Acting is the art of expression on a stage, whether that be on Broadway, acting in Hamilton, or starring in the latest Marvel movie. We all want to act professionally, but challenges are involved. Not only do you need to be in shape for many roles, but you need the right voice. You are probably wondering how to improve your voice for acting.
Acting takes many shapes, whether you are acting on stage in a theater or starring in an action movie; being able to remember your lines is critical, but having the proper voice to speak those lines memorably is important too. Keep reading to find out how to improve your voice for acting.
How Can I Change My Voice During Acting?
Changing your voice completely is practically impossible without major surgery or without some damaging form of consumption such as alcohol or cigarettes, but some modification is possible with the right exercises.
Voice changing is more of a skill, not a talent; this is not something you are born with, you need to work at it. Obviously, everyone has a distinct voice, in pitch, depth and tone, when their bodies mature, but that does not mean you cannot modulate your voice to fit a role or simply convey more authority overall.
Practice in Front of a Mirror
Talking to yourself in the mirror may sound silly and will seem that way at first, but it is an important part of voice training. Stand in front of a mirror, and speak in unique tones and depths of voice for separate periods of time. Pay attention to how your face and neck move in response to different pitches and tones.
Practice speaking from your chest, using your diaphragm. No matter the natural pitch of your voice, this will give your voice more force and authority, useful if you are playing an action hero. It can also aid in character development.
- Try hunching your neck down toward your shoulders or stretching it out; this will modulate the tone and pitch of your voice as your neck shortens or extends
- Try recording it on your phone or another device so you can play it back later; video recordings will help with facial expression and emotion, which will also change your voice
Practice body movements. If your character is energetic and moves often, moving and jumping while practicing voice overs will be beneficial, and the same goes for a stoic character that delivers monologues frequently in a gravelly tone. Know the environment your character moves in and train your voice accordingly.
Improving Your Voice for Acting
When we finish puberty, we all have the voice that we are given, and short of surgery, smoking cigarettes or drinking copious amounts of whiskey, there is little we can do to change our voices if we need to. However, with voice training, it is possible to modify the sound of your voice to some extent.
Here are some tips for improving your voice:
- Research your character
- Warm up
- Immerse yourself in the role
- Practice your lines and warmups
- Listen to the pros
If you start putting these tips into action, then you should be able to incrementally improve the quality of your voice for acting. As long as you practice consistently and put forward your best effort, then you will experience noticeable improvements over time.
Research Your Character
While this is not as glamorous and does not bring immediate results, as it uses your brain and fingers rather than your voice, researching your character has benefits. The most obvious is that it improves your knowledge of the character, which allows you to play that role much better thanks to the intimate knowledge you gain.
Not only that, if you know the lines, you can speak with more certainty and conviction in your voice. If you have ever had to give a school presentation, you will know that a thorough understanding of the material you are presenting lends more weight and authority to your words; the principle is the same for acting.
Finally, having proper knowledge of your character improves your overall role and portrayal on the stage and enhances your chances of being cast again. The best method for improving your voice for acting is practice and more practice.
Those of you who play sports or instruments know that warmups are an important part of your routine. Warming up allows your body, or in this case your voice, to warm up and ease into your role with the appropriate clarity and tone. Not only that, it allows for more control and depth to your voice once properly warmed up.
Warming up your voice, just like warming up your muscles before a big game, helps prevent damage from strain to the vocal cords. It may not seem like much, but speaking for a role requires plenty of speaking and you do not want to lose your voice from strain on the vocal cords. Vocal warmups also aid in voice effectiveness.
- Useful warmups to do are shoulder and neck rolls. This loosens up the neck, vocal cords and throat muscles, which helps you control your voice better
- Another warmup is deep breathing and panting; while you may sound like a mastiff with lung trouble, this opens up the chest, airways and throat, which helps with passage of air and your voice
Massage your face and neck. Aside from releasing stress, this will relax your face and neck muscles, which in turn allows your voice to shine through and fulfill your role with gusto. Finally, tongue twisters aid in helping control your voice, both the lines you are saying and your tone of voice overall, so that you do not stumble over lines.
Immerse Yourself in the Role
This is not directly working with your voice, but really immersing yourself in your role and delving into the character you play will improve your acting immensely and help your voice when acting. Doing this helps you sound more believable and sincere, since it shows you put the time and work into deeply understanding who you are playing.
This improves your overall character portrayal, from spoken lines to on stage behavior; getting immersed in your character and the story surrounding it will get you into a mindset where you move, think, speak and breathe like the character you are meant to be playing; that will show through in your voice when you say your lines.
Practice Your Lines and Warmups
Practicing your lines that you are given will go a long way to improving your speaking voice even without the other warmups that are necessary to loosen your voice and vocal cords. The simple repetition of this skill will improve your proficiency. You can also record and playback your warmups to find places to improve.
