Everyone has probably seen a scene from a movie or show where actors and singers warm up before a performance. They stand in a circle, and they trill and hum and recite some tongue twisters. This isn’t all fiction; most voice actors take some time before a recording to practice and warm up. They actually do trill and hum and recite tongue twisters. There are also a number of exercises and warm ups that voice actors practice on a daily basis. As long as there has been acting, there have been practices and warm ups.
But back in the beginnings of broadcast media, there were also announcer’s tests. These tests would determine the skills of would-be announcers. They tested certain skills and became the epitome of the standard of testing for those suited for the media. Today, many voice actors still incorporate announcer’s tests into their repertoire of practice and warm ups.
The History of the Announcer’s Test
In the 1920s, when broadcast radio was making its start, people began creating tests for announcers to see their skills. These assessments involved testing certain components of speech, and at face value, they may sound like gibberish, but in reality, they have a lot of benefits and techniques embedded in them. Here is one of the early tests (mentalfloss):
Penelope Cholmondely raised her azure eyes from the crabbed scenario. She meandered among the congeries of her memoirs. There was the Kinetic Algernon, a choleric artificer of icons and triptychs, who wanted to write a trilogy. For years she had stifled her risibilities with dour moods. His asthma caused him to sough like the zephyrs among the tamarack.
Often prospective announcers would have to recite this, or something similar, at an audition with no prep or time to read it beforehand. Sure, there was some leeway with pronunciations as many of these words have more than one correct way, but it’s still not an easy piece for a cold read.
As the industry developed, so did the announcer’s tests. Auditions involved reading foreign names, unfamiliar place names, and tongue twisters, like “the seething sea ceased to see, then thus sufficeth thus.” Then in the 1940s, THE Announcer’s test was created.
The NBC Announcer’s Test
As broadcast journalism, especially radio, was growing, NBC developed another announcer’s test, which rose in use and popularity. Here is the actual test from Marleyaudio.com:
Three squawking geese
Four limerick oysters
Five corpulent porpoises
Six pair of Don Alverzo’s tweezers
Seven thousand Macedonians in full battle array
Eight brass monkeys from the ancient sacred crypts of Egypt
Nine apathetic, sympathetic, diabetic, old men on roller skates with a marked propensity towards procrastination and sloth
Ten lyrical, spherical diabolical denizens of the deep who haul stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivey, all at the same time.
And, it’s not as easy as it looks (not that it looks easy). The potential announcers had a certain way they had to read the test. They would read the lines one by one, each time adding the next line until the complete piece is read at once. Here is how it starts:
One hen, two ducks.
One hen, two ducks, three squawking geese.
And so on…you get the idea. The final time will include all the lines together.
Yes, the words don’t make much sense but each is there for a reason. This tests for a number of important voice components, and often there was a time limit for the reading as well.
This test became the most well known of the announcer’s tests, and many voice actors still use it today for practice, warming up, and honing their skills.
This post has been updated in August 2021.
The Six Components of the Test
Producers were looking for certain traits of a good announcer. They devised this sample to test the competency of six components: retention, memory, repetition, enunciation, and diction as well as breath control. This test also includes words containing every letter of the alphabet. All of these components are important to the success of a voice actor.
Retention – Some voice jobs will require the actor to recite from memory, and sometimes it just sounds more natural when the narration is memorized rather than read.
Memory – By increasing memory with this test, it will translate well to help increase memory overall.
Repetition – Repetition not only helps voice actors recognize and be comfortable with patterns but also to learn how to budget their breath.
Enunciation – Speaking clearly is a major skill in voice acting. Through this test, the actor will focus on enunciating each word and this becomes practice for the real work. Enunciation is the physical sounds that you make moving your mouth. This creates articulation. Therefore the better the enunciation, the better the articulation.
Diction – Certain consonants are easy to slur and are hard to understand or differentiate (an example is b and v). By repeating all of these letters in this test, the actor improves diction.
Breath Control – Through pacing in this test, breath control will improve, and this is an important skill in voice work.
Also, the fact that this test incorporates all of the letters in the alphabet is important for improving pronunciation and learning how to put words and sounds together on the spot. Often voice actors will come across names or places, or even words, that they are not familiar with. Practice helps.
All of these skills also improve duration and stamina. Often, voice over jobs can be quite lengthy and good stamina and duration are needed. With correct breath control and these other skills, duration is a skill that improves with practice.
Practice for Different Types of Voice Overs
Voice overs come in many forms. Voice actors work in film and video narration, animated work, documentaries, television narration, radio, audio books and more. As this article shares, narration is one of the biggest areas in voice work, and practice can help get a voice ready for long endeavors.
Voice overs for different projects require different types of practice. For long stretches of work, like audio books or documentary narration, all of that pacing and breath control will pay off. For a project with voices with accents, enunciation and diction will benefit the actor to improve his voice. All of this adds control and projection of the voice as well, and these things will create a more versatile and successful voice actor.
Another nice thing about the announcer’s test is it is one exercise that can benefit any type of voice actor, regardless of what type of work it is. It’s like how stretching and improving flexibility will help any athlete improve the game, regardless of the sport. Practicing voice exercises will improve the game of the voice over artist.
How to Begin Practicing the Announcer’s Test
People have different ways to begin conquering the announcer’s test, but the VoiceActorsNotebook.com shares a few tips for getting started. First, do a simple read through. Then start slowly and get the enunciation down. Just read through it at this point, you don’t have to add the repetition in yet. Once you have the enunciation, then you can start breaking it down into lines and repeated lines.
Again, at this point, don’t worry about speed. Once you have read through adding line by line, then try to pick up speed. Make sure you don’t sacrifice enunciation and your diction for speed. It’s better to go a little slower and have clear pronunciation. As you add lines each time, you will notice a developing pattern and cadence. You will also begin to memorize the lines without even trying. All the components are beginning to work together as you practice the test.
Once you have it all down, then work on speed. In fact, as the Voice Actors Notebook article suggests, try reading all the way from One Hen to Ten lyrical, spherical diabolical denizens of the deep who haul stall around the corner of the quo of the quay of the quivey, all at the same time in one breath. You may surprise yourself!
Are There Any Current Tests/Practice Like This?
There may be nothing quite like the announcer’s test, but there are some other ways a voice actor can train his or her voice. One great way is through tongue twisters. After all, isn’t the announcer’s test just one giant tongue twister?
Masterclass shares these popular tongue twisters for voice practice:
- High roller, low roller, lower roller.
- I need a box of biscuits, a box of mixed biscuits, and a biscuit mixer.
- He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.
- The jolly collie swallowed a lollipop.
- The sick sister’s zither ceaseth; therefore she sufficeth us.
- Friday’s Five Fresh Fish Specials.
- Imagine an imaginary menagerie manager imagining managing an imaginary menagerie.
- Twixt this and six thick thistle sticks.
- Red leather, yellow leather.
- She sells seashells by the seashore, and the shells she sells are seashells.
With these tongue twisters, starting slow and building up speed is a great practice, just like with the announcer’s test. Don’t speed up until your diction and enunciation are perfect. If you find those two things suffering, slow back down until you can say the tongue twister fast while maintaining that perfect enunciation and diction. Some voice over actors like to memorize and repeat tongue twisters to improve those skills.
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The announcer’s test has lasted almost a century with nothing else quite like it. That says a lot for its purpose as a voice tool. Any actor looking to improve their talent should incorporate it into a practice/warm up tool kit. It has the potential to improve all of the important skills in voice acting, including enunciation, breath control, and diction, not to mention memorization. Other tongue twisters are good for this, too.