For actors, learning to speak clearly is one of the fundamentals. For voice actors, learning to do it in a new voice is even more important.
As Bob Bergen demonstrated in I Know That Voice, just being able to mimic a cartoon character isn’t enough. A good voice actor needs to make themselves understood while talking that way, or it’s nothing more than useless noise.
Bergen’s an amazing voiceover artist, and it’s clear he can stutter just about anything and sound as natural as Mel Blanc himself.
How did he get there? How do voice actors get to sound so precise?
A big part of it is articulation exercises.
What Are Articulation Exercises
The mouth is made of muscles. The tongue itself is considered one big muscle. Just like your pecs or quads, your mouth will operate better if you develop those muscles better.
In other words, you need to work out your voice in order to make it better, faster, and stronger.
Exercises that target speech are known as articulation exercises, and they’re something actors are taught in any reputable school of acting or stage drama. There’s no reason you can’t do them at home with just a little bit of practice and research, though.
Keep it up, and you’ll find yourself able to do more with your voice than you ever thought possible. Practicing voices will come more easily and will stick better, and you’ll be a better speaker in any setting.
These are phrases you can say several times before practice or performance to limber up your tongue and mouth.
Anyone who’s seen Anchorman is well-aware that vocal warmups can sound pretty ridiculous, but they work. If you find yourself doing some amateur or pro voiceover work, spend a few minutes before the session warming up your voice. You’ll perform better and wear yourself out less.
When repeating these phrases, focus on enunciation. Over-pronounce every phoneme and syllable, and strive for clarity over speed.
- Unique New York. New York Unique.
- Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers; a peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
- Lesser leather never wetter weather.
- She says she shall sew a sheet.
You can also repeat nonsense syllables, both “voiced” and “unvoiced”. Unvoiced means that you simply make the sounds with your lips and tongue without exerting your vocal cords. This is best demonstrated with the letter T. Pronounce the letter and pay attention to how your tongue clicks off the top off your mouth.
Now make that sound without involving your throat. Just the click.
Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Pah
Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Paw
Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Poo
Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Pee
Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Pa Ta Ka Pay
Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Bah
Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Baw
Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Boo
Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Bee
Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Ba Da Ga Bay
Physical Exercises for Articulation
There are also some things you can do that don’t directly involve the voice at all. These are especially effective when developing the ability to speak in different accents or as different characters.
Unfamiliar speech patterns utilize different clusters of muscles within the mouth. Just like playing a new sport or engaging in a new activity can make you hurt in places you never knew you had, speaking in an unfamiliar accent for long periods of time can tire out your mouth, which isn’t used to exerting itself in quite that way.
- Blow through your lips both voiced and unvoiced. Think of the sound made by annoyed horse.
- Run your tongue across the fronts of your top teeth, then the backs, then the fronts of your bottom teeth, then the backs. Gradually do this faster. Be sure to touch every tooth!
- Isolate muscles at the corners of your mouth by drawing the corners back (broadening your mouth) and forward (pursing your lips from the corners alone). Think of a smile that doesn’t touch your eyes, and then of Donald Trump.
- Place the tip of your tongue on your alveolar ridge (the ridge of gums behind your top front teeth, where the roof of the mouth starts to sharply slant upwards). Pronounce “La”, bringing the tongue tip down.
- Repeat this with the syllables “La”, “Le”, “Lee”, “Low”, and “Lou”.
- Practice speaking the phrases above or text of your choice… while sticking your tongue out. Work hard to enunciate with your tongue sticking out. When you speak normally, you’ll find it much easier.
These are just some rough, basic tips to strengthen the tongue and mouth for voice work. If you’d like to dive deeper into this, check the links below.
And if you do aspire to become a voice actor or use your voice professionally at all, then you should!
Some information for this article was taken from StageMilk, a great blog for professional actors.
Other information was taken from Andrea Caban’s superb “Articulator Exercises for Accent Training” video on Howcast. It’s the beginning of a 35-video series entitled “How to Do an Accent”, and we can’t recommend it enough!