Preparing for a Vocal Marathon – Part I

Today I was working on Skype with a new client, who asked me for exercises to help her cope with the challenge of a 28 minute narration (voice over). This is a long time for an untrained voice to sustain colour, flexibility and ease. Small wonder she finds herself stumbling over long words and complex phrases. It is not normal to speak to 28 minutes without rest. This is a vocal marathon.

The voice, like any other part of the human anatomy, requires muscles to move it, shape it, colour it, empower it. The voice might take the form of sound waves, invisible to the eye. It might seem to be as easy as breathing – and that’s how we’d like it to sound, no matter how much actual effort it might take to develop the ability to create a particular stream of sound. it’s good old muscle power that makes it all happen.

So what do we do when we want to be stronger, faster, more flexible, more powerful – fitter – than “normal”? Yep, we go to the gym. That’s exactly what we need to do with out voices if we want them to be able to do feats of extraordinary power, passion, or just length!

If we want stronger muscles, we do weight training. The trainer introduces us to the different machines, explaining how they work, what muscle sets they apply to, what weight level to start with, and how many repetitions.

If you want a stronger voice, one that will sustain you through the challenges of a day at the chalk face (old fashioned way of talking about school teaching), or a full day rehearsal, a 3 hour performance of a play or an opera, or several hours in court, then you must get along to the vocal gym, learn the exercises (and why they are what they are), start with the minimum repetitions, and then over time build them up to more, and more challenging lengths.

The Mini Vocal Warmup, available on the app, or downloadable at Download the Exercises is the minimum you need to do each day to begin the process. As you become accustomed to it, and remember the sequence, you need to extend the length of time you spend on each element, and increase the number of repetitions. Think of the length of time you take to trill up your range as equivalent to the number of weights you lift in the gym. The longer you take, the harder your support muscles need to work, and that builds their strength. Always remember, the support muscles do the “heavy lifting”, the actual vocal mechanism does the subtle adjustments, and the better your support system, the stronger the tiny vocal muscles can grow. Everything works together.

Without a good strong (and that doesn’t mean loud, so don’t push!) vocal sound, you don’t have the necessary material to create clear, expressive speech. So don’t skip your warmup. Ever. Work the power machines first, then move into the next room of the gym and work on the specifics of speech, the Articulators (lips, tongue , jaw, palates).

Above and beyond all of this. Your voice preparation and training should never, ever be painful. Do not strain. Stretch, yes! Challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone, make weird unaccustomed noises, but nothing should hurt. If it feels painful, you are doing too much. In spite of everything I said above about power, strength and working hard, your voice needs to flow, and never be forced, so all your exercises should feel free, gentle, generous and FUN.