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2011 October 15

Teaching voice projection

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I am fairly well-known in my department and among colleagues in my field as having a loud voice when needed (and perhaps sometimes when not needed).  I have no trouble filling a lecture hall with my voice—even ones with rather poor acoustics, like the one at the Palazzo dei Congressi in Ravenna, where I gave a talk in September.  At small conferences, I’m often called on to gather people back into session, since there is usually no public address system in the hallways or outdoors.

I have attempted to teach the grad students in my department how to speak loudly, as I have found it a very useful skill.  Even if students are only half as loud as me, it can make a big difference in how well they can be heard giving research presentations and when teaching.  Even as students, being audible to the rest of the class in class discussions is a useful skill. (UPDATE: Previous posts on how I teach speaking loudly: Speaking loudly 1Speaking loudly 2.)

Unfortunately, I’ve never had any formal training in speaking loudly, so I’ve had to rely on little bits of advice I’ve picked up over the years: belly breathing, relaxing one’s throat, using the lower end of one’s pitch range, opening one’s mouth, facing the audience, and listening for the echo of one’s voice off the room walls (“room-filling voice”).  After passing on these snippets of information, I do a one-time exercise where we all go out into the woods and practice speaking at about a 60′ (20m) distance.  Although the exercise shows that most students have the ability to be loud enough, it is mainly a diagnostic exercise to find out who needs to practice being louder.  Unfortunately, the students who most need to practice speaking louder are the ones least likely to do so on their own.  (I usually end that exercise by having a contest with whoever in the class was the loudest, to see who can be heard from the furthest away.  I have twice had students who were as loud or louder.  One was an amateur actor with something like 20 years of stage experience, and the other had worked as a town crier at Dickens Faire.)

Today I did a little searching on the web to see if anyone had put together a more formal presentation of the proper pedagogy for teaching voice projection.  If figured that drama teachers around the world must have developed methods, and some must have published them.

I found surprisingly little, though I did not do a very thorough search.  There is one paper that looks promising:

Debra M. Hardison, Chayawan Sonchaeng, Theatre voice training and technology in teaching oral skills: Integrating the components of a speech event, System, Volume 33, Issue 4, December 2005, Pages 593-608, ISSN 0346-251X, doi:10.1016/j.system.2005.02.001.

Unfortunately, that article is hidden behind a pay wall, but it is available at any University of California library, since UC subscribes to System.  The 16-page paper seems rather wordy, and I’ve not had time to read it yet (I’m overdue on reviewing some NSF proposals, which at 130 pages each are rather slow slogging). The article does have a series of quite specific exercises, which look like they would take a few hours to do completely.  They could form the basis for a one-day workshop—I think I’d be willing to do that this year if students wanted it, even though I’m on sabbatical.

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