck and shoulders jelly.  Imagine you're looking to the horizon.  
  Feel all your toes and both heels on the ground. Imagine you have roots going down into the ground at least twice as far as you are tall.
  Without moving anything other than your facial muscles imagine things on the horizon that you would react to:  with indifference, annoyance, joy, confusion, love, lust, indifference, scorn, revulsion, fear, panic and so on.  Always start with indifference and go back to it between whichever other choices you might make. Oh, and surprise must be included.  As we'll see later.  
  5.  Put your forefinger in the ridge between your bottom lip and your chin.  Relax this ridge while you circle your tongue around your mouth five times in either direction.  
  6.  Close your eyes and imagine that your forefingers are flirting with each other; first innocently, then getting more and more full on, but never touching. 
  7.  In the position described in number 4 above, imagine your ribs expanding and circling.  Keep this feeling going while you walk somewhere with intent.  While you brace your hands against the wall. While you pick up a chair and put it down again.       
  8.  Put your hands flat, fingertips meeting, just above your pelvis.  Breathe into your hands for a silent count of two, hold the breath for a count of four, release the breath for a count of eight.  Then breathe in for a silent count of three.  And so on.  
  9.  Suck your finger as though it tasted nice.  
  10. Mime biting a huge apple.  Chew and swallow.  Repeat till you've eaten the whole apple.  
  11.  Imagine you're going to be sick.  Those muscles now working in your belly are your support muscles.  Engage with them.  They're the same muscles you use when you cry, cough, sneeze, laugh, hiccup, etc.  

  Top Tip:  Experiment with the diaphragm splat. Breathe out, feel the diaphragm flatten and widen: splat.  Now, relax the diaphragm and speak on whatever breath is available. 

  
   Speaking Exercises

  1.  In the number 4 above position, breathe downward and out, like bellows expanding.  Three times, using up all your breath, imagine a silent 'ee' vowel traveling from a point in front of your shins, through your shins and out at the backs. 
  Imitate a vacuum cleaner, with the same movement of the breath. Lips loosely together, the vowel shape a mix of an 'er' and an 'oo'.  Open the vacuum cleaner sound into an  'ah'. 
  2.  Look to the horizon as before, but now with surprise.  Recite your chosen Shakespeare text. 

  Why Shakespeare? Because he portrays all life, and you need all the voice's capabilities to speak him. 

  3.  Say the cardinal vowels.  You will need to have learnt these at some point from a voice coach.  If there's absolutely no hope of that, the Wikipedia entry, with recordings, is a useful fallback.  Go to Wikipedia
  4.  Mix and match the cardinal vowels with consonants and consonant clusters. Don't entertain yourself doing this.  To paraphrase the King of Hearts: 'Begin at the beginning with 'b' and go on till you come to the end: then stop.' 
  5.  Imagine you're the wonderful, sadly no longer with us, Geraldine McEwan as E.F.Benson's Lucia.  Find on YouTube the earlier of the two versions of Mapp and Lucia and listen to how McEwan's voice soars and plummets over a huge range. Also notice how still she is, head level, as she releases her sound.  Don't imitate her actual pitch, use your own; it's that reveling in a wide range that you're after.  Use speeches or song lyrics. 
  6.  Tongue twisters.  Range further than Peter Piper, Betty's bit of Butter and New York's Unique...

  Why mixing and matching?  Because muscle memory can be bust as well as boom! 

  7.  Isolate head resonance.  Put your hand flat on the top of your head and speak a speech or some song lyrics until you can feel your hand and nothing else vibrate.  Put your hand loosely over your mouth and repeat.  And once more, hand on your chest.  Moving your hand between all three places to spot-check, speak with all three areas vibrating.  



