Podcasts Voice Over Experts Understanding The Role of Vowels and Consonants in Speech
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Understanding The Role of Vowels and Consonants in Speech

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Stephanie Ciccarelli
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How do vowels and consonants shape the way you speak? Knowing about placement makes an enormous difference to how your words come across. Lynn Singer covers the importance of proper mouth techniques and placement of the tongue. She explains how these key factors enhance auditions and help with your performance by knowing where the sound originates.


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Lynn Singer Voiceworks

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Lynn SingerLynn Singer was born with a special voice and an ear for spoken language. For over thirty years, she has helped people-literally and figuratively-find their voice.
She has taught acting, speech and voice at Yale, NYU, The New School, Circle in the Square, The Actor’s and Director’s Lab, the Gene Frankel Theater and at the T. Schreiber Studio in New York City. She has worked with a wide range of clients, from Tony, Emmy, Golden Globe, Pulitzer Prize and Fulbright winners, to Fortune 500 companies and top business and management executives.
She has led training seminars at Merrill Lynch Corporation and J. Walter Thompson, and has coached professional individuals (Goldman Sachs, Lehmann Bros, Deutsch Bank, Direct Energy, Inc., etc) for business presentation and sales. She has led workshops in New York, California, Florida, Japan and Spain for actors and business executives.
She also offers private and group voice coaching and diction classes through her long established lsVoiceWorks practice.

