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Developing an Effective Voice

Benefits and Tips

Voice is rooted in the mind and body, an expression of a whole person. Voice is affected by our relationships with others, the environment and the impulse of the moment.– Julia Gabriel

One of the many skills we teach students at Julia Gabriel Centre is how to use their voice for effective communication. Assuming that the physical tools for speech work sufficiently – lips, tongue, teeth and the soft and hard palettes – as babies, we instinctively learn the process of inhaling breath, drawing it down our windpipe into the lungs and then activating the voice box as we exhale.

Starting with PlayNest, infants and toddlers hear and respond to sounds by listening to adults role model language and by experiencing different forms of play (songs, nursery rhymes, puppet play etc.). As children progress through our Drama and Communications Programmes, specific activities help build their understanding of phonemes (speech sounds) and how, when combined with different ways of using voice and physical movement (hands, eyes, face and body), they can express their ideas, opinions and feelings.  For older students, voice and speech activities focus on enabling them to articulate themselves as creatively and expressively as possible. Children, and adult students, learn techniques to help them present confidently to an audience, how to win an argument in a debate or project a piece of text convincingly on stage. 

Because when we talk we combine voice, speech and energy, as well as different parts of our body as described above, speech education must be energetic, physical and expressive to be truly effective. Thats why you will often find our studios bursting with excitement as children take part in drama activities or games that, to the untrained eye, may appear to be unstructured, even chaotic, despite the fact there is actually a great deal of learning taking place!

It all starts with the breath

When we talk we need air and when we talk loudly we need more air. To project our voice in a school debate or perform a monologue on stage we need even more air!  But invariably, we struggle to produce enough air for powerful voice projection because we form bad breathing habits during childhood. We need to go back to breathing like a baby!  At Julia Gabriel Education we learn that Children breathe well, naturally. We lose this ability as we grow older and begin to worry about what others think of us. Insecurities hamper good posture and affect ability to breathe deeply, into the diaphragm. This inhibits voice production and vocal projection. (Julia Gabriel, EduDrama, ch.10, p.81).

Ask a child to take a deep breath in and they will raise up their shoulders, pull in their chest, suck in their stomach, thus reducing the amount of air they draw into their lungs and consequently severely limiting their breathing capacity. This is why our educators dedicate time during a speech and drama class to activities and exercises that energise the body and help children to breathe naturally strong.  Action rhymes that involve marching about, stamping our feet or swinging our arms around are perfect for this! 

Something to try at home – 1

Say this rhyme out loud and have fun doing the actions with your child.

Swimming in the sea
Swimming in the sea
Dive and splash
Dive and splash
Swimming in the sea.

Whirling in the storm
Whirling in the storm
Twist and turn
Twist and turn
Whirling in the storm. 

Searching for the treasure
Searching for the treasure
Dig it up
Dig it up
Hooray! We’ve found the treasure! 

(This is an abridged version of a typical Moving and Speaking rhyme our educators might use in a kindergarten level Julia Gabriel Education Drama and Communication class.)

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Know your vowels and consonants

To form speech in any language we use our lips, tongue, teeth and palettes to create vibrations. In English there are two kinds of speech sounds, vowels (5) and consonants (21). However, there are many more sounds than letters because we can glide two or more sounds together to form different sounds. In terms of function, vowels are what we call open sounds and give speech its musicality while consonants help give words weight, characteristic sound, texture and movement. Consider the words dead’  (weight), crash(sound), sticky(texture) and creep(movement). 

In a Drama and Communication class, an educator will use developmentally appropriate speech activities in a fun way to help their students learn how to emit individual sounds and combined sounds for more expressive speech.  Educators use something called the Resonator Scale to help students practise articulating long and short vowel sounds, building up to adding beginning and ending consonant sounds.  For example,

OO, OH, AW, AH, AY, EE,

OOP, OHP, AWP, AHP, AYP, EEP… 

In Singapore, it is very common for students to omit the end consonant of words e.g. cra..instead of crab, ca..instead of cat, do..instead of dog.  Regular practice of the Resonator Scale helps them to understand the importance of articulating the whole word. 