  Singing Exercises

  1.  On a middle tending to lower pitch sing the cardinal vowels in turn.  Go up a semitone and sing them again in reverse order.  And on till you've gone up a fourth, then back to where you started to sing the vowels on a slow trill, twice. So, for example, c/d/c/d/ on i and then c/d/c/d on e and so on.  Don't stop between the vowels.  Once you've sung this slow trill on the notes of the the fourth and fifth, go back to singing on single notes.  Up a fourth and then back down again to start on the trill.  Use this exercise to sing-in your middle octave.  
  Put the vowels that you sing best on either side of weaker ones.
  Sing the vowels on the first three notes of the scale, up and down.  Then up and down four notes. Be aware of the waltz rhythm.  Actually, miss out going up and down the first three notes and go straight from the trill to four notes.  People tend to stick with scales up and down from the third, fifth and ninth.  Don't do that, your voice will get lazy.  Go up to the fourth, the sixth and the tenth. Your voice will waltz, Salsa and Cucaracha and thank you for it. 
  2.  Take an arpeggio apart.  Sing the first two notes on all the vowels in turn, smoothly flowing between the two pitches.  Then three notes.  Then the whole.
  3.  Replace the words of a song you're working on with the single word 'chocolate'.  Half way through, switch to the word, 'appelle'.  
  4.  Here, use any exercises that you may specifically need to work on.  Otherwise, gradually increase the range used in the above exercises to two octaves.  
  Go to the very bottom of your range and one below it once.  
  Go to the top of your range and one note above it once.  
  Sing some single vowel sounds again going from soft to loud and back again, then from loud to soft and back again.  
  5.  The belt voice in women.  A word of caution, I had to deal with not so much breaks as holes in a number of women's voices at the Guildford School of Acting last century.  Don't push the belt on too early.  Get the whole voice of a piece, your technique as solid as possible and then start on belt gradually.  

IDEA FOR BELT VOICE:  Garcia, who invented the laryngoscope, used to teach his female pupils to quack like ducks in the chest register.  I adapted this at GSA, making girls imitate ducks quacking with a strong Bronx accent.

  I would get them to practise everything in their belt range imitating the duck with the Bronx accent.  

  Do I know this sounds more crazy?  Yes.

  Do I care?  I'm beyond tired. 

  6.  Centre the voice again with the vowels sung on one note.

 
  Some Thoughts on  Learning Songs

  1.  Never learn anything from a recording.  You will do an impression of the singer concerned. 

  Oscar Wilde:  'Be yourself; everyone else is taken.' 


  2.  Learn the words and music separately.  There are times when you must stress the words against the music.  For one example:  "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". The musical stress in the first phrase is on 'over'.  But if you were to speak the line stressed this way:  'Somewhere over the rainbow', you would be implying that perhaps there was a place we might have heard of beneath the rainbow, or to the left of the rainbow or opposite it.  
  3.  Speak only the vowel shapes, then speak the text;  speak the consonants only, then speak the text.  
  Now sing the tune to only the vowels; then sing the song; again use only the consonants, then sing the song.  
  4.  There must be a compulsion to sing every line.  Create that for yourself with a thought - inspire yourself.  The word 'inspire' also means, of course, the act of breathing in.  Imagine a question whose answer is the forthcoming line of the song.  If you don't take the time - and the breath - for these thoughts, the audience can never be with you.  
  The big number in my show My Tutu's Gone AWOL! is the Ivor Novello song, "Fly Home Little Heart".  Here it is as question and answer:
  Q.  Where did this sad thing happen?
  A.  Far, far away
  Q.  That can't be all?
  A.  Where the clouds hover low
  Q.  What sparked the incident?
  A.  I heard a cry like a bird in the snow. 
  Q.  How did you respond?
  A.  Soft was my answer: have comfort, my dear.  Why waste a moment, when April is here?  Fly Home Little Heart.  
  
  This process is different in the special case of lyrics that make up a list. Audrey's song "Somewhere that's Green" from The Little Shop of Horrors, for example. 

  Top Tip: a list is never a list.  Each item on the 'list' must be spoken as though it were the one and only thing the character was going to say on the matter.  

 With "Somewhere that's Green" the question (leading to Audrey's answers) would always be the same.  Audrey is compelled to speak by the memories of how she came to first discover and then hanker after each item on her wish-list.  Playing Audrey you need an inventory of backstories for each of those items, as she references lifestyle magazines, celebrity cooks, film stars and so on.  
  So, here is an excerpt in Q and A form, with a possible Audrey thought for the line

  Q.  What is your dream, Audrey?
  A.  A matchbox of our own.  (I call it that because it's detached...)
  Q.  What is your dream, Audrey? 
  A.  A fence of real chain link.  (If I had a fence, I must have a garden, mustn't I?)  
  She must, indeed!  And I would ask an Audrey I was coaching to stress the 'f' of fence and then almost stammer another breath before adding the qualification that her fence would be a fancy one.
  Q.  What is your dream, Audrey?
  A.  A grill out on the patio... (I saw that in an old copy of Homes and Garden in the salon.  I keep sneaking peaks at that photo)
  And so on...
   
  5.  In a speech or song, always ask a question in a speech as though you really don't know the answer.  

  
   
  
  

  
  

  

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