Who hasn’t ever yearned to voice animated characters? It’s got to be one of the most fun jobs in all the world. But how does one go about training for voice work? Enter Rudy Gaskins and Joan Baker. They are voice-acting coaches and cofounders of the Society of Voice Arts & Sciences. In this video, they share several behind-the-scenes techniques and vocal exercises to help actors take better command of their instrument when voicing animated characters.

When it comes to voice acting, Baker explains that beyond having a unique voice and exhibiting natural talent, an actor needs to be in the habit of exercising his or her voice. Just as athletes strengthen and stretch the muscles required for their sport, voice actors likewise must train their muscles to maximize the expressiveness of their voice, speak with clear enunciation, and maintain the health of their instrument over time to remain competitive in the industry. But optimizing vocal cords and conditioning mouth muscles takes a surprising amount of commitment. Baker insists, “It actually takes months of training and sometimes years.” 

Here are a few examples of recommended exercises for aspiring voice actors. 

Breathing exercises

It’s important to control your breathing. When actors are just starting out, or if they’re nervous, they sometimes forget to breathe naturally. For example, they tend to take a breath and say a complete sentence and then let out their breath at the end, which sounds strained. Therefore, voice-acting coaches train actors to consistently speak while exhaling. Placing a book on your stomach while lying down can increase your awareness of your breathing patterns when practicing lines.

Relieve Tension

To warm up your voice, start from a place of relaxation as this promotes easy breathing and vocal technique. To relax, stretch your body and neck muscles to carry yourself with good posture. From there, it’s time to relax the various muscles around the face. Practice saying vowels with exaggerated facial expressions to help loosen up facial muscles and help with enunciating.

Jaw: “Most people, the tension is in their jaw,” Baker says. In turn, she teaches her students to loosen up their jaw muscles by gently using their fingers to repeatedly open and close the jaw. It might look easy, but it’s surprising to discover just how much resistance the jaw gives during this exercise.

Uvula: Hanging in the back of the throat is the funny little uvula, and Baker explains it tends to get tense. (Who’d have known?) Lip trills can help relax the uvula so it dangles loosely. Lip trills are the “bbbrrrrrr” sound you create as you flutter your lips like a horse. This exercise also helps loosen facial muscles and warms up the vocal cords. 

Tongue: Extend your tongue out as far as possible and then bring it back in your mouth to relax. You can view more tongue exercises here

Tongue twisters If you’re not able to articulate the words of your character clearly, the audience will not understand what you’re saying. So, practice saying tongue twisters to exercise your mouth, tongue, cheeks, and lips.

  • “Abominable abdominals.”
  • “Lemon lime liniment.”
  • “Eleven benevolent elephants.”
  • “Unique New York.”

Throat: “It’s key to have a relaxed, open back of the throat as opposed to a tense and fixed back of the throat,” Baker says.  “[This] means that sometimes the breath can’t go out the mouth, so it has to shoot out the nose. That’s when you get things like nasality.” One way to release tension in the throat is to yawn with your mouth open wide saying, “Ahhh.” In fact, in a Time Magazine interview, Morgan Freeman once revealed that yawning is one of his secrets behind his resonate voice. “If you’re looking to improve the sound of your voice, yawn a lot,” he said. “It relaxes your throat muscles. It relaxes your vocal cords. And as soon as they relax, the tone drops. The lower your voice is, the better you sound.”

Nerves

Sometimes anxiety causes people to under or overproduce saliva. For dry mouth, Baker advises eating green apples as their tartness stimulates saliva production. And for those who produce an overabundance of saliva, she suggests they place a pinch of coffee grounds underneath the tongue to absorb the excess wetness.

Other helpful exercises include making a daily habit of reading aloud for about a half hour whether it be scripts, magazines, newspapers, books, or even the cereal box. Work on speaking clearly and with expression. Also, make sure to get a good night’s sleep and drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated. Once you have the full technical command of your voice through the various exercises, it’s time to let your creative instincts take charge and have fun!

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