Vocal Exercises and Preparing for Your Day as a Voice Actor
With a home recording studio at the ready, it can be tempting to dive right into your day and immediately step in front of the mic. But when the quality of voice is your product, taking the time to prepare for your day can mean the difference between booking the job or not.
For advice on how to prepare for a great vocal performance, we asked our team of voice over experts, the Voices Insiders, to share a few of their favorite vocal exercises. The Voices Insiders are a group of professional voice actors who share their expertise every month with the Voices community to help talent of all levels progress in their voice over careers.
Read on to find vocal exercises and a routine to start your day on the right track.
Sit Down and Physically Plan Out Your Day
The voice we wake up with in the morning can sound dramatically different from the voice we use for the rest of the day. The raspiness, or ‘morning voice,’ we hear is caused by mucus buildup and fluid that has collected in the tissues of the throat overnight. While it may take some time to restore your voice to its regular sound, this is the perfect opportunity to sit down and plan out your day.
Though often overlooked, the habit of planning out your day plays an important role in your vocal and overall health by reducing daily stress. This stress, often brought on by the overwhelming feeling of aimlessness or having too much to do in a day, can eventually manifest in physical symptoms such as muscle tension in the jaw, digestive issues, or trouble sleeping, which can affect vocal performance. The simple act of planning will allow you to take control of your day and actively manage stress levels.
It is important to find a method that works for you and that you will stick with over time. Popular options include writing your schedule out in a weekly planner, in a spreadsheet, or on a whiteboard, or using a calendar or productivity app on your phone.
Your day should include time dedicated to warming up with vocal exercises, inbox maintenance, auditioning and recording, editing, and of course, plenty of breaks.
Mapping out your day is not only a good way to ensure you complete all your tasks, but will also help to prioritize what gets done and when. For instance, you’ll want to gauge the complexity of your auditions or jobs and save the more difficult work for later in the day.
“Ease your voice into the day. Try to do vocally strenuous work last because it will likely tap you out for the rest of the day.”
Stay Hydrated Throughout the Day
Drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day is important for good vocal health. Hydration helps to thin out mucus buildup and keep the vocal folds moist, which allows them to vibrate smoothly and easily, resulting in a better vocal performance.
Before you set out to do your daily vocal exercises, ensure you are properly hydrated. As part of your daily routine, try to incorporate drinking a full glass of water right after you wake up. It is recommended to drink at least eight glasses of water, or 64 ounces, over the course of a day. Keep in mind, your individual recommended daily intake will depend on a number of factors including activity level, environment, and caffeine and alcohol consumption.
Setting a daily fluid intake goal as part of your daily planning routine can help you to drink more water and ensure your body receives the hydration it needs. There are a number of ways to track your goal, including setting hourly reminders or alarms in your phone, drinking a set amount during scheduled breaks, and using one of the many hydration tracking apps available on the market.
If you find you are struggling to drink enough water, or don’t enjoy the taste of it, here are a few ideas to help increase your consumption:
- Drink caffeine-free tea like chamomile, ginger, or peppermint tea
- Change the temperature of your water to make it more palatable
- Try flavoring your water with fruit
- Eat foods that contain more water, such as cucumbers or melons
“Staying hydrated is so important for many reasons but it also improves my vocal quality and reduces mouth noise. Keep fluids going all throughout the day and don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Also, don’t guzzle a bunch of water before a recording as this can actually add to your mouth noise in the moment. I drink room temperature water when recording as I find the cold changes how I speak.”
“I only have one cup of coffee in the morning and I make sure it’s consumed before 8 AM. I begin sipping my first liter (of the five or six I’ll have throughout the day) shortly afterward. On the days I work, I also eat no dairy.”
“I start every morning with a large mug of hot tea. I can’t do ANYTHING before that!”
“I make sure to start drinking water an hour before I record.”
“I make sure I’m well-hydrated and have had some caffeine after being awake for at least an hour.”
Warm up Your Voice with Vocal Exercises
Now that you’ve scheduled out your day and are working toward your daily hydration goal, it’s time to warm up your voice with vocal exercises.
The Importance of Vocal Exercises
Runners don’t launch full-speed into a race without first warming up their muscles, and stepping into the booth as a voice actor should be no different. Voice acting is a physically demanding career and it is essential to prepare your vocal cords and muscles before any vocal performance.
There are a number of benefits that arise from incorporating vocal exercises into your daily routine as a voice actor. Just like in regular physical activity, the more you exercise your vocal cords, the better your voice acting capabilities will become. With consistency, you will likely experience less ‘off days’ and more days where you are able to deliver higher-quality reads.
Here’s why: vocal exercises activate the acid in the muscles surrounding your vocal cords, which allows the tendon in your throat to stretch, giving you more flexibility and control over your vocal performance.
