F***ing Around with your Voice

When people ask me what the best way to get better with making the sounds of language, whether it be English sounds, or new sounds of the world, my answer is simple: “F*** around with your voice.”

I say this fairly often, I’m afraid. I believe that the people who have the most success with changing the way their voice sounds are the ones who change the way their voice sounds all the time. People with a strong sense of play, who are willing to make noises, to do impressions, to sing publicly, to be audaciously outrageous, these are the people who have a sense of confidence, who are willing to take a risk, who ultimately develop the skills necessary to aural/oral acrobats of the mouth.

Dudley Knight's Speaking with Skill  Book coverIn his new book, Speaking with Skill, Dudley Knight describes a process he calls vocal gurning, where students move their faces around slowly to make funny faces, and then copy that process with their sound making abilities, sounding while gurning with their articulators and the rest of their vocal tracts. This is masterful F***ing around with the Voice.
In the book The Complete Voice and Speech Workout Book and CD, I described an exercise about vowel sliding and gliding. This is the same principle I describe in my post Riding the Wave of the Tongue and Riding the Wave of the Tongue Part II.

Complete Voice and Speech Workout book cover

But play can happen anywhere and at any time. When I listen to the radio and I hear an accent that is unfamiliar to me, I make a point of at least mouthing the sounds I hear that seem interesting and new to me; if I’m alone in the car, I do it aloud, for sure. I’m constantly experimenting with my ability to make sounds in ways that are new to me, and ways that I’m familiar with—this is my practice, my daily work to maintain my level of Mastery, as described by George Leonard in his great, highly recommended, book.Master book cover

There are as many ways to play with your voice as there are people. I encourage all my students, and all my readers to mess around with your voice at every opportunity you get; I assure you that it will take you further than you ever imagined.

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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