Nature of voice studies
‘What is my understanding of the nature of Voice Studies and its application to Actor training?'
“The voice is an expression of yourself and all that your self is doing” (The Actor and the text- Cicely Berry) Effective use of the voice is essential for Actors and Singers and is an integral part of their training process. Knowledge of how the voice works can also help those involved in any kind of public speaking. Further to this, it is a valuable tool for anyone who is, for whatever reason, dissatisfied with their voice, those wanting to change the tone or pitch of their voice, iron out a strong accent, heighten their status by using Received Pronunciation. Specific areas of vocal training can also help those with speech disorders, communication problems or just a general lack of confidence when it comes to speaking . The voice is one of our most important means of communication and it requires knowledge and practice to use it efficiently and to its full potential. My voice training to date has been focused towards developing myself as a well rounded, technically accomplished and versatile Actor and it has provided me with a comprehensive knowledge and a good basis on which to add further technique. In this essay, I will outline specifically what I have learned about vocal technique and how it can be integrated to an Actor's training and development as a whole.
It is impossible to separate the voice from the rest of your body. Use of the voice encompasses the whole body and not just the vocal organs. To produce your voice effectively, many factors must be in place. When the body alignment is right, the breathing mechanism is free to function well, supporting the vocal mechanism while air is tuned and resonated as voice in the process of phonation, then the tuned air flow is shaped into speech. These are all mechanical processes and their functioning can be helped or hindered by the way we understand and use them. Nowadays, Actors use their voices in small Theatres, huge arenas, TV and radio studios, feature film sound stages and on location. In each of these situations, the voice needs to be fully responsive with the appropriate level of volume, range, emotion and quality. During rehearsals and performance, if an Actor is subjected to physical and emotional stress, this causes physical tension and can result in vocal problems. The Actor must learn to relax physically without reducing emotional intensity. An Actor must draw on their knowledge to pinpoint and effectively troubleshoot their instrument. A performance will be more effective if the Actor is free from vocal worries. The fundamental basis for my voice training was in the efficient functioning of the body. Vocal communication comes from a response of the body's muscles to stimulation, our relationship to ourselves and others around us and by our intentions at any given moment. As a result of these stimuli, the whole body is affected every time we speak and so too is our vocal usage. Efficient use of voice requires the body to be in a good state of balance and this comes about from the relationship between the head, neck and back. To obtain good use we must be free from habitual responses which stop us from reacting and moving efficiently. Misuses of the body come about through habitual response, doing things the way we are used to doing them over our lifetime. To correct these we have to learn to say “no” to each response and consciously replace it with new set of actions, a process which at first feels alien but steadily through observation and conscious
correction, becomes second nature. There are common misuses of the body which affect the voice and need to addressed during training; pulling the head back instead of dropping the jaw when taking a breath to speak which then closes part of the throat and creates a nasal tone and a thinness of resonance; slumping of the Rib cage towards the stomach and pulling the shoulders forward causing a narrowing across the top of the chest and constricting the breathing preventing adequate support; pulling the back in, forcing breathing into the upper chest and losing volume in the largest part of the lungs and locking the knees, causing tension in the abdominal muscles and the muscles of the glottis resulting in a forced, throaty tone. To correct misuses of the body such as these, care and attention must be paid to body alignment. Careful observation is the key to learning about how we restrict ourselves. I have gained invaluable experience observing others and correcting their alignment in class, becoming aware of where exactly bad alignment occurs and working to free the body from specific tension through tailored exercises and Alexander Technique. Learning techniques to lengthen and widen the back, release stomach muscles, release the hips, knees and ankles. As a result this, I feel that I am now able to competently identify and address most of the common misuses of the body. Next, the breathing mechanism needs to function correctly within the centred body. To ensure that the breath has adequate strength and direction at all times, support must be developed. Support is where the breathing muscles are coordinated with a good head, neck and back alignment. Good support means that the breath will never collapse and is the core control, allowing an Actor to make difficult demands on the voice without it letting them down. If the breath is not supported then it is virtually impossible to speak on stage whilst doing anything physical, without support, the breathing muscles will become tired, projection will be lost and the speaker will be forced to gasp for shorter breaths to gain enough oxygen intake.
Once the breath is centred and supported, focus can be placed on how that breath produces sound and on the tuning of the voice. The mechanics of the breath passing upward from the lungs and meeting with an obstruction in the larynx formed by the vocal chords coming together and the opening between the chords (the glottis) working upon the breath to produce pitch and volume, these are two of the three fundamental qualities of the voice, the third being resonance (what happens to the airstream after it passes the vocal chords and enters the resonators). Tuning of the voice is the outcome of how we use pitch, volume and resonance. When we have to be heard across a larger space than usual, we tend to need to lift the pitch and use more volume. However, in the Theatre, we might need to use normal conversational pitch, while still reaching the whole audience. Vocal technique is therefore needed to control pitch and volume and make maximum use of resonators in order to fill an auditorium.
Once the well tuned, well resonating voice is warmed, well tuned and effectively resonating, attention can then be focused on the forming of speech sounds. The introduction of speech sounds namely vowels (which do not obstruct the airstream but change the resonators) and consonants (which partially or completely block the airstream) can sometimes hinder good technique that has gone before. The use of connected speech can bring problems when the voice is used with full resonance and more loudly than in ordinary day to day conversation and Actors need to sound as though they are speaking as normally in the Theatre as they might in a small room. Training allows the Actor to achieve this result without the speech sounding distorted or over enunciating. An audience needs more than to just hear each word comfortably; it needs to catch each nuance without strain.
Vocal training can address sounds which are malformed due to the dysfunction of the speech mechanism (lisps, sibilant s'), sounds which are badly produced because the organs are not making the right speech shapes, sounds which are properly formed but too intrusive and which limit the Actors versatility (foreign or regional accents) and speech mannerisms (dwelling too long on one sound or not producing a sound when it should be produced). Voice training does much more than solve vocal problems. It allows Actors to extend their range, develop power and create presence. It puts them in touch with their deepest emotions and helps them connect to their role completely. Vocal honesty must be found in every performance and an honest voice is not one that is consciously manipulated, instead, it responds to what the character is feeling at any given moment. The teaching of effective use of the voice is enables an Actor produce their voice fully and energetically for a prolonged period of time without damaging it. A good understanding of the mechanics of the voice will turn it into a flexible and accurate instrument of expression and communication and completely under the Actor's control, conveying all of the nuances and meaning that the character and the text demands.