Ever wondered what voice coaches mean by placement? Listen as Elley-Ray Hennessy guides you through ten different vocal placements complete with demonstrations that you can try at home and incorporate into your character voice acting technique.
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Voice Over Expert Elley-Ray Hennessy
Elley-Ray Hennessy is an international, award-winning actress, writer, director and producer who has been in over 290 stage and film productions, voiced thousands radio and television commercials and appeared in countless animation series and animation feature films. A multiple Dora, Jesse, Gemini, and Pauline McGibbon award nominee and holding Ken McDougal and Harold awards, her recent accomplishments include the feature film “Then Again,” St. Francis of Millbrook directed by Sky Gilbert, directing and voicing “Z-Baw” for Imagination Films, commercial spots for Zellers and TD Bank and two 3D animation feature films (Alley of Dreams, Papagiorgio the Great).
She was chosen as one of the Mille Femmes in LuminaTO for outstanding contribution to the arts including hosting the red carpet at Dora Mavor Moore awards and serving as a juror in the “Best Voice” category for the Emmys and was a VIP presenter at Voice 2012.” Some of her voice credits include: Sidekick, My Big, Big Friend, Spider Ryder, Franklin, Babar, Busy Town, Yam Roll, Bernstein Bears, Robo Roach, Get Ed, Bakugan, & Carl Squared just to name a small few from her resume.
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E. Hennessey: Ten ways to place your character voices from natural to monster, nasal and pug. Alright, there are infinite qualities of vocal magic but the basis of most of these is the foundation of character voices along with rhythms, speeds, compressions, weights and efforts in expression.
Let’s look at which placements are most useful to the voice over professional. Number one would be signature, that’s the natural place which you communicate daily, to which you can add accents, compressions, aspirations, emotional rhythms, etc. to change it up. Alright, just the way you speak normally. Number two, your head voice that is reaching to the top of your head inside. It’s a higher pitch or falsetto. Now, men they tend to dislike this placement but it’s a wonderful addition to many characters. Blue, blue sky, green grass. Blue, blue sky, green grass.
Number three, the mosquito. Do not be confused, this is not a high note. Imagine that you have a blown up balloon and you have the lips of the balloon in your fingers and they’re pulled apart and air is releasing from the balloon, it’s a very high pitched expression of air from a place of holding your breath and allowing this piercing bright, high quality to escape. Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, blue sky, green grass. Okay, play with that, that’s a lot of fun. It can be aspirated in or out. I just did out. In is a little bit more difficult but fun and gives you a different quality. Eeeeeeeeee, blue sky, green grass. Play with that one while pulling your bum together.
Number four, soft palate pull. Okay, so if you imagine the yawn and then hold that structure you’ll have a round, back of the throat sound. This sound is generally used for an older character or a lower status character. Blue sky, green grass, blue sky, green grass, blue sky, green grass, blue sky, green grass. Number five is the swallow, this is when you pull down into the lower throat region like a Kermit the Frog type sound. And then you compress the muscularity above that region and it holds it up higher in the back of the throat. Imagine if you will that you had phlegm at the back of your throat, this is delightful, and you wanted to dislodge it. That is where the hold is and you compress around that. Blue, blue sky, green grass, blue, blue sky, green grass. Blue, blue sky, green grass. You can move it up and down as well.
Number six is low or barrel, a low thick placement. It’s weighted in the chest with pressure from above and below to hold it there. Blue, blue sky, green grass, blue, blue sky, green grass. Number seven is the mask. This is a placement that is used quite a bit in animation and if you sucked helium it would cause your chords to shrink and you’d sound like a little munchkin. But, ha, ha, ha, you can shrink the muscularity of your chords yourself by pulling them into themselves. Just like when you take an outstretched arm and you fold it in half when you’re curling a dumbbell. It’s also like pulling a bowstring back in archery, it’s a very unique quality. Blue, blue sky, green grass. Blue sky, green grass. Munchkin, we represent – just think about pulling into yourself.
Number eight is the monster. This is a compressed low quality that has gravel which is created by bearing down and pushing past the compression. Imagine if you were picking up two suitcases in each hand filled with boulders or taking a poop. Now you can play around with the amount of compression and how low the lock-off is and you can add many qualities to this growly transformer type placement. Make sure that the soft palate is raised as this placement it can damage you if it is done incorrectly. Blue, blue sky, green grass. Blue, blue sky, green grass. Blue, blue sky, green grass.
Number nine is the nasal head. This is the head voice forced through the adenoidal system and given a strong push. Imagine if you’re giving yourself a little kick in the butt. It’s a very active placement, it has a sharp not a dull sound, okay. So make sure that you can express strong blasts of air out of your nostrils onto the back of your hand. That’s right, onto the back of your hand, snot onto the back of your hand. Because this is the action that is employed when playing with this placement. Blue sky, green grass. Blue sky, green grass. Blue, blue sky, green grass.
Number 10 is the pug. This is when you block the entire adenoidal system so that the Ks are almost impossible to voice. It would be like a little child with a cold quality and it can be found by aspirating in and out on the K sound. So once you’ve done that you then lock around the placement where the K hits the back of the instrument and you plug above and behind the soft palate. So try honking or horking. And bring the back of the tongue up to choke off the sound. Blue, blue sky, green grass. Blue sky, green grass.
Be ready for any voice, be prepared for everything that might be required of you and that is everything and more. This instrument of yours is brilliant and it’s capable of huge feats that even you have no idea about. Do your homework every day. Draw the energy of the world to you by being of the world of voice. And express because you love it and because it’s what feeds you and ultimately feeds us and changes the resonation of this planet. You have a big responsibility to all of us. So get voicing and live the dream.
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