Welcome to Voice Over Experts, brought to you by voices.com the number one voice over marketplace. Voice Over Experts brings you tips, pearls of wisdom, and techniques from top instructors, authors and performers in the field of voice over. Join us each week to discover tricks of the trade that will help you to develop your craft and prosper as a career voice over talent. It’s never been easier to learn, perform and succeed from the privacy of your own home, and at your own pace. This is truly an education you won’t find anywhere else. Now for our special guest, Lynn Singer.
Lynn Singer: Hi everyone, I’m Lynn Singer. I was a successful voice over actress in New York City for over 20 years. Now I’m a voice and acting teacher who hounds her students with artistic techniques and motivation everywhere – in my studio, at Yale at NYU and the New School, Gene Frankel’s Studio, the Middle East, Europe and most recently with Terry Schreiber.
Today I’m talking about the use of vowels and consonants in voice over auditioning and performance. Vowels carry the emotion and the music while consonants carry the intent and the meaning. With most people, either their vowels are more meaningful or their consonants are more meaningful. But to get the vowels and consonants in order and to really use them, you have to work the muscularity of the tongue.
For the vowel you’re using the bulge of your tongue. There’s high front vowels and high back vowels. For consonants, the tongue touches different parts of the mouth. For instance, the zzz is made from the friction on the upper back molars. Rudolph Steiner wrote a book called Speech and Drama. He said that each vowel at the bottom had a particular weight and feeling. But I think most people don’t know how to use the vowels to feel that bottom. And yet if we did it would transform our language and our connection to the language. It would transform us.
Connecting to your voice in language allows you to connect more fully to who you are and to your power and beauty. I love to memorize poetry just so that I can feel the poet in me. In poetry, when you really allow yourself to go into a line of poetry and really use the vowels and the consonants, the poetic values, the onomatopoeia, the alliteration, the assonance, a whole other person comes out.
Try it and look for who you really are, or who you may become. Are you ever afraid to speak before you audition? Being afraid to speak publicly or in your studio is not just something that can tank a promising career. The fear of speaking impacts our relationships and our mental and physical wellbeing. Our connection to self is highly compromised. We lose our ability to think and speak clearly. Our creativity is shut down and our bodies react in often uncontrollable ways.
First, clarity of thought – being afraid to speak sets up circumstances that cloud our thoughts. The thoughts race and we are in doubt, judging ourselves, second-guessing even our well-practised ideas. In auditions this can be paralyzing, leading to backtracking, always looking over our shoulder, poor takes.
Secondly, clarity of communication – when we’re afraid to speak we might stutter or stammer, repeating ourselves. We’re unable to speak clearly, we’re unable to hear clearly. We’re consumed with how we will appear to others, consequently not making sense of what is being said. The child mind may become activated, over-sensitive and misinterpret situations or our frustration gets the best of us and we blurt out in anger. Wrapped up in worry and tongue-tied, we create the very thing we fear – to be seen as foolish and confused, less intelligent and not capable of standing in ourselves – weak.
Silence to many indicates consent. If the mind races in fear and the words are not forthcoming, others may fill in words we’ve been reluctant to produce. Are those the words, the idea, the feelings we would choose? Possibly not. Hurt and resentment and worse can result.
Three – creative responses cannot find us when we’re busy worrying. Creativity lives in breath. Fear stops our breathing, shutting down the passageway to our gifts. Reeds become dry, devoid of the exquisite connections we’re capable of. Humour possibly is present but more than likely dripping with a tightness of our breath. We want to dance, and we trip. We wish to sing, and we croak. We long to dazzle and we fizzle out.
Fourth – physical stability. We sweat, and fear can be so striking that dizziness or confusion sets in very quickly. Cold feet and cold hands are symptoms of fear, as in an adrenaline drop or surge. Blood pressure two can drop or soar. Wobbly kneed, shakiness or cramps in hands and feet, fluttering eyes, head hanging and sudden aches and pains in the lower back. Nervous stomach, dry mouth, tightness in the throat. The list is long with symptoms of our body reacting to our fear.
These simple breathing exercises, done every day and especially before an audition or session or a conference with an important client, will help relax your mind and your body. First, sitting in a chair, allow your arms and legs to dangle and your hand to drop back. Visualize yourself a rag doll with no bones. Slow your breathing to a count of four – four in and four out. Focus on relaxing your mind and body through your breathing.
While sighing and making easy sounds, savour the moment of letting go. Continue until the body and mind is calm. In the booth, or before the microphone, standing tall with feet shoulder-width apart, allow your arms and legs to feel their weight. Plant your feet deep into the ground. Tucking your chin into your chest, role your body down to the floor, softening your knees slightly. Allow yourself to completely let go, fingers touching the floor.
Notice if it feels much easier to breathe into your belly. Stay in this position until you feel a release, and when coming up, do so very slowly. Repetition of these exercises will help grow your connection to your voice and your confidence. Slowing down is so worth the time.
This is Lynn Singer. Thanks for listening. You can find me at lsvoiceworks.com, on Facebook and Twitter. Good bye and good luck.
Thank you for joining us. To learn more about the special guest featured in this voices.com podcast, visit the Voice Over Experts Show Notes podcasts.voices.com/voiceover experts. Remember to stay subscribed. If you’re a first-time listener you can subscribe for free to this podcast in the Apple iTunes Podcast Directory or by visiting podcasts.voices.com.
To start your voice over career online, go to voices.com and register for voice talent membership today.

Stephanie Ciccarelli
Stephanie Ciccarelli is a Co-Founder of Voices. Classically trained in voice as well as a respected mentor and industry speaker, Stephanie graduated with a Bachelor of Musical Arts from the Don Wright Faculty of Music at the University of Western Ontario. For over 25 years, Stephanie has used her voice to communicate what is most important to her through the spoken and written word. Possessing a great love for imparting knowledge and empowering others, Stephanie has been a contributor to The Huffington Post, Backstage magazine, Stage 32 and the Voices.com blog. Stephanie is found on the PROFIT Magazine W100 list three times (2013, 2015 and 2016), a ranking of Canada's top female entrepreneurs, and is the author of Voice Acting for Dummies®.
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  • Catherine
    October 6, 2015, 5:08 pm

