Articulation of Fffricatives

In this post, I'll take you through a warm-up exercise for your articulators, in particular the consonant sounds that make friction. But first I'll talk you through a little theory about consonants, and fricatives in general. If you already know about these sounds, or just want to skip right to the exercise, click here.

If the phonetic symbols in this post don’t match the symbols in the image above, please make sure that you have installed a Unicode font that includes all the IPA symbols, for example Charis SIL.Also note that some older versions of Internet Explorer and Safari have bugs that prevent the proper display of certain phonetic symbols. If you’re experiencing problems, I recommend you try the free browsers Firefox or Opera.

Consonant sounds can be categorized by three qualities:

  • Where in the mouth they are made, known as "Place",
  • How they are made, known as "Manner", and
  • Whether the vocal folds are vibrating or not, known as "Voicing."

One of the "manners" of consonants are Fricatives, sounds that are made in such a way that they generate a friction by causing air turbulence as the sound is made. In English, the fricative consonants are heard in the paired words THose things, Vine fine, Zoo sue, Jacques shack. As you may notice, each of those fricative pairs is made in the same place, and all that makes them different from one another is their voicing. For example, TH in "those" is voiced (vd.), while th in "things" is voiceless (vs.). If you can't tell the difference right away, put your finger on your throat so that you can feel the vibration of the voiced sounds.

I'll be using the International Phonetic Alphabet to refer to these sounds, so if you're unfamiliar with these symbols, listen up:

Spelling as in… IPA Symbol Made with…
th (vs.) thing θ tongue between the teeth
TH (vd.) those ð "
f (vs.) fine f lower lip and upper front teeth
V (vd.) vine v "
s (vs.) Sue s the tongue grooving right behind the upper front teeth
Z (vd.) zoo z "
sh (vs.) shack ʃ the tongue grooving behind the alveolar ridge
ZH (vd.) Jacques ʒ "

Getting your head around these pairs, [θ ð, f v, s z, ʃ ʒ] isnʼt too difficult. Only 4 of them are new symbols!

The Exercise

For this exercise, we're going to alternate between these pairs, in order to drill each sound's articulation, and embed its muscularity into your muscle memory. We'll work each pair individually, and then we'll put the pairs together into a much more challenging exercise. The vowel we'll work with today is our old standby, "uh," as in "cup, mother," (IPA [ʌ]). However, you could do this exercise with any vowel sound, if you wanted to.

We'll start by repeating [θʌ ðʌ] ("thuh THuh") over and over, tryinɡ to really feel the vibration on the voiced [ð] sound. Now we'll reverse that, and initiate with the voiced sound: [ðʌ θʌ] ("THuh thuh"), repeated over and over. Finally, we'll pair the two patterns: [θʌ ðʌ – ðʌ θʌ] ("thuh THuh – THuh thuh.")

From here on, we'll do exactly the same pattern with each of the other pairs. It's a fairly simple pattern: vs. vd., vd. vs., and vs. vd. – vd. vs. So that's:

[θʌ ðʌ], [ðʌ θʌ], [θʌ ðʌ – ðʌ θʌ]
[fʌ vʌ], [vʌ fʌ], [fʌ vʌ – vʌ fʌ]
[sʌ zʌ], [zʌ sʌ], [sʌ zʌ – zʌ sʌ]
[ʃʌ ʒʌ], [ʒʌ ʃʌ], [ʃʌ ʒʌ – ʒʌ ʃʌ]

Repeat each group in square brackets 5 times ( [θʌ ðʌ, θʌ ðʌ, θʌ ðʌ, θʌ ðʌ, θʌ ðʌ].)

Once you've mastered that, try grouping all the pairs into one drill:

[θʌ ðʌ, fʌ vʌ, sʌ zʌ, ʃʌ ʒʌ] (repeat 5x.)

Finally, combine the reversals into a single drill:

[θʌ ðʌ – ðʌ θʌ, fʌ vʌ – vʌ fʌ, sʌ zʌ – zʌ sʌ, ʃʌ ʒʌ – ʒʌ ʃʌ] (and repeat as often as you can bear it!)

Fricative sounds demand a little time to make them. As you work on these drills, be sure to allow each sound to take enough time without overdoing it.

  • You can download this step of the warm-up in a condensed form which you can practice along with.

Next Step: Jawless Text

Eric Armstrong is the voiceguy. Eric is a dialect, voice, speech and text coach based in Toronto, Canada, where he normally teaches full-time at York University’s Dept. of Theatre. Eric has been teaching voice for the actor full-time since 1994, and has taught in Canada and the US, at the University of Windsor, Brandeis University, Roosevelt University, Canada's National Voice Intensive and York University. He has worked for nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Crow’s Theatre, Volcano, SoulPepper, & Canadian Stage in Toronto, and The Court Theatre and Steppenwolf in Chicago. Eric holds a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal) in Theatre Performance, and an MFA from York University (Toronto) in Acting. His mentors were David Smukler (York, Canada’s National Voice Intensive) and Andrew Wade (Royal Shakespeare Company). He has also studied at the Drama Studio, London, and Il Stage Internazzionale di Commedia dell’Arte in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He’s a long time member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, where he has served on the board, as a conference planner, photo editor for the Voice and Speech Review, Founding Director of Technology and Internet Services, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles, essays and reviews for the VASTA Newsletter, the VASTA Voice, and The Voice and Speech Review.

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