- This post is available for download as an audio file, so you can do the work along with the recording.
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Warming up your articulators is often what people, even the most uninformed, know about voice work. Good Diction, as many people will tell you, means being able to speak clearly, to articulate, using "the jaw, the lips, the tip of the tongue." In this brief articulator warm-up, we'll focus on energizing the tongue for plosive consonants, namely /p, t, k/ and /b, d, g/.
Pop Your P's!
Plosives are consonants that stop the airflow of the voice and may or may not release it with a puff of air or voice. Put the palm of your hand in front of your mouth and say "pop!" You should feel the puff of air that both begins and ends that word, though it is possible that you might make that word with only one explosion, and merely stop the air for the final /p/. If that was the case on your first attempt, try again, but this time make a point of popping both p's with a puff of air.
You might notice that /p, t, k/ are voiceless consonants, that is they are ones that are made without vibration of your vocal folds. Each of those consonants has a corresponding voiced consonant, /b, d, g/ respectively. Try whispering the consoant sounds of /b, d, g/ as in "bad, dad, gad." You'll notice that they aren't exactly the same as the sounds in a whispered "pad, tad, cad"—that's because initial /p, t, k/ in English have a very strong puff of air, or aspiration, associated with them, while /b, d, g/ do not. Those three pairs, /p, b/, /t, d/, and /k, g/ are known as "cognate pairs," because each pair is made in the same place in the mouth, and they're both plosive sounds, and all that is different between them is their voicing. The three places in the mouth are the lips, aka bilabial, the tongue tip on the gum ridge, aka alveolar, and the back of the tongue and the soft palate, aka velar.
To warm-up your articulators, one of the primary tricks we use is to drill quick alternations between consonant or vowel and another in rapid succession. That's what well do here. We'll start with the lips and the front of the tongue, using voiceless consonants. The vowel we’ll use is the neutral “huh” vowel, which the IPA represents with the symbol [ʌ], which I call “hut” (because that word has the sound “uh” in it, and I imagine the symbol like the peaked roof of a small hut!) Try repeating the following phrase (an mp3 of me doing this exercise can be heard here):
|: pʌ — tʌ, pʌ — tʌ, pʌ — tʌ :|
Now try the voiced version:
|: bʌ — dʌ, bʌ — dʌ, bʌ — dʌ :|
Now, we’ll alternate the gum ridge sounds with the soft palate sounds—first with voiceless sounds /t, k/:
|: tʌ — kʌ, tʌ — kʌ, tʌ — kʌ, :|
And now, with the voiced sound /d, g/:
|: dʌ — ɡʌ, dʌ — ɡʌ, dʌ — ɡʌ, :|
Now, we’ll put all three sounds together in a single drill:
|: pʌ–tʌ–kʌ–tʌ, pʌ–tʌ–kʌ–tʌ, pʌ–tʌ–kʌ–tʌ, :|
|: bʌ–dʌ–ɡʌ–dʌ, bʌ–dʌ–ɡʌ–dʌ, bʌ–dʌ–ɡʌ–dʌ, :|
Finally, to combine these exercises into a single drill, try these:
|: pʌ–tʌ–kʌ–tʌ, kʌ–tʌ–pʌ–tʌ pʌ–tʌ–kʌ–tʌ, kʌ–tʌ–pʌ–tʌ pʌ–tʌ–kʌ–tʌ, kʌ–tʌ–pʌ–tʌ :|
|: bʌ–dʌ–ɡʌ–dʌ, ɡʌ–dʌ–bʌ–dʌ bʌ–dʌ–ɡʌ–dʌ, ɡʌ–dʌ–bʌ–dʌ bʌ–dʌ–ɡʌ–dʌ, ɡʌ–dʌ–bʌ–dʌ :|
You should be able to do this quickly, and with great ease. Try not to belabour it, or work to hard; let your jaw relax, and make sure to energize your lips so that the /p/ and /b/ really make your lips MOVE, while your jaw stays still.
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