Recording and playing back the vocal warmups you do is useful, as you can listen to yourself and determine whether there is improvement you can make in order to ensure that your vocal cords are properly warmed and loosened for the acting role you have been given. Professional actors often do this, so you can be sure it is a proven method.
Listen to the Pros
There are only so many times you can watch actors auditioning, but it is useful. Watch cartoons, play video games or watch professionals auditioning to find out how they vary their voice, tone and inflection. Take notes. There are also voice acting podcasts you can listen to for advice on voice improvement for acting.
Listening to a professional actor, even if it is just in a cut-scene from a video game, is useful because you can learn how they modulate their voice. You should watch behind-the-scenes demonstrations of voice acting for the best results, as you get to watch the actors without other animations to distract you.
In fact, you can find many videos online of actors doing the voiceovers for their animated characters in studios. Watch their faces and take note of their emotions, the way they change their facial expressions and their voices to suit. This will help you figure out how to change your voice to suit your role.
Hire a Voice Coach
All the training in the world will not be effective if you do not have a seasoned professional guiding you through the process and showing you what methods work best as your skill level and voice develop. It is the same as having a basketball or football coach; they are there to show you how the game works.
- Voice coaches may have you sing to gauge how high or low your voice can go right at the start of your training, as you are new to the acting and voiceover industry
- This will help them determine what aspects of your voice need to be improved and how to improve them
Your voice is essentially a musical instrument and so needs to be tuned properly in order to deliver the desired note or, in this case, tone of voice to fill a role. There are many ways a voice coach can improve your voice.
Proper Diction and Enunciation
Having a firm voice that carries weight and authority does no good if your speeches are simply a monologue of barely discernible language. A voice coach will teach you proper diction and enunciation to make sure each word you say is clearly pronounced and heard by all those present.
A voice coach will adjust any anomalies in your voice through exercises such as deep breathing and training you to speak from your chest in order to give your voice more weight; not necessarily more volume, just more authority so that when your words land, no matter the volume, people listen.
Voice coaches may also slow your voice down; if you are a fast talker, that can cause your sentences to fall short before running right into another, and subsequently people will have a hard time following what you are saying. This is very important when acting, as you will have multiple takes, but you want to do it in as few as possible.
Conviction and Purpose
Having a voice coach means you will have a seasoned professional working with you to change your voice and help you speak with more purpose and conviction for your role as an actor. If this is for a singing role, then your voice coach will teach you to put emotion in your role, so that the music resonates and moves people.
If you are attempting to become a public speaker, which is a type of acting regardless, then your voice coach will train you to speak so that your voice is clear, strong, convincing and leaves no room for doubt. Essentially, you will learn to speak with a purpose in mind and aim to achieve it through your voice.
Regardless of occupation or role, having more emotion, conviction and passion in your voice will make your acting much better, because it will convey those spoken and unspoken emotions to the audience.
Pitch and Expression
A vocal coach will help you identify those ranges and pitches in your voice where you are most comfortable speaking, or simply most effective. However, they will still attempt to find new ranges and pitches over the entire range of your voice, because acting requires a multi-faceted voice, not a flat monotone.
Facial expression is another area that a vocal coach will work on to help you improve your voice for acting. If you have an argument and speak with an angry expression, your voice will sound angry accordingly, and the same goes for when you are happy and speak. Your voice adjusts depending on mood; very important for an acting role.
Facial expressions are very important in acting, because they add color, after a fashion, to your voice. This is important, because your character will no doubt need to express a range of emotions during their time on stage or the screen, and you need to be able to manage those emotions to appear convincing on the set. It helps engage the audience.
Act the Role
Practice makes perfect, no matter the skill you want to learn or the role you are practicing for. The more you practice something, the better you will become at it. To improve your voice for an acting role, you need to practice the part of the character, so that you enter the mindset you need to display for that particular role.
Every role is unique:
- The way you modulate your voice with emotion and how you project your voice will vary depending on the type of character you are playing
- The process of learning a role can widely vary and require you to use your voice in unique ways
Once you properly research the character you are playing, immersing yourself in that role should be one of your primary objectives. The things you should be thinking about when acting your role are overacting and reading out loud.
Overacting is an excellent way to improve your voice acting skills and acting skills overall. Practice your lines in front of a mirror, and depending on the emotion and expression your character needs to have, put every ounce of emotion into that line. If your character is angry, you are angry, if they are happy, you are happy.
Injecting emotion into your role and lines allows you to fully immerse yourself in a role and make your lines sound more organic, less like they are coming from a script and more that they are coming straight from the heart. You do not need to constantly overact every part of the role, but it is useful to have the ability to use all emotion when needed.
Breathe from the Diaphragm
When acting on stage or in a film, you want your voice to command everyone’s attention. Take for example Don Draper from Mad Men; he does not shout, but when he speaks, people listen. His voice commands authority without volume, and that is the type of voice you should strive for, not necessarily in pitch, but certainly in command.