Something to try at home – 2

Humming exercises using the mouth, nose and pharynx.

 – Humming in the mouth – mmm…mmm…mmm…

 – Humming through the nose – nnn…nnn…nnn…

 – Humming in the pharynx – ong…ong…ong…

 – Hum for half a breath opening into an AH sound for the remainder – mmm AHnnn AHong AH

(Julia Gabriel, EduDrama, ch.10.p.83)

Robots are fun but not when it comes to speech!

Whether engaged in conversation with a friend, giving a speech or reciting text out loud, the more expressive we are when we speak, the more we will engage the listener or audience, persuade them to our point of view and communicate the correct meaning of what we want to say. Imagine if everyone spoke in a voice that was completely monotone all the time. How dull would that be! We would all sounds like robots. When we place emphasis on various syllables in words, switch up or down the volume and change the speed at which we speak, we convey meaning and feelings to the listener. We can understand that someone feels happy or sad for example not simply by their choice of words but also by how they use them. 

At Julia Gabriel Centre and Julia Gabriel School of Education we train children and adults respectively to vary the way they use pitch, pace, pause, power, inflection and tone to suit the style and mood of the words they are reading, be it a three-word tongue twister, a poem or a complex script. They gradually develop and understand how to use these tools to express their own mood and to connect on a deeper level with their audience. Briefly:

Pitch  – How we begin reading a new paragraph or articulate a thought or idea. E.g. when expressing good news we generally begin on a higher pitch and bad news on a lower pitch. 

Pace  – The way we vary the speed of what we are saying, or reading aloud, in order to convey mood and emotions. For example, to describe something exciting we speak more quickly. When we feel sad and we are describing something moving, our speech tends to slow down. 

Pause  – Using pause as a technique helps us to convey the meaning of what we wish to communicate.  Knowing when to stop and take a breath, or simply be silent for a moment, also helps the listener to make sense of what they are hearing. 

Something to try at home – 3

Every lady in the land /
Has twenty nails upon each hand //
Five and twenty on hands and feet //
This is true without deceit. //

Read these four lines out loud. Without changing the order of the words, can you employ pause to make the rhyme make sense? (Solution below.)

Power – Different material requires us to use a different level of energy and volume.  We might lower the volume of our voice but increase the energy for example in order to convey suspense, anger or a sense of peace. 

Inflection – We use inflection to create the shade or form of what we say or read. Where we place stress in a sentence or even on one syllable within a word creates the rise and fall of language.  How we modulate our voice; how we employ grammatical rhythm, helps us to establish context and meaning.

Tone – An actor employs tone to help create the character of the part they are playing or to express text.  Likewise, we can employ tone, or colour, to change the mood and emotions of how we wish to express something.  Our specialist educators encourage their students to imagine how they might feel in a given situation – excited, anxious, scared, silly, cold etc. –  before role play, stage work or reciting a poem for. 

Solution to exercise using ‘pause’

Every lady in the land has twenty nails / upon each hand five /  and twenty on hands and feet //

This is true without deceit. //

Conclusion

Breath work, enjoyable phoneme activities and learning how to add colour and shape to language with pitch, pace, pause, power, inflection and tone, are just three ways our specialist educators help students find their voice to use it effectively for confident and expressive communication.   

Something to try at home – 4

Loud and Soft Speaking Rhyme

Have fun together with all the family as you play with the words of this rhyme. Read the text aloud quietly to begin with, getting louder and louder as the print gets bigger. Lower the volume and energy of your voice as the print becomes smaller again. You can read the whole poem together at the same time, or each take a separate line. 

Here we go!

The moment I’ve been waiting for.

I’m soooo excited!

Here’s the packet. Tear off the top.

Slip the card out.

Wait!…. Yes?…. No?

YES!    Hooray! 

The rarest, loveliest, shiniest

STICKER IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD

BETTER THAN ANYONE ELSE’S.

Wait a minute…let me see your’s…Oh! Would you like to swap?