To prevent injury and to continue to grow in your abilities as a voice actor, aim to commit 20 minutes a day to your vocal exercises. If you are not currently warming up every day, ease into your routine and start with the more basic exercises first.
Vocal Exercises: Tongue Twisters
Tongue twisters aren’t just fun to say, they’re also an excellent vocal exercise for voice actors of all levels. By regularly practicing these quick and complicated phrases, you’ll learn to articulate and enunciate clearly and stretch and strengthen your muscles so you can master more complicated reads.
Remember to start slowly, ensuring that each word in the phrase is read fully and crisply. Gradually begin to pick up your pace as you continue to repeat the tongue twister and don’t hesitate to start over if you stumble over a word.
Here are some of the Voices Insiders’ favorite tongue twisters to get you started.
Peter Piper picked a pickle of prickly pears purposefully.
Toy boat toy boat toy boat.
Sally sells seashells by the seashore.
Red leather, yellow leather.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many pecks of pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
Rubber baby buggy bumpers.
The sixth sick sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick.
How Professional Voice Actors Warm up with Vocal Exercises
From lip trills to nasal consonant exercises, there are a number of other vocal warm ups to consider adding to your repertoire. To find out how some of the top professional voice actors warm up, we asked the Voices Insiders how they incorporate vocal exercises in their daily routines.
“I try to follow Jeannette Nelson’s vocal warm up YouTube video for the National Theatre.”
“I also like to stretch my face and mouth muscles. I try to pull really funny faces and move my tongue all over the place. If someone saw what I was doing they would think I was absolutely crazy!”
“I sing scales and blow out through and vibrate my lips, also lots of high pitch to low and low to high vocalizing. Stretching my mouth wide open and tongue out while saying ‘ah’ helps, too. I sometimes sing or hum a song like ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow.’”
“Sometimes I’ll sing to myself quietly or even just state my opinions about the scripts out loud before I start the audition. This way, I’ve also found my ‘believable’ tone about the product that can be used to carry honesty/believability in my voice throughout the audition.”
“I love to warm up by singing to some of my favorite songs while I am setting up and uploading scripts.
I love Rodney Saulsberry’s book, Tongue Twisters and Vocal Warm-Ups: With Other Vocal-Care Tips. I also always keep a wine cork in the booth in case I am particularly inarticulate! Saying the alphabet once with that in my mouth always straightens me out.”
“I definitely start the morning with lip trills or buzzing my lips. This helps me focus on my breath support which is vital for great vocal technique and health. I will buzz my lips with pitches dipping from as low as I can and slide up as high as I can. This helps me get out of my ‘morning voice.’ I also make sure to have a conversation with someone or sing along with some of my favorite songs before a recording session so I don’t go into the recording cold.”
“I don’t do a lot of planned warm up techniques. I find just talking helps me get warmed up, so every morning I call my mom!”
“I like to do deep breathing exercises where I fill my belly with air and exhale slowly with my lips pursed. It makes the most satisfying vibration feeling on your lips.
Another warm up I like to do is a little yoga. It helps relax my brain, muscles, and vocal cords. Plus, it’s fabulous on helping with the breathing involved in voice over work.
The last thing, I have a list of words that I’ve come across doing auditions or work that I find unusually hard to enunciate, so I run through those at least twice before recording. My list currently includes words like ‘ability,’ ‘vulnerable,’ ‘particularly.’”
Rest and Take Care of Your Body
After putting in a full day in the recording studio, it’s time to kick up your feet and relax — you’ve earned it! Give your voice the rest it needs to put in another quality day tomorrow. Aim to minimize the amount of time you speak and avoid yelling or whispering as much as possible.
In the same vein, it’s important to watch what you’re eating or drinking. For example, foods that contain dairy can cause acid reflux and thicken the mucus in your vocal cords, while fried foods can create an oily coating and, in some cases, may trigger heartburn. Watch out for beverages like coffee or alcohol, which are diuretics and cause your vocal folds to dry out.
Practice moderation and take notes of the foods and beverages that tend to affect your vocal performance so you can steer clear. Balance is important, so save those treats for your days off!
When it’s time to go to bed, skip the distractions. Leave the phone or laptop in another room or in a drawer so you can focus on getting quality shut-eye. As a voice actor, a solid night’s sleep is essential to help your body recharge and be at its best. Most adults require 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, though some may get by on as few as 6 hours. If you find yourself routinely having trouble sleeping, consider investing in blackout curtains or a white noise machine.
“Most of your vocal care is happening during your ‘off-time’ so be mindful of what you’re eating and drinking, and most importantly, how much sleep and rest you get. Otherwise, no amount of warming up is going to help you.”
By taking the time to prepare for your day, you’re putting yourself on the path to success as a voice actor. Read more tips for a successful voice acting career and self care tips and activities for creatives.
How do you like to plan out your day? Let us know in the comments!