Chest Resonance

In this step of the Intermediate Warm-up, we'll be focusing on creating and feeling resonance (aka "buzziness") in your chest. This is easiest to feel on the lower part of your range, so that's where we'll focus. A rich, resonant voice is something we all want, so this exercise not only feels great, it's also an important step in preparing to rehearse or perform.

Before we begin, let's clarify what I mean by "resonance." Voice trainers use this word somewhat differently from the way that voice scientists do. For the science folk, resonance is something that happens to the air above your vocal folds, which resonates in the vocal track, giving the buzz sound created by the vocal folds its quality. For the performer, voice trainers use the term to refer to any vibration sensation in the body that happens due to voice use. We use that feeling as a form of feedback: if you can feel lots of buzziness in your body, then you're probably making the sound correctly.

Open the Channel

Kristin Linklater, in her seminal book Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language describes this resonance exercise as "Freeing the Channel." This step in our warm-up is only the beginning of what she documents in her book; this is a simplified version. To begin, relax your jaw open and open your throat wide, like the beginning of a yawn. Breathe down to your core, feeling the cool air pour in, warm up inside your core, and then flow out, warming the inside of your mouth. Take 4 or 5 breaths to feel this warming sensation, and get a sense of your breath pouring down toward your gut. You should feel your belly "fill" with the breath action, and then, as the air flows out, you should feel your gut collapse toward your spine. Now, to further the feeling of openness in your throat, drop your head toward the back, so you're looking up toward the ceiling, as if you're opening your throat to the sky. [I like to imagine that this is the pose that sword swallowers strike before they do they performances! You're creating a straight line from the sky right down into your core. The big difference between this and swallowing a sword is that you're just breathing air into your chest via your trachea, while the sword traveling behind the swallower's voice box, down her/his esophagus toward the stomach.] With your head tilted back, sigh out again on breath, as if your breath were gently misting the ceiling above you. A great image to explore would be fogging a mirror with your breath.

Now add sound: sigh out on an open "ah," as in "father" (IPA [ɑ]), on a sound around the middle of your range. To encourage vibrations in your chest, tap or pat your chest a little, and put your palms on your chest to feel for vibrations. You will probably feel it more acutely on your breast bone, or sternum, and on your ribs, as bones and cartiledge vibrate more than anything else. Breath by breath, work your way lower and lower in your range. Each note should create a slightly different feeling of vibration in your body, generally with the vibration going lower as the pitch gets lower. If you'd like to follow along with a pitch, have a listen to this audio file this audio file, but you don't have to. You can simply sound your way down, step by step, going lower and lower until you get to the bottom of your range. It helps to sustain the sound for a good long time, to continue to find an openness to your throat "channel," and radiate the sound up toward the ceiling. If the breath was fogging the ceiling, you might imagine that the sound is painting it. Pick a rich, deep colour to imagine, and associate it with the sound you're painting on the ceiling.

  • This post is also available in a condensed form, so that you can practice it once you know how to do it.

Next Step: Articulation of Fffricatives

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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