A to Z Voice: B is for Breath

Breath is the driving force four body. We take 17,000-30,000 breaths in a day. That’s 7,363,289 breaths per year. However, how often does our breath end up taking for granted?

flowerduet-babysbreath-closeup

Babies take 30 or more breaths per minute.

Your breath is a magical force. It gets your heart going, provides a platform for speech, it can work you up or it can calm you down.

I would like to invite you to take some time to get to know your breath.

Sit down comfortably somewhere where you feel warm and safe and close your eyes. Now breath in through your nose and as you breath in take the time to follow the journey of that breath, where you feel it is traveling to in the body. Keeping you jaw soft, let the breath out again. Repeat this for a few cycles.

On the next in breath imagine that the breath is travelling all the way through your body as you breath in. It comes in through the nose and travels all the way down to your feet. It travels through the head and the face. The arms and the shoulders. The chest, the spine, the stomach. In and across the hips and down through the thighs, the knees, the lower legs until it reaches the feet. Repeat this a few times.

Now on the next out breath imagine that the breath is travelling up from the feet and out of the body. Take your time to enjoy the feeling of air passing all the way through each and every part of the body. Repeat this a few times.

Now take the  time to observe what happens between the in breath and the out breath. Does it stop and start or does it flow continuously. Try not to force yourself to do anything, just allow your breath cycle to come to your natural rhythm.

Now bring the awareness back to the way your body feels, any sound you can here in and out of the room. and write down three words that describe how you feel.

Try this exercise for 5 days and let me know what your words were? Did they change. How did you feel?

 

 

AtoZ -Voice: A is for Articulation

This is the first of a series of short blogs that will introduce folk to new ideas/ exercises about their voice. places-of-articulation-2-638

Good articulation needs strength, flexibility and calm! The fluffing of words or tripping over our sentences when we nervous are a good sign to your articulation needing improvement.

The Soft palette is like the unseen articulator as it is right at the back of your mouth. The palette is the roof of your mouth. Its in divided into two areas. The hard palette which has almost no give and the soft palette which is a fleshy bit of tissue. Improving flexibility in the soft palette will not only improve articulations but it will also help with colour and cadence in the voice. Opera Singers have incredibly flexible soft palettes and Beat boxers can achieve amazing sounds through clicks and tongue placement using their soft palette

If you make a ‘k’ sound you can feel the back of your tongue raising to meet the roof of you mouth, but what you may not feel is that your soft palette is also coming down to form this closure the ‘k’ sound is made when this join comes apart like a tiny explosion. In fact ‘k’ is a sound belonging to a group on consonants called plosives.

So if you repeat a ‘k’ sound your are working the two articulators -your tongue and your soft palette.  ‘g’ is made in exactly the same way but this time in stead of the sound being carried out solely on air. The vocal folds come engaged and their is now sound with it.

Try this repeating the following:

k-k

k-k-k

k-k-k-k-k

velar

Velar: A sound produced with the back of the tongue near the soft palette

k-k-k-k-k-k

g-g-g-g-g-g

g-g-g-g-g

g-g-g

g-g

 

Play around with strength of closure

tempo, volume and rhythm.

k-k-g-g-k-k-g-g-k-k-g-g-k-k-g-g

k-g-k-g-k-g-k-g-k-g-k

k-g-g  g-k-k  k-g-g  g-k-k

g-k-k   g-k-k  g-k-k  g-k-k

So there you have it A is for Articulation!

 

Book List for Big Kids – Non Fiction

I love books. They are unbelievably comforting and adorn my house in little piles. I find them incredibly hard to part with. The wisdom and escapism that books contain is a beautiful thing. I love reading lists of books too. Which ones have I read? Which ones have I yet to read? What should I read next?

I thought I’d share some books that I found really useful and enjoyable to read.

Presence by Patsy Rodenberg

This book is like three years of actor training whittled down into book form and made accessible for non performers. Its a brilliant insight in how to be in the moment more and is full of practical exercises to ‘perform’ at your best in an incredibly sincere and authentic way.

