This is a guest blog post by my colleague Paddy Kennedy, International Speaker and Vocal Coach, Principle of Kennedy Communications.
Lately, in my practice as a voice coach, I am seeing more and more young women and men who already have painful nodules on their vocal cords. These are people in sales, in the public speaking and leadership roles: people who use their voice to make their living. Their vocal cords are damaged already, so early in their careers. It’s a serious issue yet can be fixed and/or avoided altogether – by warming up the anatomy of your voice.
The way we sound determines how well we are heard
We may be living in a world of new technology, but the human voice remains well-used. It needs to be used well and maintained well. Whether it be to promote our businesses, sell our ideas or products, or simply to have a good conversation, we use our voices – a lot. Training and protecting our unique voices, we become masters of our instrument. An added bonus to vocal mastery is that we learn that the way in which we sound actually determines how well we are heard.
How often are we even aware of all the work our voice and its fellow ‘organs of articulation’ do on any given day? (Did you know that the tongue is the strongest, most used muscle in your body?) We talk and talk all day long, we use our voice to convey our emotions and to sell our ideas yet rarely do we come to an awareness of the mechanics of voice – until we have a sore throat or have lost our voice due to a cold or flu bug. Or worse, we end up with painful nodules on the very tiny and very active vocal cords.
Breathing exercises and vocal warm-up practice will not stave off a virus but they will stave off nodules and will heal up them quite quickly.
If you don’t have nodules, then perfect!
If you do, then, you are welcome here.
Prevention is better than cure.
Either way, let’s practice some preventive medicine to protect your most powerful communication tool – your magnificent voice.
Renowned vocal coach Roger Love says that a great voice happens when the right amount of air hits the right amount of vocal cord. How do you do that? By practicing diaphragmatic or deep belly breathing.
The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but the most difficult to play. German Composer Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)
Breathing Exercises for Speakers
- Sit on the front half of your chair. Please use a chair without wheels.
- Plant your feet on the floor; imagine your feet making a connection with the earth, a connection that grounds you.
- Inhale through your nose to the count of 4; exhale through your mouth for the count of 6. Inhale to the count of 6 and exhale through your mouth for the count of 8 or 10. Continually work to make your exhalations much longer than your inhalations.
- Begin adding sound to your exhalation; begin with the sound of AAAAHHHHHH as if you were at the doctor’s office. Inhale quietly, exhale and hold the sound as smoothly and effortlessly as you can. Do not push your voice! When your voice quivers or gets raspy, please stop. Take a drink of water.
- Repeat that sound for 3 inhalations and exhalations. Open your mouth wide to make that sound.
- Now, still breathing deeply into your belly, add the sound of MMMMMMMMM as if you were humming. Try to hum in your ‘chest voice’; then try to make the sound more in your ‘throat voice’; finally take the sound up so it resonates in the nasal cavities.
- Always practice your sounds in a low, medium and higher voice. DO NOT push your voice. You are listening and feeling for sounds in those three ranges that come easily and beautifully out of you. These are the voices you need in order to speak the full 3 musicality of spoken English.
- As you progress, begin with the MMMMMM and then add all the different vowel sounds, especially those tense vowels: A – E – I – O – U
- Use all your face muscles to make the sounds. Exaggerate to ‘feel’ what’s going on in your face.
- Improvise. Listen to your instrument. Record your voice. Listen to it as if you are driving in your car with the radio on. If you were the radio announcer, would you capture my attention? Or, will I switch stations? Record and listen. Practice. Play with your voice. Learn its capabilities. Love your voice. And never let them change to another radio station!
- Tune it up every day. Practising in the shower is great as the moisture and steam help to loosen up and clean up the speech cavities.
- One of the best ways to get your voice in tune and well trained and strong is to hum for 10 minutes a day. Hum anything you like. Breathe into your belly and let your inner hummer out.
Elocution – or as it called today, Clear Speech
Don’t forget good old elocution. Before you speak at a meeting or an event, before making a presentation (and after your breathing exercises), warm up your voice with elocution practice and tongue twisters. The elocution practice ought to be done very slowly and with complete mindfulness of how the face moves to make the sounds. You want to exaggerate your facial movement. If it takes you a few tries before you can say all the sentences without your cheeks and face hurting – that’s fine. That’s what I wish my students to experience – a total awareness of what goes into make the sounds of speech – tuning the instrument, so to speak.
