Isabel Russo Voice Handout

June 3rd, 2013

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© April 2006 – Christopher Penney & Isabel Russo


An Introduction to Voice Work (Isabel Russo):

The Principles:

For good voice production you need:

1)      Aligned, relaxed and positive posture

2)      Open and free passage of air and sound through the throat.

3)      Expansive and supported breath from the abdominal (belly) area

4)      A centred sound – as if starting from your belly, supported by the breath

5)      Clear and active articulation

6)      Belief in what you are saying (which could/should come in at number one!)

The Process:

Warm Up!!

A warm up should accomplish two things:  You need to get the body and the voice ready for performance but you also need to “switch on” your brain!.

A good warm up needn’t be hugely long; even if you can only find 5 minutes to stretch, take some big deep breaths and do some gentle humming and a tongue twister, this will be beneficial.

The following covers some key aspects of the voice using what is essentially, a very thorough warm up.  Whilst I would encourage you to try everything that follows at least once, ultimately it is up to you to pick and mix what suits your needs, and your time frame, best.

1)Energy – physical/mental and vocal!

Stretch and shake out the body.

Wake up your body and mind (and voice). Running on the spot even for just 30 secs is great for activating the heart and the breath. Energy in the body and mind equals energy in the voice.  If you are low in energy you will have a dull, flat voice.  If you are “switched on” you will communicate better.  An activity that gets you slightly out of breath can help you focus on good expansion of the lungs in the abdominal area.

Try a “shimmy” of the shoulders whilst making an AH sound.  Shake the voice into life!

2) Posture and relaxation. 

Good, relaxed posture – particularly in the neck and shoulder area – is essential.  Any unnecessary effort or tightness will have an effect on the tone of your voice and a slumped or stiff posture will inhibit breathing and again, affect the tone. To align the body try a Spinal roll; stretch up, then flop over from the hips on an out-breath.

Very slowly “grow” the spine up vertebrae by vertebrae, one on top of the other, bending the knees slightly and leaving the head dangling until the rest of the spine is built up. Then float the head up onto the top. 

Think of your weight being slightly forward and up.  Not military and not slumped but balanced.  Imagine your spine as lengthening and your head just floating up towards the ceiling (or as if pulled gently upward by an invisible thread). 

Shoulder rolls back and forth and half head rolls and gentle neck stretches to get rid of unnecessary tension in this area.  Massage can also help.

3)Breath and breath support

Most expansion in the lungs happens lower down. Therefore we want to focus on strong, deep breaths that fill up the lungs from the bottom, rather than high, panicky, shallow breathing with a lot of movement in the shoulders.

Try nice deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth.  Try controlling this by counting (not out loud) and breathing in to 4, hold for 4, and out to 4, then 8, 10, 12 etc.  Make sure you use all the counts to breath in and out – the aim is control.

As well as breathing from your belly, think of expanding all the way around to the sides and around to your back.  Deep breathing like this can help “centre” you and calm you in stressful situations. Good voice production requires this muscular effort to ensure that energy doesn’t drop and that the ends of lines, particularly, are heard and that the voice has a rich tone, not strangled in the throat or croaky.

4)The “centred” sound

Deep breathing and humming can help “centre” you. It is helpful to think of the sound starting lower down in your belly (or centre).  This will help avoid tightness in the throat and create a richer, more resonant tone. Relax your throat. Try yawning and sighing to open up the back of the mouth, the throat and the windpipe.

5)Resonance (enhancing and focussing the vibration)

Musical instruments have to have a means of amplifying the vibration.  The body of a guitar, the case of a piano, the tube of the flute etc, all create spaces for the air to vibrate in.  The human voice needs space too!  There are 3 main resonating spaces:  The nose, the mouth itself and the throat/chest.  Humming can be a great way to get these spaces working and really get a buzz going in the voice. 

Try  humming on mmm, nnnn, ng (as in the final sound of Sing).  Once you’ve got your whole face, nose, lips, chest buzzing, open the hum out onto an AH sound.  Think of “moving” the vibrations around – varying pitch and the vowel/consonant can help.

6)Clarity and Articulation

You need to practice to improve mobility, and muscularity of the tongue, lips and jaw. With the tongue twisters below, aim for accuracy at a low speed first – also change them around and adapt them once you can do them (otherwise, they lose their benefit!).  Over-emphasise the words – particularly difficult or complex language – really get the lips, tongue and jaw working but try not to over-tense or grimace, as this is counter-productive.  

KNOW what you’re saying – it’s the thought as much as the movement of lips and tongue etc, which needs to be clear!

Technically, this is a combination of good supported sound and clarity of articulation (so see above).  When performing or speaking you can be very quiet but, with good articulation, you can still be heard.  Also, think about reaching your audience and allowing them to hear you, rather than throwing the voice or shouting at them!  Directing the voice, with focus, (and, if presenting, using your eye-contact) will ensure the sound reaches the audience.

8)Variety and interest in the voice:

Try to experiment with changes in tone (authoritative, soothing, chatty, etc) and introduce variety of pitch and intonation pattern; volume, pause and pace into your delivery. Silence too can be very effective. Whatever happens ~ Don’t forget to breathe!

 Some Useful Tongue twisters

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry, yellow lorry.  x 5

Unique New York.  x 10                   Peggy Babcock   x 10

I am not the pheasant plucker,
I’m the pheasant plucker’s son
I am only plucking pheasants
’til the pheasant plucker comes. (!!!)

Six thick thistle sticks. Six thick thistles stick.  X 5

She sells sea shells by the sea shore.
The shells she sells are seashells I’m sure

We surely shall see the sun shine soon

© April 2006 – Christopher Penney & Isabel Russo