Finding your Element – Ken Robinson

Robinson is an educational guru ad talks about how we all have something where we are in are element. Using stories of how different people discovered their element, Robinson shows how we can have our eureka moment ourselves

Games for Actors and Non-Actors – Augustus Boal

This is like an arsenal of different warms ups and games to try out that liberate all, performer or not. In three sections, Boal outlines his method of Theatre of the Opressed, provides a wealth of different exercises and discusses problems that can arise in Forum theatre. This book should in every drama practitioners library. Anyone looking for group cohesion and release of expression could benefit from giving this book a read.

Finding your Voice – Barbara Houseman

This practical and easy to use book talks about the mechanics that go into speaking and the how you can galvanise your body to have a strong, rich and healthy voice. This book provides the foundation for a lot of the exercises that I now include in my Voice practice

Show your Work – Austin Kleon

Austin Kleon is an artist that works with words. His book Steal Like an Artist is also an excellent read. Show Your Work, talks about how to network effectively and efficiently in the 21st century. He describes it as networking for people who don’t really like networking. This book really made me think about how to develop a good web presence and how to share my process with an online community.

Wreck this Journal -Keri Smith

Smith should probably be proclaimed at Art wizard for the wonderful journalling books that she has created. They are a brilliant series but I love Wreck This Journal the most as it reminds us not to be to precious about what we create and that failure yields unexpected results.

Shakespeare Words: A glossary and language companion – Ben and David Crystal

This book will be tucked under my arm and is very well thumbed when I’m working on any of the bards works. Its a brilliant dictionary of language from when you can’t tell you greek god reference from your elbow.

 

The Playful Parent – Julia Deering

 This behemoth of of a book is a plethora of ideas in playing with you kids. From Shampooing solutions to ideas for indoor play. Its a very practical tool kit and I think if parenting was to come with a manual, then this is the one I’d pick.

 

What Non-Fiction books would you put on your list? What should I read next?

 

Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher, Playologist and Story Teller based in Manchester. To find out more about her work, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk

 

 

 

Nerves and Public Speaking

Your mouth goes dry. Your legs start to shake. The butterflies are fluttering in your stomach. It’s today. In ten minutes, you are going to stand up in a room full of 25 colleagues and give the report and findings of the last 6 months of work. Your boss is there. Her boss is there and his boss is there too. All the nights you’ve worked late, missing drinks with friends or skipping bedtime stories with your children. The extra work at weekends missing birthdays and barbecues, it all culminates in this 15 minute presentation. What if people don’t listen? What if I sound really boring? What if i go really high pitch or forget what I’m saying? What if my voice let’s me down?

These are common thoughts and feelings that nearly everyone has before they stand up to speak in public. Usually publicly speaking is a reserve or when the odds are quite high. Making a sale, feeding back to a board or making a speech at a Wedding. They are moments when we want to feel most connected to ourselves and our audiences. These are moments when we want to feel authentic and accessible. The pressure we put on ourselves to deliver a ground breaking speech worthy of an Oscar is incredibly high and often understandable.

Here are a few ideas to help you combat those nerves and feel ready to connect.

1. Breath. Breath. Breath and Breath again.

Those butterflies are more then just strange fluttering feelings. Those knots in your stomach are directly effecting your muscles that control your breath. Your diaphragm needs to be able to drop down into your torso like a parachute filling with air or a jellyfish moving through water. If you are finding that your stomach feels tight and uncomfortable or uneasy, the just take a few minutes to focus on your breath and think of it filling your body from the ground up.

2. Find your feet.

What are you feet doing? Are they providing a secure platform on which your body can rest upon? Are you rocking through your feet in an agitated manner? Or are you putting all your weight back into your heels?

Take a breath. Close your eyes if you can or it helps. Imagine you are stood on a sandy beach in barefoot. The sand is warm and golden and dry. It shifts to accommodate a footprint of each of your feet. Your toes, the balls of each foot , through the arches and back through the heel. Feel the sand supporting your weight and giving your foot as much contact with the ground as possible.

3. How am I stood?

Are you stood with your shoulders hunched forward. Are your legs as close far apart? Are your buttocks clenched? Are you tensing your jaw? Are you locking your knees?

Take a breath. Bring your feet to hip width apart, your knees soft. Imaging your have a light travelling all the way up your spine from your tailbone to your head. As the light passes through each vertebra, it creates warm pockets of light and space in between each one. From the tailbone, to the small of the back, up through the arch to the middle of the back. Up in between the shoulder blades, into the neck, head and beyond. Feel your shoulders and your buttocks gently letting go and dropping down the back of your body. Imagine the light travelling through your jaw creating space between your teeth.