- Breathing from your diaphragm makes your breathing deeper and more relaxed, which in turn does the same for your voice
- Breathing from your diaphragm also means your lungs will have more air to work with and you will need to breathe less frequently when speaking, which will make an enormous improvement in your acting or voice over work
Breathing is one of the most important parts of acting; it may not sound immensely important, but proper breathing is crucial to playing a role properly, because when you know how to breathe properly, your lines do not stumble over one another, you can say more lines before stopping and you will sound more relaxed and confident overall.
Learn New Accents
People from different countries have different accents which require different tones of voice, and you need to have different inflections in order to speak the language properly. Learning new accents, and learning them properly, can make your voice more versatile and make you a more versatile actor.
Learning an unfamiliar accent also requires learning a new language, to some extent. Not only will you have a range of different accents to draw on, but you will be bi or multilingual as a result, which means you can be cast in more roles. Learning unfamiliar accents and languages makes your voice and your acting much more versatile and marketable.
Learn How to Sing
This is best done with a coach in order to learn properly, but just like having a voice coach, having a singing coach will still make your voice more versatile and give you a greater range of notes and inflections overall.
Singing involves many voice training activities and will, when done right, be on the same level of effectiveness as a dedicated voice coach, as you need to use the full range of your voice when singing, from baritone to tenor. This is not to say that learning how to sing well guarantees you an acting role, but it will certainly be an arrow in your quiver.
Getting in shape to play a role accomplishes a number of goals; it makes it easier to move in motion-intensive scenes, you will look better on screen, and your voice will sound better, because more air can be devoted to speech instead of keeping your body moving.
Being in good shape for a role means you can inhale and exhale more air. That way, you will be able to recite more lines at a time, your voice will sound relaxed and unstressed, and you will not stumble over your words or need to stop for a breather as often. Getting in shape is not a requirement for all roles, but you should consider it.
How to Improve Your Voice for Voice Acting
Stage and film acting are both the main branches of acting we think about when someone mentions acting, but voice acting is also a form of acting. The difference here is that all acting is done entirely through the voice and the image it conjures, rather than being able to rely on body language to sell a scene.
The process of improving your voice for voiceover acting is much the same as for stage or film acting, only all the training emphasis is on the voice since that is the medium of communication and critical to the finished product having a welcome reception.
Read out Loud
Reading out loud is good for your voice development and also good practice for any voice acting you may be doing. Voice over work involves roles such as audiobook reading, so there are no animations or action scenes to save you. Therefore, making sure your voice is in top condition is vital.
Another benefit of reading out loud is that it helps you form the habit of reading lines, and in a good book, speaking the lines or playing the roles of various characters. The more you do this, the more your confidence with recitals will improve, and this will also improve your voice, because you will believe in your skill; that shows through.
- Reading out loud also allows you to test out various voice tones and inflections, along with becoming comfortable speaking without an audience in front of you
- For good practice, read a book with multiple characters and take notes on the characters and their demeanors, so that you can attempt to create a unique voice for each character that you have chosen
This is an excellent method of broadening the range your voice can deliver. When doing voice over work such as an audiobook, you will have ranges of characters to impersonate, and your voice needs to be able to keep up. Hence the need to read out loud. Even if you are reading non-fiction, you should still read out loud for this reason.
Listen to Professionals
Inspiration can come from all corners; you do not have to stick to watching actor auditions to get an idea of how to train and modulate your voice. For example, airline captains stereotypically sound calm, authoritative and smooth. The same goes for an expert debater; their voices sound professional, with no room for doubt or argument.
Imitation works as well. You can listen to professional actors or other professional workers with prominent voices, and imitate how they sound with practice. It is still a method of modulating and changing your voice, no matter how ridiculous your Stallone impression may be. The point is to expand the range your voice can reach.
Perform Breathing Exercises and Warmups
Breathing exercises are the bread and butter of any occupation that uses your body in a professional and physical capacity. A voice coach will have you do warm up exercises such as shoulder and neck rolls, humming, face and neck massages and other exercises to prepare your voice for speaking.
When you do voice over acting or read audiobooks professionally, you will have some level of software to eliminate background noises and augment your voice to some extent, to make listening more pleasant. However, that does not mean you cannot skimp on breathing exercises and warming up your voice.
Deep breathing, from your diaphragm, loosens your throat muscles, opens up your airways and makes your voice sound more relaxed. The same goes for your overall breathing; it will be slower and less shallow.
Warmups involve neck and shoulder rolls, facial massages and humming. The neck and shoulder rolls loosen the muscles, the facial massages relax and loosen your face muscles, and the humming warms up your vocal cords, to allow for more voice control and modulation.
Your voice, in this case, needs to be warmed up like your muscles before a big game. Failure to warm up properly, especially when it comes to acting and voice overs, can damage your voice and make it difficult to play any roles you may have.