Vocal training exercises

This is the second part of a series on voice production. The first article described your voice as a high performance sports car.

In this article I present some notes from “Look Who’s talking” by Sydney-based speaker Hap Hannan. The book was published in 2001 by Sandstone Publishing.

(Photo of David Bowie)

Learn how to breathe

You must learn how to properly process the air you breathe. The air needs to flow through your body past the diaphragm, and back out via the resonators, to give good, clear voice projection. If you do not take the air deep enough into your lungs, you will find it hard to speak for very long without gasping for breath. Try the following three exercises:

1. Muscle-worker. Lie on your back in a comfortable posi­tion, and place your hands (one on top of the other) on your stomach. Breathe in slowly and steadily for a count of four seconds. Can you feel your chest and stomach area expand? Now, exhale slowly and push your stomach out while letting your chest in. This exercise will work the muscles that help you breathe well while you are speaking. Just as a swimmer or runner trains hard to develop certain muscles, so should a good speaker. Repeat this exercise for five minutes every day, and you will notice a difference after about a week.

2. Breathe-easy. Once again, lie down comfortably on your back and place your hands on your stomach as before. Relax and breathe normally while counting out loud the number of seconds it takes to inhale and exhale. Now, inhale for the same count and exhale for double the count. For example, if it takes you four seconds to inhale, and three seconds to exhale, then next time increase the time you take to exhale to six seconds. Try this exercise for five minutes each day while increasing the duration of your exhalation (within comfortable limits, of course). This exercise will help you produce a stronger voice with each breath. Most people waste the air they have inhaled after saying just a few words, so with this exercise you will be training your lungs to function more efficiently.

3. Stretch and relax. If you have been sitting down for a long period prior to your performance, you will probably feel some tightness in your muscles, and notice that you have been breathing in a restricted position. This exercise should be done as you are sitting, waiting to speak, and is great for releasing any pre-performance nerves.

While seated, lean your head back in the chair to `stretch’ your diaphragm, and take a few deep breaths. At the same time, try stretching your legs out in front of you, keeping your toes pointed. As soon as your introduction begins, stand up immediately and spend as much time as possible on your feet before going up speak (this will also give you some time to fine-tune what you’re wearing, and check that everything is tucked in and zipped up).

As a speaker you should always strive to achieve a comfort­able and relaxed breathing method that will leave your lungs with good reserves of air. This will help you increase the volume and pace of your voice should you need to, and also enhance the way you project it.


Pitch can add lots of character to your speaking pattern. Using the right pitch at the right time will help you express a range of emotions, from sadness and disappointment to outright joy. Confident speakers can change the pitch of their voice to suit whatever emotion they are trying to express. To avoid sounding like a broken record, remember to vary the pitch of your voice where appropriate. A good pitch range should be ten notes, so let’s find out what yours is. Try the exercise to follow, but please do not `force’ your voice at either end of the scale. You should be looking for a comfortable range.

1. Pitch practice. Stand up straight, and count from one to ten. `One’ should be your lowest voice. As you count upwards, slowly raise the pitch of your voice until you get to ten, which should be your highest voice. Now reverse the count from ten to one, going from your highest voice to your lowest.

2. Highs and lows. Now you can practise your pitch with a short sentence. Start with as low a voice as possible, and work your way through to a comfortably high pitch. Repeat the following sentence, starting with a low voice working through to a high. Then try reversing – from high to low:

I’m a wonderful person. I’m a wonderful person. I’m a wonderful person.

Low voice     ->  High voice

I’m a wonderful person. I’m a wonderful person. I’m a wonderful person.

High voice  ->   Low voice

While doing this exercise, you may find that one partic­ular note sounds most appropriate for the sentence. By becoming familiar with your pitch range and the varying sounds you can make with your voice, you will be able to change your pitch freely while you are speaking.


The quality of your voice lets your audience know how you are feeling. If you are relaxed and breathing well, you should have no problem altering the tone in your voice. Do you want to express anger, resentment, joy, disappointment or sincerity? How can you use your voice to let your audience know what you are feeling, and how can you avoid sounding as though you are just repeating a memorised speech?

You can tell your audience whatever you want, but whether they believe you or not depends on the quality or tone of your voice. If you say `I am the world’s best lover‘ in a sad, dejected voice, your audience may have trouble believing you. Say the same sentence in a full, lusty tone and your audience will probably think you’re telling the truth. Remember, it’s not what you, say – it’s how you say it.

1. Do it with feeling. Try saying ‘yes’ and `no’ in as many ways as you can. Say `no’ sadly or disappointedly. Say `yes’ excitedly. Be aware of how both words come across when they are said in various ways.

2. Sentence-play. Try saying the following sentences using the appropriate vocal tones:

  • This is the happiest day of my life.
  • I have had a really bad day.
  • How dare you talk to me in that tone!
  • I can’t wait to go home.
  • Can somebody please help me?
  • I’m so in love with you.
  • I am innocent.

3. Emotional roller coaster. A friend’s daughter, Elyse, introduced me to the following exercise. We had a lot of fun trying it out and I’m sure you will, too. Count very slowly from one to ten, gradually changing the tone from deliriously happy to completely sad, and then back again. By the time you get to ten you should be completely over your emotional roller coaster.

Record yourself doing these exercises and play back. Now that Webcams and USB microphones are inexpensive, you can use your computer to record your voice. Listening and watching yourself is the best form of evaluation.

Author: charuzu

I live in Sydney and interests include music, piano playing, technology, cooking, English language, public speaking, Toastmasters, Asian culture (especially Japan and Korea), cinema, personal development, productivity and making friends with people from around the world.

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