When you practise tongue twisters, however, you want to use your face as much as you can, go as fast as you can, and be as precise as you can.
Vocal Warm Up – elocution exercise
The sentences below have been specially designed to work all the vowel and consonant sounds in the English language and to warm up the muscles needed for good speech.
Repeat each of these sentences aloud slowly and clearly before you start your day, being careful to pronounce all the vowel and consonant sounds. These are not tongue twisters. Do not rush! If you feel a strain or pain, stop. Gradually work up to reading all the sentences in one sitting.
Eat each green pea. Aim straight at the game. Ed said get ready.
It is in Italy. I tried my kite. Oaks grow slowly.
Father was calm as he threw the bomb on the dock.
An awed audience applauded Claude.
Go slow Joe; you’re stepping on my toe.
Sauce makes the goose more succulent.
Up the bluff, Bud runs with the cup of love.
Red led men to the heifer that fell in the dell.
Maimed animals may become mean.
It’s time to buy a nice limeade for a dime.
Oil soils doilies.
Flip a coin, Roy; you have a choice of oysters or poi.
Sheep shears should be sharp.
At her leisure, she used rouge to camouflage her features.
There’s your cue, the curfew is due.
It was the student’s duty to deliver the Tuesday newspaper.
He feels keen as he schemes and dreams.
Much of the flood comes under the hutch.
Boots and shoes lose newness soon.
Ruth was rude to the youthful recruit.
Vivid, livid, vivifying. Vivid experiences were lived vicariously.
The pod will rot if left on the rock.
Look, you could put your foot on the hood and push.
Nat nailed the new sign on the door of the diner.
Dale’s dad died in the stampede for gold.
Thoughtful thinkers think things through.
Engineer Ethelbert wrecked the express at the end of Elm Street.
Vocal Warm Up – tongue twisters exercise
In the Eat Each Green Pea list above, you are encouraged to focus on accuracy and clarity.
We use Tongue Twisters to help us learn to articulate accurately but also quickly. They are called tongue twisters because when you first start to practice them, your tongue does feel like it is twisted into knots.
For many foreign or International speakers of English, these exercises are excellent for training the tongue to articulate and then get out of the way for the next sound. I will say them here, slowly, for those of you who may not know how to pronounce certain words.
Time yourself doing these 26 sentences. Can you eventually get them uttered clearly in less than 60 seconds? Try it and keep going until you get there.
- A big blue bucket of blueberries.
- Grey geese grazing grain.
- A cup of coffee in a copper coffee pot.
- Double bubble gum bubbles double.
- I never smelled a smelt that smelled as bad as that smelt smelled.
- Nine nimble noblemen nibble nuts.
- Barbara burned the brown bread badly.
- A box of biscuits, a box of mixed biscuits, and a biscuit mixer.
- Richard gave Robin a rap in the ribs for roasting his rabbit so rare.
- Lemon liniment. Lemon liniment. Lemon liniment.
- Quinn’s twin sisters sing tongue twisters.
- Six silly sisters sell silk to six sickly seniors.
- Old oily Ollie oils oily autos.
- She sells seashells by the seashore.
- Round and round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran.
- Rubber baby buggy bumpers.
- Which wristwatches are Swiss wristwatches?
- Tim, the thin twin tinsmith.
- Lotty licks lollies lolling in the lobby.
- A shy little she said, “Shoo!” to a fly and a flea in a flue.
- Fat dogs frying fritters and fiddling ferociously.
- Slippery seals slipping silently ashore.
- Sickly chicks. Sickly chicks. Sickly chicks.
- Silent snakes slithering slowly southward.
- The rat ran by the river with a lump of raw liver.
- Peggy Babcock. Peggy Babcock. Peggy Babcock. Peggy Babcock. Peggy Babcock.
Enjoy yourself as you do these exercises. Laugh! Let your face speak the words with you.
But first – warm-up. Relax your face, neck, and shoulders. Breathe deeply and gently into your belly. Masterfully control that breath as it makes its way up your body to meet and activate the vocal cords.
Treat your instrument with great care. Become aware of how you sound. Play around with the exercises and listen to, and feel how, the vocal cords move and change sound.
In other words, become the master of your instrument.
Speak well and always from your heart.
Paddy Kennedy, Principal, Kennedy Communication Studio