This video is Part 3 of a series on the Basics of Voice Production. Be sure to watch the first videos that covered the background on how the voice is made and how we can warm-up the voice. (Part 1: The Vocal Subsystems; Part 2: Vocal Warm-Ups.)
Now let’s talk about specific exercises you can do to improve each area of voice, starting with respiration or breathing.
Respiration Exercises: Diaphragmatic Breathing
The voice begins with the breath - it is what powers the voice. I want you to start by taking a few deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Watch your shoulders - you don’t want them to move. You want all of the movement to be in your stomach as you breathe in. Relax your stomach, and allow it to pop out as you breathe in, then the stomach comes in as the air comes out of your mouth.
Here is a video that shows what it should look like when you complete deep, belly breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing. Watch how the stomach comes out as the person breathes in, and the stomach comes in as the person breathes out. Notice how the diaphragm muscle also moves down and up with the breath.
Once you have a nice, deep belly breath, you need to learn how to control the airflow as you exhale. You don’t want to blow all the air out quickly because then you won’t have any air left to speak! You want the exhalation to be smooth and controlled - this will help you to power your voice for longer periods of time.
Respiration Exercises: Controlled Exhalation
Let’s start by taking a breath in for 3 seconds, then breathe out for 6 seconds. Put your hand on your stomach to feel that it is popping out as you breathe in, and coming in as you breathe out. And purse your lips slightly as you exhale, so you can hear it.
So breathe in for three. 1, 2, 3, Out for 6, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. In for 3, 1, 2, 3. Out for 6, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Maybe that felt easy, so let’s increase the numbers to in for 4 and out for 8. In for 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, and out for 8, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.
Do that a few times, and increase the numbers as you get more comfortable with the exercise. But if you start to feel dizzy or lightheaded, stop, sit down, and breathe normally. You can hyperventilate if you do too many of these breathing exercises in a row, so pay attention to how your body feels and stop if you feel any discomfort.
Respiration Exercises: Controlled Exhalation on S
We’ll stick with in for 4 and out for 8 in this video. Inhale for 4, and when you exhale, I want you to do so on an S sound, like this: SSSSSSSSS. Make sure the S sound is consistent and smooth.
So in for 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. Out for 8, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Put your hand on your stomach to feel how it moves out and in.
Do that a few times, and increase the numbers as you get more comfortable with the exercise, always paying attention to how your body feels. The point of this exercise is to maintain good control of the exhalation.
Respiration Exercises: Soft - Loud- Soft
Now as you exhale, I want you to go from soft to loud to soft, like this. In for 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, out for 8, ssssSSSSSsssss.
You can build in as many soft-loud-soft combinations as you want, just as long as the exhalation is controlled and smooth.
Once you feel comfortable with completing this exercise with the S sound, you can switch the sound to an SH sound, SHHHH, F sound, FFFFFF, or TH sound, THHHHH. The point is to learn how to control the exhalation.
Respiration Exercises: Counting 1-20
Now let’s use the voice. Take a deep belly breath, and count from 1-20 out loud, taking a breath every 5 numbers. Be sure to use continuous airflow and vocal cord vibration as you say the numbers, and put your hand on your stomach to feel it move out and in. It should look like this. One, two, three, four, five. TAKE A BREATH. Six, seven, eight, nine, ten. TAKE A BREATH. Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. TAKE A BREATH. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty.
If that was easy, try to increase the amount of numbers that you say before you take a breath until you can say 10 numbers in one breath. But always be sure to stop and take a breath if you need it - never try to speak with empty lungs!
Respiration Exercises: Breathing Coordination
One more exercise. This will help you with coordination of breathing during conversational speech. Once you can say 10 numbers in one breath, I want you to count from 30-39 in one breath, and slightly extend the TH sound, like this: thhhhirty, thhhhirty-one.
And be sure to put your hand on your stomach so you can feel the movement as you exhale.
You can switch the numbers to 40-49, and slightly extend the F sound. Fffforty, fffforty-one.
50-59, and slightly extend the F sound. Ffffifty, fffifty-one.
And then 60-69, and slightly extend the S sound. Ssssixty, ssssixty-one.
Thanks so much for watching! Stay tuned for part 4 of the Basics of Voice Production series, Exercises for the Resonance System. And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!