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The Best Breathing Techniques for Voice Actors

Breathing techniques are easy to forget about, but anyone who’s been in the industry for a while will tell you: They will make or break your ability to perform week in and week out.

Having a solid breathing routine to maintain and improve your vocal range (and lung capacity), is integral to keeping up with the competition.

To help you out, we have tracked down someone who has trained hundreds of performers on the best breathing techniques to apply.

Tom Cobin, is a former CBS Anchor and Founder of DynamiCoach, an evidence-based approach to improving public speaking and presentation skills.

Cobin has helped sales executives, voice actors and professionals communicate clearly and more effectively with his voice and presentation techniques.

In this piece, Cobin will break down his top five techniques that you can use in your routine.

Jump To:

Diaphragmatic Breathing

The Aaahhh Technique

Uh-Uh-Uh Technique

Top of Range Exhale

Enunciation Technique

1. Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing, or ‘pocket breathing’ as it’s known by some, is a deep abdominal breathing technique that Cobin says is “the most fundamental breathing technique for all manner of performers”.

“This involves expanding the lower abdomen to pull air into the lower lobes of the lungs, which often are under-utilized in speaking. Only then does the speaker fill the upper lungs as most people typically do exclusively,” Cobin explains.

Here’s a step by step on how to do this:

  1. The easiest way to “get the feeling” of how it works is to lie on your back with one hand below your navel, and the other hand on your sternum and/or solar plexus. 
  2. You breathe in, while trying to lift your lower hand towards the ceiling, and with it, your navel and lower abdomen. When you can’t inhale any more this way, then continue the inhalation by expanding your upper chest and lifting your shoulders. 
  3. Hold for a second, to gradually increase oxygen update capacity in the lungs and bloodstream. 
  4. Then relax your abdomen and let your lower hand fall, while still keeping the upper chest expanded, which then may collapse once the abdomen has been emptied of air. 
  5. Repeating this regularly strengthens the abdominal muscles involved and will make it easier to accomplish over time. It fills the lungs with the aid that forms the fuel for projection and other elements of effective speaking.

2. The Aaahhh Technique

Another technique is the ‘sigh’ or ‘aaaahhh’ technique. This technique can become an effective way to convey emotions, depending on how it’s done.

“This technique can help you to convey emotional ranges from exhaustion to frustration,” Cobin says.

Here are the steps to follow to do the ‘aaahhh’ technique:

  1. With an exhalation, adjust the vocal cords into a silent ‘sigh’ or a low whisper, even changing pitch from high to low.
  2. Take a deep abdominal breath, then ‘hum’ from low to high and back again, as many times as you can on a single exhalation. It’s not about singing a scale like Julie Andrews in the ‘Sound of Music’. It doesn’t have to be musical, it’s just a way to get speakers to realize how much more of their range of vocal pitch they could be using. 
  3. Speak for a short time (15-20 seconds), 
  4. Repeat the exercise, then ‘stamp’ more of that vocal range onto the same exact words. 
  5. In the process, we review which words to punch with emphasis, and how to use pitch for that purpose. It’s dramatic how you’ll feel more expressive immediately.

“In my workshops, this is an especially effective vocal exercise that is critical to expanding clients’ vocal range, most of which is significantly under-utilized,” he explains.

3. Uh-Uh-Uh Technique 

Another exercise that Cobin gets his students to practice is the uh-uh-uh technique.

This exercise it to control your breath in short staccato bursts of exhalation, sounding out: “uh-uh-uh”. This integrates function with the vocal cords.

“Personally, I like to strengthen the lower end of my vocal range by slowly breathing out at the lowest pitch I can reach, and moving from projecting with tight vocal cords, to speaking softly with loose vocal cords, then to whispering,” he says.

This technique warms up your voice, so that you can reach deeper tones for a fuller sound.

4. Top of Range Exhale

Cobin, who’s also a musical performer (singer and guitarist) said another one to add to your repertoire is the top-of-range exhale.

“I like to practice exhaling at the top of my natural pitch range and smoothly moving into falsetto to go even higher. There can be a crack at this point if you’re not warmed up,” he says.

“I feel it’s good to know my range and transition point so my performances are smooth and natural.”

5. Enunciation Technique 

With this one, you put emphasis the entire mouth in pronunciation, “taking the tongue out of the equation” Cobin says.

“This is really fun because everyone in the workshop sounds goofy. You stick your tongue out as far as you can, on your lower lip. Then keeping your tongue right where it is, you try to speak,” he explains. 

“It’s sounds off-the-wall silly, but most people find they can’t really be understood very well because they’re relying so heavily on their tongue, that the rest of the mouth has gotten lazy.”

In order to enunciate with your tongue stuck out in this way, you have to over-emphasize and exaggerate the movements of your facial muscles to compensate.

Give it a try!

What breathing techniques do you have in your warm up armoire? Tag us on TikTok @voicesofficial to show us how you do your breathing techniques!

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