Voice over exercises are just like physical work-outs.
You know that guy at the gym with the gigantic arms and neck who counts his reps so loudly that you can hear him despite your headphones? You know who I’m talking about. The same guy who sounds like he could be auditioning to be one of the backup lions in The Lion King on Broadway. You can say what you want about him, but one thing is sure: He’s in great shape. Now look at your arms and neck. Probably not so developed, and that’s OK. You’re a voice actor; your strength comes from the inside. When you look inside what do you see? Flabby little vocal chords and a limp tongue?
If you want to be the best voice actor you can be, you need to think of that guy at the gym. Instead of bulging biceps, deltoids, and quadriceps, your muscle groups are the lips, diaphragm, and tongue. Do your voice-over exercises.
Voice exercises will improve the overall quality of your voice. You’ll have better pitch, tone, range, and endurance if you practice. We made a list of the exercises you can incorporate into your daily routine to make your voice sound smooth as butter.
Start Slow, Breathe Correctly
Your breath comes from the descending of your diaphragm, the floor between your lungs and heart, and your abdominal cavity where you have a bunch of more slimy organs like the pancreas, spleen, and stomach.
As the diaphragm pulls down, it creates low pressure inside your lungs, which sucks in the air. When you breathe out, the diaphragm pushes back up, expelling the air.
Your lungs don’t contract and expand by themselves.
Too often people try to suck air in by lifting their shoulders, but if the diaphragm doesn’t move, you don’t breathe. And your breath is what vibrates your vocal chords, so nothing vocal happens without it.
As you speak, make sure you are not releasing too much or too little air from your diaphragm. If you release too much air your voice sounds breathy and if you release too little air you get a nasal sound. Find the sweet spot.
Find a counter or sturdy table that is about as high as 2-3 inches above your belly button. Lean on it so that your weight is resting on your stomach.
Using only the force of your diaphragm, breathe in enough so that your entire body is pushed back. Think of it as a push-up by breathing.
As you’re doing this voice over-exercise, ensure you are controlling your abs. Use your core muscles to push the air out as you are talking, and avoid bending over when doing this.
Your lips polish the sounds that your vocal cords have created. Lips are also a direct extension of your jaw and cheek muscles.
Speaking clearly and at the appropriate volume requires muscle development in order to move your lips properly.
You can’t exactly do pull-ups with your lips, but the good news is you don’t need to. Lip exercises are about increasing flexibility and endurance.
Exercise: Lip Trills
Have you ever tried to play the trumpet or another horn instrument?
Put your lips together and buzz them forcefully, enough so that you’re making a mouth trumpet sound. Now fluctuate between a higher-pitched sound (faster buzzing) and a lower-pitched sound (slower buzzing).
Stand in front of a mirror. When you’re buzzing as fast as possible, your lips should look like a blur in front of your face. Using your breathing exercises, try to buzz your lips as long as possible before running out of breath. Use a timer to measure your progress.
If you can’t buzz your lips, it’s enough just to bring them together and do some humming while blowing out air through the mouth. When doing this, allow your throat to relax and engage your core.
Rotate the Tongue
Second to your vocal cords, your tongue is the most important speech organ you have. It shapes all your words and syllables, and occasionally gets tripped out by a tongue twister.
The tongue is a muscle like the lips and diaphragm. Tongue exercises will make it stronger and more agile, consequently making you a better voice actor.
Exercise: The Tongue Helicopter
Take your tongue and move it around the part of your mouth that’s outside your teeth but inside your lips. Make a full circle. When you’re standing in front of a mirror, you will see the bump of your tongue run around the bottom of your mouth by your chin and the top of your mouth under your nose.
Now just like a helicopter taking off, speed up the rotation. Once you learn how to maintain a good speed, change direction. You’ll gain both strength and control of your tongue movement.
You can also do something called tongue trills.
This involves opening your mouth (not too wide or too closed) then try and pronounce the ‘D’ or ‘G’ sound. While you are doing this make sure your breathing remains constant and you can feel the tip of your tongue vibrating on the roof of your mouth.
This voice-over exercise allows you to move through different voice ranges with ease.
Exercise your Vocal Endurance
The secret to exercising without hurting yourself is to start slow and build your way up to more complex exercises.
Your vocal cords are one of the most sensitive parts of your body, and injuring them could mean saying goodbye to your dream career of voice acting.
The best way to start is to read out loud, but just reading without tracking your progress is not going to help you improve.
If you happen to lose your voice because of too much practice, here is a guide outlining some remedies to help you recover quicker.
Here’s what to do to build your vocal endurance:
Read for half an hour straight – out loud – with a decibel meter. Cut each passage into 500 words and time yourself. How long did it take you to read those 500 words? Now, for the next 500 words, read at exactly that same speed again, don’t let yourself go faster or slower.
The decibel meter will help you keep a consistent volume throughout the read. If your volume starts to drop off towards the end of the passage, it probably means that you are not breathing correctly.
