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eTips from the Storytelling Coach - Number 12

Are you neglecting your voice?

November, 2001

eTips is a free, monthly electronic newsletter from Doug Lipman. You can subscribe, unsubscribe, or read a more detailed description of the newsletter at the eTips page. You can also read the other back issues.

Contents

1) ARE YOU NEGLECTING YOUR VOICE?
2) PRODUCT ANNOUNCEMENT: SAVE $55 AND SAVE YOUR VOICE

1) ARE YOU NEGLECTING YOUR VOICE?

I came to storytelling through working with children and noticing their fascination with the world of story. But I always felt inadequate when people with theatre backgrounds would speak of things like blocking, lighting, and "downstage." For years, I lumped vocal warm-ups in that category: things that didn't apply to me as a non-theatrical storyteller.

Over 30 years of telling stories, however, I have found that warming up my voice before I tell a story - or teach a class, go to an interview, or make an important phone call - makes me more expressive, more confident...and able to talk longer without tiring. I suspect that the same would be true for any of you who speak as part of your work.

The Power of Relaxation

The first principle of voice work is relaxation. Babies can make loud sounds for hours at a time without tiring - even though their lungs are a fraction the size of ours. Most of what turns an efficient baby-voice into a strained (or thin or grating, etc.) adult-voice is the accumulation of habitual muscular tensions.

So I precede my voice warm-up using imagery to slowly check each part of my body, starting with my feet, for tense muscles. Next, I stretch the muscles where I, personally, tend to hold tension: my calves, my thighs, my shoulders and neck. Then I relax my jaw, tongue, and facial muscles.

20 Minutes to a More Powerful Voice

I can't convey an actual vocal warm-up in print. But I'll try to give you a feel for parts of my most common warm-up routine.

During relaxation, I begin to breathe deeply. To start my warm-up, I make gentle sighing sounds as I exhale. At this point, I am not trying to be heard; rather, I am creating sounds for the internal sensation of it. In a way, I'm giving myself an internal "sound massage."

After some sighing sounds, I begin humming an "nnn" sound. As I do, I feel the vibrations inside my head. I notice where I do NOT feel vibrations; those are the places where the resonant cavities of my head are not yet open. I gently "aim" my voice into those areas as I try to open my throat. Yawning is a big help here and throughout my warm-up.

The Four Secrets of Ease

Starting at a comfortable middle pitch, I sing a little three-note phrase. Then I repeat it a little higher. I continue until I cannot sing the highest note comfortably. Then I return to a middle pitch and make each phrase a little lower than the last. I continue going lower as far as I comfortably can.

While I'm repeating this three-note phrase higher and then lower, I try to find four sensations. First, the resonance throughout my head. Second, the feeling of an expanded rib cage. Third, a supported diaphragm. Fourth, an efficient alignment of my head and neck.

I use special exercises to help find each sensation. For example, to find the feeling of a supported diaphragm, I sing while standing on one foot with the other knee raised. I notice how my lower abdomen feels. Then I lower my knee to a normal standing position - but I try to keep the same feeling in my abdomen. I repeat this exercise as necessary, until I can keep the feeling as I sing - and, eventually, speak.

The Final Touches

Now it's time to loosen my tongue and lips. I make some "bbbbb" raspberry-type sounds, as well as some "deedle-deedle" and "me-me-me" sounds.

Finally, I sing a song that I know well. As I do, I double check for resonance and all the other feelings. I pay attention to the consonants in the song, making sure I'm pronouncing them all. This is the first time during the entire warm-up that I worry about filling a space with my voice. At this point, I try to notice the reverberation from my voice in the room.

What If I Only Have A Minute or So?

If I don't have the full 20-30 minutes that the above relaxation and warm-up lasts, I abbreviate - either by omitting some parts that don't feel necessary on this particular day, or by doing each part in less detail. If the time is really short, I check for tension in the parts of my body where I tend to carry it, breathe and sigh, then sing six or seven repetitions of the three-note phrase as I try to expand my rib cage, etc.

I even have a silent version I can do in my seat as I listen to the person before me!

IThese brief warm-ups are not as effective as my longer one - but they are much better than no warm-up at all. They increase my ability to be heard, to be compelling, and to talk without strain. And they make me feel more "present" and attuned to my body, as well!

Spread the Word, Save a Voice

Please feel free to forward this issue of eTips to anyone you know who speaks a lot, especially to anyone who speaks on the job - where even small amounts of vocal strain can cause problems over the long haul.

Do you wish you could see and hear the full version of this warm-up - and how to adapt it for your unique needs? Read on for a multi-media toolkit that leads you through my complete warm-up - and much more.

2) PRODUCT ANNOUNCEMENT: SAVE $55 AND SAVE YOUR VOICE

Some time ago, a storyteller approached me and said, "You should make a video about voice work and warm-ups for storytellers."

I said, "But I'm not a voice teacher." The next day, I realized that I knew things about the needs of storytellers that most voice teachers don't. And as a thirty-year veteran, I understood that storytellers don't want to spend a fortune on voice lessons. They just want to save their voices from laryngitis and sound as good as possible. Lots of people compliment me on my voice; maybe they would like to know what I've figured out over the years about developing and preserving it.

The result is a new multi-media product, the Storyteller's Voice-Care Toolkit(TM). This complete resource for tellers of stories contains everything you need to preserve and enhance your irreplaceable expressive instrument, your voice.

What you get

It consists of two videos, two audio recordings (in both cassette and CD format, for your convenience), an illustrated booklet, a wall chart and a pocket warm-up guide. One of the videos contains my complete, 30-minute vocal warm-up (described above) - along with instructions for customizing it to meet your unique needs.

The audio recordings let you listen - and follow along with the warm-up - anywhere, even while driving or exercising. The pocket warm-up guide is a laminated, credit-card-sized outline of the warm-up. The second video - and the booklet - spell out the practical principles of voice work and answer questions like these:

How can I be heard in a crowd without straining? How can I maximize my vocal expressiveness? How can I gain a greater awareness of what my voice sounds like? How can I make character voices without hurting my voice? How should I care for my throat while performing? Do I need to understand vocal anatomy? (The answer may surprise you!) What kinds of food should I avoid before speaking? How can I keep my voice from sounding nervous? (And much more)....

Special Discount for eTips Subscribers

Ask me to email you a more detailed description of what's contained in the Vocal-Care Toolkit, or read it on the web at: http://storydynamics.com/Publications/Multi-Media_Toolkits/svt.html.

As a subscriber to eTips, you are eligible for a $55 pre-publication savings - but only if you order within seven days! Order on the web, by email, phone, mail, or fax!

All the best, Doug

P.S., Email me for one or both of these, or view them on the web:

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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003
Copyright©2001 Doug Lipman