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eTips from the Storytelling Coach - Number 12
Are you neglecting your voice?
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.
- 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
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
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,
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
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
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
How can I make character voices without hurting my
How should I care for my throat while performing?
Do I need to understand vocal anatomy? (The answer may
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
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,
P.S., Email me for one or both of these, or view them on the
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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003
Copyright©2001 Doug Lipman