Lip Isolations

This exercise is always easier if done in front of a mirror, or with a small hand mirror to aid you in seeing what you’re doing.

Getting your lips going in the morning (or whenever you’re doing you’re warm-up) is, in many ways, about energizing the lip muscles. But more than just moving them around, we want to increase your awareness of the specific muscles used for moving the lips, and work on isolating them from your jaw and tongue. As I’ve mentioned in other places in this blog, learning to isolate parts of the vocal tract, particularly the jaw, tongue and soft palate is essential to reducing overall tension in your voice, and to moving those articulator with ease and minimal effort.

Today, we’re going to focus on the vertical plane of the lips. There are many other areas we could work on for the lips, but “up and down” are basic functions we can easily start with. Begin by finding good head/neck alignment, floating your skull up toward the ceiling, like a helium-filled balloon on a string. Now, drop your jaw toward the floor so you lips come apart. Finally, with your tongue easily resting in the bottom of your jaw, bring your lips together just to the point where they touch. You should feel as if your lips are reaching toward one another over your teeth.

Upper Lip UP!

Raise your upper lip up toward your nose by lifting the muscles on either side of your nose, those sneer muscles. Now, relax those muscles, letting the lip drop back down to the starting position. Be sure to breathe as you do this: it’s not helpful to hold your breath while you’re doing any exercise. Imagine whispering “me, me, me” (IPA [mi]) as you do it.

Lower Lip DOWN!

It’s no surprise that the next step is for you to pull your lower lip down toward your chin. Start with the lips together, jaw apart, and pull the lip down as if you’re revealing your lower teeth to the world. (Perhaps you could imagine checking in the mirror to see whether you have any broccoli stuck there.) Then repeat that down-up action, revealing and hiding your teeth, whispering “may, may, may” (IPA [meɪ]) as you go.

Both Together!

The last step in this exercise is to do both lips at once. Do this by “baring your teeth,” lifting and lowering your lips in one move, and then relaxing them back together. Be sure not to clench your jaw as you do this, and whisper “muh, muh, muh” (IPA [mʌ]̃) as you do it.

Put it Altogether

Now you know the three steps, you can do it fairly easily as a three step exercise, but this time on voice. Instead of whispering “mee, mee, mee”, etc., you should say it, fully on voice. Don’t do it half-way here — go for it, flowing your sound out through the /m/ sound and the vowels that follow. The pattern should be: “mee, mee, mee; may, may, may; muh, muh, muh” (IPA [mi, mi, mi, meɪ, meɪ, meɪ, mʌ, mʌ, mʌ]).

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

This exercise is available as a video!


An Advanced version of this exercise, with further lip isolations, is now available.

Next Step: Chest Resonance


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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