Before we begin exploring our speech mechanism, I want us to take a moment to ground ourselves, and focus. The name of the game for speech work is awareness, and awareness arises when we can pay attention to the sensations in our bodies and quiet our minds from all the other stuff that demands our attention. Put the outside world aside for a few minutes, and feel your body.

Sit or stand nice and tall, so that your spine stacks up vertically. If you're sitting, be sure to sit on your sitting bones. Let your shoulders widen across the front and back, and let the top of your head float up without tilting your head up. Look to where the horizon would be. Sitting like this takes energy. You're not schlumpfing in your chair, your balancing on it. Standing like this also takes a certain kind of energy that is directed up while grounding your feet into the floor.

Work with your eyes closed for a moment, and scan your body for any tension, discomfort and holding. [Read this part through, and then close your eyes and do it!] See those parts with your minds eye, and imagine that by focusing on those parts, you can allow them to change: to let go of tension, find comfort and release.

Breathe. As we've done in other warm-up sequences, feel your breath in your core. Notice how your breath enters and exits your body. Notice where it causes movement in your body. Let the breath expand your body, allow your body to expand your breath. Open up to breath, and feel how that affects you.

Let your feelings affect your breath. What emotional state are you in? Most of the time, we sit in a fairly neutral state. But often we have underlying feelings of happiness, sadness, fear, anger, frustration, etc. Don't breathe those feelings away, but notice them, share them with the world. With this awareness of body and breath, slowly open your eyes again.

Now, turn your attention to your mouth. What do you feel first? Maybe there's a bit of food stuck between your teeth, or your tongue is bunched up in your mouth. Whatever you feel, notice it. Breathe while you notice those sensations, and while we attend to other sensations in your mouth, be sure to keep breathing, to not hold your breath.

Let's do a quick inventory of the parts of your mouth to see if you can feel them. Try to feel them without touching them. That is, if I tell you to feel your "teeth", try to do it without moving your tongue over them. So often, people feel their mouths with their tongues. I want you to sense the parts of your mouth through those parts. What sensations actually come from your teeth on their own? Now that you know what I mean by "feel", let's feel those mouth parts:

  • lips
  • cheeks
  • gums
  • teeth
  • hard palate
  • soft palate
  • uvula
  • tongue
  • jaw
  • pharynx

Of course, those are very big parts! Some of them have more sensation than others, mostly because some of the structures are packed tight with nerve endings, while others have far fewer nerve endings. We might want to take time to try to feel and sense the parts of those parts, to be even more specific in our awareness. For instance, how many parts of your tongue can you sense? Do you feel your…

  • tongue tip
  • the front edge of your tongue
  • the centerline of your tongue (running from the tip to the back)
  • the sides of your tongue — perhaps touching your side teeth
  • the arch of your tongue — does your tongue curve upward toward the roof of your mouth, or is it pressed down into the bottom of your mouth?
  • the underside of your tongue, where it meets up with the bottom gums?
  • the very back of your tongue, where it turns the corner and heads down into your throat
  • the root of your tongue, where it is anchored under your chin and down to the hyoid bone, just above your Adam's apple (aka ‘larynx’).

And that's just your tongue! Imagine if we took all those places listed above apart in the same manner? Clearly, there is a lot of mouth to attend to. In fact, there is probably too much mouth for us to pay attention to it most of the time. But by getting our mind's eye engaged in connecting our thoughts to our sensations, we can be able to be more specific about what's going on inside our mouths, and that awareness, when coupled with sound awareness leads to the ability to “hear with your mouth,” a skill we desperately need in order to quickly learn new sounds.


Next: Bouncing the Lips

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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