4. Mind the the lips, the teeth, the tip of the tongue, the tip of the tongue, the teeth, the lips.

Some students  tell me they quite often trip over their words or under up feeling that they are rushing and enunciating badly. A good way to combat this is to look to give yourself time to warm up before a presentation. It could be your car on they way to work, or before you leave the house or in a quiet corner of your building. Tongue twisters are an excellent tool for getting you mouth and teeth moving. Tip is to not rush them and do lots of different ones. Take the time to really get your moth around the words. These exercises also help to move the sound forward to the front of the mouth. Try this one:

What a to-do to die today, at a minute or two to two;
A thing distinctly hard to say, but harder still to do.
For they’ll beat a tattoo, at twenty to two,
A rat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tat- tat-tat-tattoo.
And a dragon will come when he hears the drum,
At a minute or two to two today, at a minute or two to two.

5. Breath. Again. Seriously.

I believe the number one tool to combatting nerves is to observe the breath. You will breath in and out until your die. Its a reliable mechanism and if you cultivate a positive mental attitude towards your breath it will support you back. Your breath needs space and respect to flourish. If your suck and out the in breath, the muscles which should support your stomach will be neglected or overworked. if you push the air out to hard, you’ll find that you run out of steam quickly and will suffer fatigue and vocal clumsiness.

Take your time. Observe the flow of breath in and out of your body. Only speak when you feel comfortable and assured by the certainty of breath.

 

Follow the link below to hear comedienne Jo Brand talk through dealing with nerves.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/speaker/improve/fear/

Felicity Goodman is a Voice Teacher, Writer and Theatre maker based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in Vocal Training or collaborating. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk

 

Freeing the Voice

If you can engage with Voice work, you can find yourself being liberated in ways that you could not imagine. Looking at someone’s voice beyond the mechanics, we can find the entire story of the individual. Where they came from. How they were formally educated. What their relationship is to the world around them. These things on there own are subtle nuances that encourage or limit self expression. However if you put them together they give us out vocal identity. It easy to bracket vocal identity off as something different and to that as the rest of your character.

Robert Ebert, a film critic who lost his lower Jaw due to cancer, said:-

I felt, and I still feel, a lot of distance from the human mainstream.’

Ebert talks of his struggle to connect with the world around him. In his 2011 TED talk Remaking my Voice, Ebert tells us “All my life I was a motormouth. Now I have spoken my last words, and I don’t even remember for sure what they were.” Ebert lost his voice over time, not in one moment. He wouldn’t have realised that the last words he spoke would be just that. It’s a good example of how we take our voices for granted.

Freeing your voice is freeing you sense of self.

Any vocal exercises you try are not simply a trip to the mechanics in which your voice is tinkered with, but they are a way of deeply exploring your identity. Plenty of people will make off the cuff remarks about how people should sound. Men should speak low and strongly. Women should speak softly and in a higher register. These concepts are rigid and destructive. Think of the images we are shown by the advertising industry of how men and women should look. Most people understand that these images do not broadly represent the diversity amongst how we all look and this is incredibly destructive. This is applicable to our interpretation of how people speak. Most people can think of a time when someone passed comment of their voice, normally its wrapped up in someones accent being inaudible. So people are mocked because of where they are from? ! This is clearly and totally unacceptable.

What’s also interesting is that people will often speak of their voice in a negative light. When we listen to a recording of our own voice, its common to recoil at how we sound. Like when you look at a photograph and you see all the things that you don’t like about the way you look. You are hyper vigilant in your observation of your flaws. Most of the world is not. There is a wealth of information to be read of quietening your inner critic. A good place to start though is just notice your voice. When you notice your voice, notice if you have judged it. If you have judged it, notice how that makes you feel. Now try and think about when you need your voice for something really important. It might be a presentation at school or work, it might be a eulogy at a funeral or it might be telling someone that you love them. We all want our voices to feel and sound authentic in those moments. Every time you cast a judgement on your voice, you are distancing yourself from being able to speak in an authentic manner.

