When your articulators are awake and responsive, agile and ready, you will find that it is easier to speak clearly and effortlessly. In fact, when your articulators are warmed up, you will most likely be unaware of using them at all. And as soon as you begin to actively rely on them for emphasis or you feel them working, I can tell you that you are not focusing on your content and you are most likely disconnected from your breath support. So warm up your articulators and then ‘forget’ about them!
Articulation work should always follow on from basic postural and breath connection work, and from breath channel opening and release work. When your body is responsive, it is easier to do the articulation drills, and you are less likely to push your voice while doing them.
I also think that it is important to place thought energy and intention behind the sounds that you make so that they are backed by mental alertness. (Please read my section on imaging. Whenever you do any drill work or tongue twisters I know that you will find it most useful to fill the silly lines and repeat phrases with contextual detail as per the imaging work. And this is because doing the imaging work wakes up your imagination so that the words coming out your mouth are backed by substance and not just sound. After all, what is it that they say about Empty Vessels? Please don’t be an empty vessel!)
In her manual Professional Presentations, a good friend of mine in Australia, Lorraine Merritt, titles her chapter dealing with articulation as “Finding Energy in Speech”. I think it’s a wonderful way to look at articulation. It shifts the focus from the mundane practice of simply doing an articulation exercise or drill to the idea of sound as energy: breath energy, energy of thought, energy of communication, energy of intention, energy of imagination and so on.
In this regard tongue twisters are great because they allow you to speak with meaning (even if in a silly way), rather than just trotting out sounds mindlessly. The more fun you have with them, and the more you explore them for both their absurdity and their seeming sense, the more easily the articulators will engage and serve you. Then and only then will you increase the precision and dexterity of your articulators in continuous speech. After all, lively speech is the by-product of a lively mind, body and personality. Just remember that before doing tongue twisters you should first open up your breath passage with open deep yawns and warm up your articulators with tongue and lip stretches, and some consonant drills.
I find Kristin Linklater, Bill Pepper, Lorraine Merritt and Rowena Balos’ drills very useful. They all clearly explain their exercises and often incorporate rhythm when doing the exercises helps take the focus off the throat, mouth and lips and so help avoid vocal strain through too much effort and shallow breathing. They also isolate each of the articulators so that you wake them up one by one.
When doing any articulation work it is important that you remember to remove effortful action from the articulators and to keep reconnecting with your breath musculature – the source from which all sound must emerge.
Regarding Accents and Articulation
I like to think that any person from any background can use sound in a livelier and more precisely articulated manner without losing or needing to change their accent, be it in their mother tongue or their second language. And I think this because no matter what your accent or dialect, when you are keen to speak in real life, when you desire to communicate, and when you connect to both your audience and your subject, your articulation is normally sharper than if you are not ready or keen to speak.
For those of you who are working in your second language or in a multilingual environment please learn to love and celebrate the sounds you make, rather than changing them to accommodate intolerant listeners who hide their dislike of you accent behind criticism of your consonantal and vowel production. And please don’t over articulate in order to hide, apologise or over-compensate for your natural sounds. (In early 2008 I watched a production or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in which the two lead actors over articulated every word with exaggerated lip movements until all that I could watch or see was their lips)
In raising this issue I am also not encouraging or suggesting that you should allow your speech to be sloppy or sound lazy, but rather I am suggesting that an accent does not make your articulation poor. Lazy lips, tongues, jaws, minds and energy make for poor articulation! And over articulated sound does not make you sound clearer either. It just makes you look and sound absurd. So warm up, wake up and enjoy the words you speak. That way you will sound clearer and more engaging.
Lorraine Merritt – Working on the Human Voice DrV4n2p1_4
(Click on the above links, or Google Lorraine Merritt or the title Working on the Human Voice and download the manual for free)
Patsy Rodenburg – The Right To Speak
Kristin Linklater – Freeing The Natural Voice – Section 16
© Donald Woodburn