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The SECRET guide to how the Voice works - and WHY you need to know it!

The human voice is a wondrous thing, capable of producing great depth and texture through voiceover, speech, song and character.

But how do we go from the initial impulse to the voice producing sound out into the world? More importantly, why do we care?

Lets take a look at some simplified physiology and segue into the value that knowledge of this brings for the buyers of voiceover services.

It all starts with the impulse, the “need to speak” that propels the neuro-chemistry of the human body to fire up the organs of speech. Think mother shouting for lost child, fireman telling everybody to get out of the burning building or friend listening to other friend and wanting to speak and include themselves in the conversation.

This impulse then starts a chain reaction in the body, if acted upon:

1. A column of air pressure moves up towards the vocal folds as air moves out of the lungs by the work of the diaphragm, abdominals and chest muscles

2. Vocal folds are moved to the middle of the throat by the nerves, muscles and cartilage of the voice box

3. A sequence of vocal fold vibratory cycles begins A. A column of air pressure opens the bottom of the vocal folds

B. This column continues moving upwards causing the top of the vocal folds to open

C. The low pressure created behind the fast moving air column produces a “Bernoulli effect” which causes the bottom to close, followed by the top

D. Closure of the vocal folds cuts off the air column and releases a pulse of air

E. A new cycle repeats

4. These rapid pulses of air caused by repeated vibratory cycles lead to voiced sound, a buzzy sound amplified and modified by vocal tract resonators producing the voice we all know

(Taken from the Voice Foundation site here)

Great, I now have a Masters in voice anatomy. Why should I care?

Voice production can seem a mystery. “Something” happens and then I hear a voice.

By knowing the process we can take it back to the project at hand. All voiceover requires the impulse of theatre and camera acting. If a commercial has an opening line like. “Remember those days, when life was easy and love was free” then the actor MUST locate that first impulse within themselves that causes this line to be spoken. What conditions exist in this character’s world to generate that specific impulse based on the line, which then causes all these movements in the body’s vocal apparatus to make the sound? The line above is about a character looking back lovingly, fondly, setting the scene for the problem to come, which presumably this commercial’s product will help solve.

The actor has to generate that particular experience through impulse and the resulting sound. Otherwise the audience wont come on the journey and hear the story around this product. It will just feel like an announcer, lifeless, technical and not in any way engaging.

The voice works as a by product of human feeling, impulse and life experience. It serves life, rather than being just dry and technical.

Something to definitely keep in mind when directing voiceover sessions and conveying to the artist what is needed from the project.

If you like, please share.

Paul Mclaughlin © Versatile Voiceovers

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