Exploring Range

In this step of the Basic Warm-up Series, you’ll gently explore your vocal range by sliding through triads on the notes do, mi and sol.

One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, rock,
Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock, rock,
Nine, ten, eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock, rock,
We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight.
–Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”

Beginning any exercise that requires intervals, or a series of pitches with fairly accurate relationships between notes, means you have to come up with some way to describe what that music sounds like. The three notes of the first three lines of “Rock Around the Clock” are the notes doh, mi and sol. In the key of C, they would be C, E and G, making a major C triad. The same three notes begin Mich-ael Row your boat ashore, Alleluia! ”

You can hear the sound of these triads here:

Women | Men
(Women’s voices are naturally about an octave higher than men’s)

For those of you with singing background, you’ll probably immediately recognize this as one of the most common voice exercises around. In this case, we’re not going to be very careful to sing the note, as we’re focusing on speaking voice. We want to give ourselves permission to be a little sloppy and slide up and down through the pitches, and not feel like we have to land very accurately on each note. It’s important that after each group of notes (or triad) up and down, we take a little time to breathe, letting that easy, comfortable inhalation fill down into our bellies. After each triad, we’ll go up a semi-tone until we get to a fairly high pitch, that should warm up the typical speaking range of most people. (Note that some people are capable of going much higher than the range we’re working here. The goal is an easy, gentle warm-up, not an aggressive, competitive voice battle!)

Remember to slide through the pitches, and not focus on singing the notes: sigh your way through the notes, and be sure to think thoughts as you go, such as “where do I feel the vibration from this?” or “can I relax my jaw more?”

So beginning on the B flat below middle C (an octave lower for men), we’re going to work our way up to the G major chord. You can either do this on a hum (mmmmm), or you can do it on any open vowel. I’d start with “Uh,” the vowel in “love, mother, or cup”. Other sounds to explore: “hey”, “hoe”, “hah”, or “hee”.

You can follow along with the piano here:

Next Step: Jaw Basics

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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