Dabs of Sound

Now that you’re aware of how your breath is working today, let’s connect with the vibrations of your voice on the most basic level. The goal here is to connect with your impulse to make sound, to find the simplest voiced noise possible. Before we begin, a word of warning: if you overthink this, it will be very challenging to find this very simple sound. Trust that you know your voice—you’ve been using it your whole life! This is easy, and it’s important that you remember that through the process of this exploration.

Stand, sit or lie in a comfortable position, with your body is alignment. Close your eyes, and feel your breath in your core, with its action moving your guts as breath comes in and goes out. You want to be sure to feel that simple, unmanipulated action before we go on. Relax your jaw, and feel the temperature of the air passing over your lips and tongue — it should feel cool coming in, and warm going out. Visualize the air as it passes into your core, and becomes warm inside. Feel the warm air leaving your body, as it warms the roof of your mouth. There is no need to sustain breath at this point. Let your breath be as basic as possible, allowing yourself to only breathe the breath your need, rather than exploring a sustained breath. It should be very short.

The Colour in your Core

Now, imagine a colour. Any colour, your favourite, or even one you hate. The important thing is that you should be able to see it clearly with your mind’s eye. If you are having a hard time coming up with one, open your eyes for a moment and notice the most brightly coloured object in the room, and use that. Now, image that colour in your belly. Imagine that with every breath, you’re dipping down into the colour that is in your gut, stirring the colour, as if it were paint. Let’s imagine that that paint were sound, waiting to be shared with the world. It’s important that you take a moment to value that paint, or that thought of paint. See the colour clearly, and with each breath dip down into it, stirr it up. If, in the process of this exercise, you find that your impulse causes the colour change, go with it. There is no right colour, and forcing your colour to remain the same through the exercise will only stifle your impulse, not foster its growth.

Now it’s time to share your paint-thought with the world. There’s no need at this point to spray the paint, to splash it, the spill it. That will come later. At this point, we merely want to reveal the colour we feel inside ourselves to the world through a very simple sound, the sound “huh” (that’s [hʌ] in IPA.) Imagine that you are using sound as your paint brush to dab the colour in your gut on the canvas of the air. With each dab, explore the feeling of the colour. Where does it vibrate in you? How does the image of the colour in your gut travel up from inside, and out through your relaxed jaw, over your relaxed tongue, into the world? Let each little [hʌ] be an exploration of that colour, of you in the world, of your experience of breath, sound and vibration.

Colour Your World

It’s time to open your eyes. Find the image of your colour, and then slowly, as you continue to dab the colour on your short [hʌ], blink your eyes back into the space you’re in. As you share your colour with this landscape (as opposed to your inner one), imagine dabbing little blobs of colour on the objects and people around you. Remember to keep your jaw relaxed as you follow your impulse. How does this make you feel? What thoughts do you have? There is no right answer, other than to have thought, to respond to the situation (including its absurdity).

Take your time with this. At this point, it’s important to allow this impulsive sound room to grow from a simple dab into a smear, a swipe, a stroke of paint-thought. Allow the sound room to extend now, in a sigh-like manner. Let the painting-voicing be in response not only to the colour in your gut, but also to the world you’re painting. Don’t be afraid to paint anything with your imagination. Paint people, furniture, stuff you can see out the window. Your imagination is the only limit. Let the sound be expressive of your inner life, your emotional word, your impulsive thoughts.

Next Step: Exploring Lower Range

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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