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Singing Advice

Projection Protection

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Projection Protection
A play can be as hard on the voice as a musical, with actors required to communicate intense emotions on a nightly basis—emotions that can stress the vocal folds, causing swelling and worse. But there are steps you can take to protect your voice so you can deliver a consistent performance night after night. Michael Goodrich is a vocal coach in Los Angeles who works with singers and actors. His clients include Mike Myers, Tom Bosley, and Sutton Foster. He's also a former Vocal Ease columnist.

The Challenge

Most musical theatre performers understand the need to keep the voice in shape with exercises and regular lessons. But the demands placed on nonsinging actors can be as great, if not greater. Without the assistance of music, the actor must often convey emotional intensity through speech. And because speaking covers a smaller range of pitch, the workload is concentrated in a smaller area of the voice. That smaller range also makes it harder to project, as the actor doesn't have the acoustic energy of high notes to carry the voice. Goodrich uses a number of speaking and singing exercises to get actors vocally balanced and ready to meet the challenges of whatever they're performing.

Breathing

Breathing is obviously the first step in creating sound. But too many people think simple breath support is the answer, which usually results in overblowing air to the vocal cords. "The cords need to be able to withstand the air pressure sent to them while maintaining good coordination and balance," Goodrich says. Using the proper amount of air allows the cords to build intrinsic or internal strength, he explains. "You don't want the outside swallowing muscles that surround the cords jamming them closed and then having to yell against that."

Speaking

Goodrich's next step is to address any issues of cord closure in the speaking voice. Not enough closure and the sound will be weak and breathy, too much and it will be constricted or strained. Both conditions can ultimately be unhealthy for the voice. "I first need to establish a proper speaking voice," he says, "before we worry about projection and intensity."

He also recognizes the huge difference between theatre and film work. On a film, an actor can mumble at a low pitch or yell from the throat, which "is fine—until they blow out their voice after a few takes," Goodrich warns. He adds that this type of vocal production has worked its way into the theatre: "Actors used to be better trained from a vocal standpoint. They really need to get the speaking voice working correctly in order to do eight shows a week."

Resonance

Resonance is the result of the human body reinforcing and amplifying the sound waves that emanate from the vocal cords. When it's working correctly, it allows a performer to be heard in the back row of the theatre without strain. "You need to get the voice resonating properly, out of the lower throat and into the mask," says Goodrich, referring to the area around the mouth and nose. To allow actors to feel this resonance, he'll have them hum a simple song and pay attention to where they experience the vibrations of the voice. "I'll then have them talk from that position, using enthusiastic words such as yes and right. The important thing is that they feel the voice resonating not from the lower throat but with energy in the mask."

Singing Exercises

Goodrich uses singing exercises whenever he can, even if an actor can't sing in tune. "Doing simple scales on 'gee' can really help the actor find balance," he says. "These singing exercises can instantly change an actor's breathing, cord closure, and resonance."

He once worked with an older actor who was having such vocal trouble that it was costing him work. Doctors blamed it on age, but Goodrich saw other issues: "He had been sick and developed poor vocal habits that lingered even after the illness was gone." Goodrich used the actor's previous singing experience to rehabilitate his voice: "I put him on singing exercises, and his voice popped back in instantly. We then transferred the new balance to his speaking voice."

Another important use of singing exercises is to develop an actor's musical ear. "The modulation of pitch in the spoken voice is very helpful for the actor," Goodrich says. So he'll often have an actor take a line of dialogue and sing it to a melody. "The actor can feel different resonances in the voice, which then help the voice project better."

Voicing an Ogre

One of Goodrich's major projects was the animated film Shrek, for which he helped Myers develop the voice of the title character. "Our first thought, based upon what Shrek looked like, was to do something based upon the Scottish character in So I Married an Axe Murderer," he says. Goodrich was worried that this voice might be a little taxing over numerous takes, so "I suggested he pitch the voice a bit higher to remove the strain." Myers came up with Shrek's now-familiar voice based upon Goodrich's suggestions. "We took it to Disney and they loved it," Goodrich says. "This was a voice that was safely produced and that he could do over long periods of time without hurting himself."

Michael Goodrich's website is at www.goodrichvocal.com.

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