    Thanks for a great podcast, Lynn! The reminder of the importance of breathing is crucial.
    What you described, literally happened to me at a voiceover workshop in NY, recently.
    I guess I felt so self-conscious in the booth because it was made clear that the casting
    director was not a fan of people with broadcasting backgrounds–before I even uttered a word at the mic–
    so I lost the ability to breathe…and my read was a nightmare. I was so embarrassed. In general, I’m having
    a hard time trying to get good-paying work in voiceovers because I think there is a real bias against radio people. Don Morrow even says so in his podcast. : ) I’ve recorded commercials, on-hold (VOIP) scripts and some narration. I took a great class many years ago at NYU, with Alice Elliott. I also took a class at The New School. I’d really benefit from that kind of training. The workshops seem to be just a cattle-like situation, with no time for real (or honest) critique and suggestions for development. I’ve worked in radio for 15 years. In the last five, just part-time. Is it even worth it to attempt to do voiceovers? I’m currently a student, working toward a Masters degree. I’ve taken a bunch of science courses in the past two years, and I’m wondering how to get into recording educational video work. If you have any suggestions, they are most welcome. Thanks so much for your time–and again, a terrific podcast worth listening to!
    Be well,

  • Greg
    October 7, 2015, 6:08 pm

    Awesome information Lynn!!! Thank you. I’m going to integrate what you’ve shared right away. Love your voice!

  • Tim Miller
    January 24, 2016, 3:41 am

    Thanks Lynn, very informative. I present daily at work, and your podcast will be helpful to all!

  • Pamela Vanderway
    January 23, 2017, 7:30 pm

    There is so much useful information here about mindset and performance. Thanks to Lynn for her time.

    Since the article’s title mentions consonants and vowels, for those wishing more information about them I thought I’d take a moment to add some information in reference to this brief quote from the podcast: “For the vowel you’re using the bulge of your tongue. There’s high front vowels and high back vowels. For consonants, the tongue touches different parts of the mouth. For instance, the zzz is made from the friction on the upper back molars.”

    RE: Vowels
    Spoken vowel sounds (rather than written vowels A,E,I,O,U which are an entirely different thing) are unimpeded, uninterrupted vocalized streams of air. One could say that in part they are achieved by cupping arching / sloping / and bulging up certain parts of the tongue (note that there is not a part of the tongue called ‘the bulge’). Its helpful to be aware that jaw opening and lip shaping are also critical components of the creation of vowel sounds.

    The speaker mentions vowels which are classified as ‘high front’ and ‘high back.’ It’s useful to know that these names are referring to which area of the tongue is doing the primary shaping of the sound waves (the front, mid or back of tongue) and relatively speaking, how high or low that part of the tongue is in the oral cavity when the sound is being articulated.

    There are also vowels dubbed low-front, low-back, mid and classifications in between as well. (Try this: Say ‘Meeeeeeeee!’ If you happen to speak a fairly ‘General’ version of American English, You’ll be able to detect that the front area of your tongue (not the tip) is arching rather high toward the roof of your mouth (high-front vowel). Then if you say ‘Aaaaaaaaah’ (IPA= [ɑ]) you might feel the back portion of your tongue move low in your mouth (low back vowel). NOTE: Writing down specific speech sounds is limited due to the nature of written English. I wish you could hear these two ‘words’ modeled, so that you would be sure to feel these positions for yourself. For those of you who can read the International Phonetic alphabet, the sound groupings I was attempting to inspire are [mi::::] and [ɑ::::]

    RE: Consonants
    Spoken consonants are voiced or unvoiced streams of air which are in some fashion stopped, impeded or interrupted on their way out of the oral cavity. While some consonants are formed when ‘the tongue touches different parts of the mouth’ many others are formed in other ways. I won’t list all of them, but for example, the physical posture that results in a ‘B’ sound [b] does not involve the tongue as a participant in the articulation. Two body parts (the lips) do the touching. Of course the tongue can’t help but touch some part of the mouth at all time, but it’s not an active participant in the shaping of the resulting ‘B’ [b] sound.

    Speaking of which, it might be helpful to know which mouth parts contribute to articulation. They are: The jaw, the lips, the tongue (tip, blade, front, mid, back, root), the teeth, the alveolar gum ridge, the velum (aka, soft palate). These body parts are often referred to as ‘articulators.’

    This happens to the best of us, but the host misspoke slightly when she asserted that ‘the zzz is made from the friction on the upper back molars.’ While there is friction, it takes place between the tongue and the alveolar ridge. The upper back molars may be used as bracing by the back of the tongue, but no friction occurs there.