Developing the budding speaker is wonderful work. It's wonderful work because you never stop learning yourself. Speakers from around the world have different vocal requirements. Working recently with many Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian and Singaporean speakers helped me to tune my ears to their specific needs. This group of speakers often has problems with these sounds taken from the international phonetic alphabet: the th sound as in maths, the th sound as in writhed, as well as the r sound.
Starting with some breathing exercises to ensure that the voice is adequately supported by the diaphragm, we then move on to some relaxation techniques to ensure there is no tension in the jaw, neck, shoulders, chest or rib cage.
Almost every word has one of the five English vowel sounds. Vowel sounds are ever present so it's vital that those all important sounds are produced accurately and with clarity. Producing the correct sound does not just happen - it has to be worked upon. We call it muscle memory and I'll talk more about that later on when we look at specific exercises for speakers from South East Asia.
We then work on the tone of the voice to introduce colour and warmth. Most people have a pathological antipathy to their own voice. The general comment is that it's harsh, it's unpleasant to the audience, it's weak, and it lacks vocal variety. Again, there are many useful exercises which can be utilised to change the vocal dynamic. Effecting change is easily achieved by asking the student to open their mouth more widely, therefore allowing more breath to escape from the mouth. Secondly, while retaining the wider mouth position, exaggerate the lips movements when speaking. This has a two fold effect: it slows the speaker down allowing greater use of intonation and rather curiously makes native English speakers sound more posh than usual.
We are now ready to try some specific exercises at improving the : the 'th' sound as in maths, the 'th' sound as in writhed, as well as the 'r' sound. I mentioned muscle memory earlier. When you first started driving, did you find changing gears difficult? Most people do, but once you get the hang of that skill, it starts to happen subconsciously - effectively, you don't have to think about it. Similarly, if you could ride a bicycle as a 10 year old and you haven't ridden a bicycle for 40 years, you would still be able to ride a bicycle today. The first 10 yards might be a bit wobbly, but because your mind and body are so well integrated, you'll have no problem whatsoever. Muscle memory is all important in positioning the tongue in the correct place to produce the correct sound. There is a great deal of repetition involved, but it's a worthwhile exercise and is tremendously effective when with the support of a vocal coach.
Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect. There are a number of files for download on our Voice Coaching page which will help you achieve mastery of these vital exercises. Good luck!
Below are a number of vocal exercises which ensure that those key sounds are repeated regularly for Chinese, Malaysian, Taiwanese and Singaporean students.
Theodora's mathematical theories were rigorously misrepresented by insincere scholars.
The thought that Theo could run the marathon raised eyebrows in Thanet.
Thoughtless thinkers with their trite timelines enthused turtles, toys and toddlers.
I thought I would rather wake up in Reading if I fell asleep on the Thames.
Round and round the racetrack, Cuthbert cuddled a crusty rusty rag.
Think about thugs throwing thunderous thunder bolts like Thor.
The thug hurt his thumb with a thumping thud.
Throughout the threadbare throng the thorny thong wore thin.
Thereafter, the thesis for thieving thugs was more theoretical than therapeutic.
Radioactive Rodney's rakish ram caused ridiculous and rampant riots.
Over railroads, streets and roads, residents retained the ramblers' ransom.
Ricky retained reproducing reptiles unreasonably.
Regretfully, Rowena's royal blood wore thin and red, not blue.
A rigid rhino recklessly and thoughtlessly raided Thera and Arica.