Once you’ve got this exercise down, move on to more difficult passages.
Pull out an old copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne or Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and try navigating very complex sentences. If you can control your breathing and maintain your energy reading one of these famous, paragraph-long sentences, you’re on the right track.
And if you want to branch out and become a voice impressionist, we have a guide on how famous voice impersonators do it.
It is possible to achieve uncanny levels of vocal mimicry with practice.
Work on your Silences
As a voice actor, silences are critical.
First, pauses allow you to breathe. Second, these silences control the rhythm of the voice-over, and they also make it easier to edit the final read.
Start with a deep breath and get yourself into the correct mindset. Yes, it’s possible for a voice actor to get yourself in character without going crazy. Remember to swallow your saliva every now and then to make your speech clearer.
Human beings have a tendency to occupy all silences, but as a voice actor, punctuation is your friend. Commas and periods exist for a reason, and you need to learn how to use them to the advantage of the listener.
Voice-Over Exercise to Pace Yourself
Record yourself speaking using an app or software that shows the recording waveform (like GarageBand or Audacity).
A wide amplitude in the waveform means the speaker is making a lot of sounds. When there is no amplitude between the wider parts, just a flat line, it means you completed a perfect silence.
Your waveform should have perfect silences regularly through the recording. If you start to see fewer and fewer silences towards the end of your recording, it means that you were rushing through the read.
Sing a variety of music
Getting out of your comfort zone is probably the most fun, and the hardest, of all voice over exercises. Singing is a great way for you to perfect your breathing, build your endurance, and hit different vocal ranges.
A lot can be said about your talents if you can sing Barry White as well as Beyoncé! Music has the added benefit of having a built-in rhythm, which will naturally rub off on your voice acting, making you a pro with time.
Thinking about taking voice acting classes? Here is all you need to know.
Get out your headphones and listen to a song you like as you read the lyrics.
Now, as the song is playing in your headphones, go ahead and sing along as you record yourself. Once it’s done, go back and listen to your recording.
Sure, it might sound absolutely terrible, but the idea is to identify your weaknesses and work on them. Your capacity to understand how you sound is key to being a good voice actor; and it’s often easier to do that when you’re comparing yourself to a song that has a set pace and rhythm.
Here are more tips on how to control your voice: The ins, outs, ups, and downs.
Mimic the Vocal Patterns you hear in Commercials
Look at what other pros are doing and mimic their methods to achieve the same results. You can improve the musicality and color in your voice by listening to other voice actors.
Find a commercial that you like and repeat everything they say.
Try to copy everything from the tone and pronunciation, the pauses in between words, and even the inflection of the speaker’s voice.
After doing this, pick up a similar voice-over script and try applying the same vocal pattern from the before commercial to this. You can train your ears to pick up various tones like this, and you can also learn how to read out loud and add more versatility to your voice.
Warming up and Cooling Down your Vocals
At the beginning and end of your workout at the gym, you do some stretches to warm up and cool down the body, preventing injury and muscle pain.
Do the same thing with your voice over exercises.
Warm-up voice exercises
When you do this, notice the position of your mouth. Each time you say the word, exaggerate your facial movement just a little bit more.
This works out the facial muscles and helps you improve your articulation.
Make the ‘N’ Sound
You need to keep your mouth closed and try producing a constant ‘N’ sound so it sounds like “nnnn..” Say it in all the different vocal ranges that you can reach. As you do this, try to make sure the volume and tone of your voice stays the same.
Coughing is a great voice-over exercise to warm up your vocals. It engages your abdominal muscles and can help you to further project your voice.
One More Warm-Up Exercise
You can find a barrier and hold it between your front teeth (don’t swallow it!). It should be the size of a Lego or slightly bigger. With this barrier, try reading a script while seated or standing in a comfortable posture. You can practice this like thrice then try reading again without the barrier. You will notice that you can now easily articulate your words.
Want more? Here is a whole guide for you: voice over warm-ups; maintaining your instrument.
More Stuff to do for a Better Voice
- Stay hydrated, your vocal cords will thank you.
- When standing or sitting to do a voice-over read, mind your posture. Your back and shoulders should be straight. If you don’t know the correct body posture for you, put your back against the wall with the back of your head and shoulders touching the wall. This will give you an idea of what works for you.
- Also, avoid foods and habits that are not healthy for your vocal cords. This means reducing the amount of spicy and citrus foods in your diet, and less alcohol.
- Most importantly, get enough rest. Sleep is good for you.
- And here are even more tips for aspiring voice actors!
Voice acting is a challenging career that requires you to perform at your absolute best.
The beauty of these voice exercises is that they all build upon each other. It’s impossible to forget about one piece of the puzzle, because if you do, you won’t progress with the other parts.
Keep working to improve your diction, range, volume, and most important of all, take care of your voice.
All the best!