Photo by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu on Unsplash.

“Red leather, yellow leather. The tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips. Unique New York, unique New York, unique New York.” Sound familiar? At any given moment, from training programs to household self tape setups, actors are working on their diction and warming up their voices. Vocal training isn’t solely for singers, as every actor needs to learn to control their instrument to keep their voice healthy.

There are many ways to care for your voice, whether you approach acting from a traditional standpoint, or if you do voiceover or musical theater. Let’s dive into the benefits of vocal training, along with some techniques and ways to hone your skills, to keep your voice healthy and ready for your next gig!

The benefits of vocal training

Vocal training can help actors (and non-actors) by helping unlock each voice’s unique potential. It can help you, in essence, “find” your voice so you can be heard and understood, which can contribute positively to a person’s overall health. Vocal training can also expand the imagination. Here are a few ways to use vocal training to unleash a different side of your creativity.

One of the benefits of vocal training is learning to enhance your vocal range and versatility, which means you can market yourself for more diverse roles. Casting will have the opportunity to see the many different sides of your acting skills, and vocal training will help you stand out in a crowded audition field.

One way to do this is to develop character voices. This is especially useful in animation, where one actor is often cast to play many roles. For example, actress Tabitha St. Germain voiced over five characters in the animated series, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” which ran from 2010-2019. This can be a fun and lucrative way to make a living as an actor, and vocal training (and vocal health) is a must. It is simple to jump into a voice acting class to learn these techniques.

Mastering accents and dialects is another way to unleash your vocal creativity and marketability. Finding a speech class isn’t difficult, as many experts are willing to help you on your journey. It is no secret that many award-worthy performances have been given by actors who used non-native accents. Meryl Streep nailed a Polish accent in her Oscar-winning performance for 1982’s “Sophie’s Choice,” helping to set a standard for award-worthy accents in film.

Improving articulation and clarity

Vocal training isn’t just for actors. Film technicians can benefit from vocal training as well. Whether giving instructions to your crew or performing as an actor, there are many techniques and exercises for pronunciation and diction.

Some simple voice training exercises for pronunciation are tongue twisters, such as “Sally sells seashells by the seashore,” as well as practicing vowel sounds like “a, e, i, o, u” while exaggerating each vowel. There are many voice teachers and different schools of thought devoted to improving articulation and clarity.

Conveying your emotions through your voice is another way to communicate your character’s intentions and create authenticity in your performances. Speaking your lines clearly can help you do this. How many times have you missed vital plot points in TV shows due to mumbling actors? Improving your articulation and clarity can greatly improve your performance.

Voice training techniques for actors

There are many breathing and vocal exercises for TV, film and theater actors. No matter your genre, proper breathing can help sustain you during long monologues or when holding long notes in musicals. No matter what kind of technique you use, it is important that you do your research and never push your voice to exhaustion.

One way to do this is through breathing exercises. Breathing from your diaphragm is how singers can perform eight shows a week and sustain their voices. One of the ways to do this is to lie on the floor and put your hands on your stomach.

Breathe all the way into your belly and feel your diaphragm fill up with air. You can then blow slowly out, controlling your breath. This will help you develop larger breath support and speak (or sing) louder, technically known as projecting your voice.

Knowing how to project your voice is crucial for an actor because it is how you make your character heard and understood. It adds emotions to your character. When you practice projecting your voice, never yell, and make sure you use your diaphragm to support your breathing. This way, you can rehearse your lines by speaking them long and strong.

However, you decide to “warm up” your voice, avoid straining it and pushing it to the limit. Make time for vocal rest. Hydration is key. Treat your voice like you would any muscle in your body. After you exercise it, hydrate it and let it recuperate.

Follow two simple rules for vocal health: don’t yell, and if you lose your voice, don’t whisper. Whispering can dry out your vocal cords because when you whisper, your vocal cords don’t close properly. This irritates them and damages your voice. Your voice is extremely delicate, so make sure you take care of it!

Honing your skills

With any skill comes training, and the great thing is that you can practice at home once you have the tools and know how to perform vocal exercises safely.

Practicing your enunciation should be easy, and you may find you already have some of the tools you need to implement these vocal tips at home. Just grab a book, old acting sides or a monologue off the internet and read it out loud. Reading aloud is also a great way to practice your accents and dialects.

Turn on your TV (or viewing method of choice) and listen to actors speak with accents and try to emulate those. With everything you do, make sure you support it with your diaphragm.

If you have the resources, you can create a home recording studio. This is especially helpful for recording voiceover auditions from home. Playing back recordings is a fascinating way to learn about our voices, as we often sound completely different from what we sound like in our heads! This may be uncomfortable at first, but once you know what you sound like, you can learn to manipulate your voice for any character in any situation. That gives you control as an actor.

Reach out to the pros for advice. The biggest actors always have coaches and teachers, and if it is within your means, there are speech classes for actors that you can take. There are also workshops and classes, and many teachers will let you audit (observe) one class to see if you want to take it. Keep looking until you find the perfect match for your unique voice.

In conclusion

There are a multitude of people willing to help actors on their journey to stronger and safer vocal health. Vocal training is imperative as the voice is a muscle that needs to be warmed up, cooled down and exercised regularly. Whether your journey is to voiceover, voice acting, delving into accents, or stepping onto the stage, find the best healthy ways to hone your skills.

Your voice will thank you for it! Here’s to your vocal health and your unique instrument.

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Written by Nicole Dominguez