Starting from today, start thinking of your voice as part of your identity. Start treating yourself with dignity and compassion. Start respecting yourself and pave the way for others to hear you.

quote-to-free-the-voice-is-to-free-the-person-kristin-linklater-91-87-68

Felicity Goodman is a Voice and Elocution Teacher based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in vocal training. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk

Your Voice and Marginal Gains

Watching the Team GB race in the men’s team pursuit and win gold was magnificent. The atmosphere in the Velódromo Municipal do Rio was electrifying as the the cycling team whizzed round battling it out with Australia. Not only did Bradley Wiggins make history by coming the first British athlete to pick up 8 Olympic medals, but they also achieved a new world record time. Day seven at the Rio Olympics was an exciting one with Team GB picking up medals in rowing, dressage, trampolining and swimming.

104824807_wiggo-training-rio-pursuit-sport-large_transbshgrghg_ozk_ec3dgp_qhalu905dgqgrboevtxhm18

However the GB cycling team is the one to watch with the women also beating the world record in the qualifying stages of the women’s team persuit. What are this remarkable teams secrets to success?  Sir David Brailsford, Director of UK cycling introduced the simple concept of marginal gains. By making small changes (however small), one could improve their overall performance. This concept was introduced to me by Dr Chris Whitaker. What struck my was that this concept developed by Brailsford is actually entirely the process of voice work.

Brailsford explains the idea of marginal gains to the BBC in 2012:

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together…They’re tiny things but if you clump them together it makes a big difference.”

As a voice teacher, my job is to help you attain the voice that you feel more comfortable and confident in. We do this through looking at everything that effects the way you speak. Your Breath, Posture, Muscularity, Resonance,  Accent and Pitch. We then explore any patterns that feature in any of these different areas. For example we might discover that you slightly pause before breathing in. After working through exercises that explore and lift your vocal stamina we then slowly build all this different work together and you discover a more authentic voice.

The Olympics are exceptionally inspiring to watch and it’s easy to think that winning Gold is down to the work of the individual, but they all have coaches helping them achieve the physical prime.

So maybe you are looking to improve your presentations skills, or you diction? Maybe your hoping to lift you general performance in the work place. Voice work will help you to unlock potential and find authenticity in the way you communicate. Looking for some starting points? This post on Public Speaking: Preparation-Warming Up is as good as any.

90774083_wiggins11

Bradley Wiggins demonstrating a good vocal exercise in warming up the tongue and improving facial muscularity.

Felicity Goodman is a Voice and Elocution Teacher based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in vocal training. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Public Speaking: Preparation-Warming Up

 

A lot of clients coming through my door are looking to develop stronger public speaking skills.

keep-calm-and-prepare-for-public-speaking-speaking-quote-1024x768The most important thing to do that most people miss out is warming up. Here is a list of five useful warm ups you can do before any presentation when time is short and space is limited. There are lots of different exercises when it comes to Voice work. These are just some of my favourites. Ideally you would do these exercises in the space you are working in but sometimes that isn’t always possible. Its a good idea to practice them at home and see which ones work for you.

Exercise: Body Scan
Time: 5 mins
Purpose: Allowing you to relax and feel settled in your body

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Imagine that you have a ball of light entering through the soles of your feet. Imagine the light is travelling through all of the foot and up into the ankle.
  3. Continue to imagine this light traveling up through the body soothing the muscles and easing the joints. Through your knees, upper legs. In an across your hips.
  4. All the way up through the spine and in and across the shoulders. Through you stomach, rib cage, all the way up to your collar bone.
  5. Up through your neck and over the top of your head. Down through the face.
  6. Take your time with this exercise and enjoy the sensation of your body feeling warmer and softer with the direction of lengthening and widening with this warm light.

Exercise: Grounding
Time: 5 Mins
Purpose: Helping you feel rooted into the floor

When giving a presentation, it is very easy to come off balance and feel uneasy on your feet. This exercise looks at helping your feet make as much contact with the floor as possible.

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Begin by rocking gentle through your feet from toe to heel. As you do so imagine each part of your foot coming into contact with the floor. As you do, allow the movements to go so you are going forward onto your toes and backwards into your heel. Check that you and not holding your breath or tensing your upper body as you do this. Take your time.
  3. Now rock from side to side through your feet. From The out side of your feet to the inside. Again, check that you are not tensing your upper body.
  4. Now think about creating a circular movement as you move through your feet. From the outside to the toes, to the inside and then then heals. Make these movements nice and gentle. Reverse the circle the other way.
  5.  Place your feet back on the ground and imagine you are placing your feet into warm, soft mud. Imagine your feet creating a perfect foot print as your feet make full contact with the floor beneath them.

 

Exercise: Breath
Time: 10 minutes
Purpose: Settling down any nerves and connecting to breath support.

Mistakes are often made in public speaking due to poor breath support. Think of a time that you maybe stumbled over some words, or perhaps jumbled up a sentence. Its highly likely that these things happened due to poor breath support. This exercise encourages calm and a feel of connection with your breath.

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Bring your attention to your stomach. If it helps place the palms of your hands there. See if you can feel you diaphragm moving in and out. Try not to force the breath, just bring your attention to it moving organically. In through the nose and out through the mouth.
  3.  Look for the moment that your in breath peaks and moves into the out breath. Look for the moment that the out breath melts into the in breath. Notice that this pattern is always there and you do not have to force it or suck breath in or push breath out.
  4. Imagine your breath is waves in the sea. The in breath is the wave coming back and peaking the out breath is the wave crashing over and spreading out in front of it. Think of those small waves at the beach. Think about the water spreading over the sand.
  5. On the next in breath, imagine the air filling all the way through your torso. First in travels down into the stomach and fills it with air, then through your chest.
  6.  As the breath turns into the out breath imagine that you are sending it out and filling the room with it. Don’t force the breath out. Just imagine it filling the whole room. Check that you haven’t tensed any part of your body as you do this
  7.  Repeat the last two steps.
  8. When you feel that you are comfortable with the above, make a long “s” sound like a snake. Repeat a few times.
  9.  Now move to a long ‘z’ sound like a bee. Repeat a few times.
  10.  Now a long ‘f’ sound like waves crashing on a beach. Repeat a few times.
  11.  Now a long ‘v’ sound like a aeroplane.

Exercise: Laughter
Time: 5 minutes
Purpose: To actively open up the throat and engage the voice box.

When giving a presentation or a performance, some people feel that their throat goes tight. The following exercise should help you combat this.

  1. Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Bring your attention to the inside of your throat just above your collar bone.
  3.  Now start a giggling sound on a ‘Hee, Hee’ and a ‘Hoo Hoo”. Imagine these sounds a bouncing from the diaphragm. in the middle of your stomach.
  4.  Notice if you can feel your throat opening. its a subtle change but it is happening.
  5.  Once you feel it happen, continue to giggle and count from one to ten. Notice the throat opening on each number you giggle.
  6. Once you feel confident at this, alternate between counting and speaking and see if you can feel that same sense of expansion as your speak the number as when you giggle it.

 

Exercise: Chewing
Time: 3 minutes
Purpose. To gently warm up your face.

Poor diction and pronunciation of words, can be due to a lack of energy in the face. This exercise helps you wake up the muscles in your face.

  1.  Start with feet hip width apart, knees softened. Imagine your spine is going up to the ceiling and your shoulders are dropping down your back making your chest feel nice and open. Eyes looking straight ahead.
  2. Imagine you are chewing a soft sweet of chewing gum. Start moving your mouth in this way. As you do move the lips in all sorts of directions.
  3.  Now imagine that the sweet is growing in size as you chew making the movements bigger and bigger. as you do this try and keep your mouth closed.
  4.  Now exaggerate the movements so that you are wrinkling up your nose and rotating your jaw as you chew.
  5.  Include your eyes and your eyebrows. So that you scrunching up your face and opening it up while you chew.

So there you go, 5 quick exercises to help you warm up for a presentation. I hope you find them useful. You can modify them in a way that maybe more helpful for you and think about working with different images then the ones I’ve given. It can be hard to not feel a bit silly when doing voice work but it’s also unpleasant when presentations go wrong due to poor vocal stamina. Try and cultivate an attitude of non-judgement about yourself while working. Find out more about what I mean in How to Love your Voice.

Felicity Goodman is a Voice and Elocution Teacher based in Manchester. Please contact her if you interested in vocal training. To learn more about the work she does, please visit www.felicitygoodman.co.uk