Voice Actor's Notebook

Divide and conquer:
a voice acting practice method

Divide and conquer your voice acting practice sessionsVoice acting is an art, there’s no doubt about that. And being an art form, we can apply some very cool practice methods of other art forms — namely music — to this craft.

Back in college I majored in music (composition and audio production). Now obviously, in order to get any degree related to music, you have to become proficient in at least one instrument. And composition majors have to learn how to play ALL the instruments to some extent (yeah, I had no social life due to constant practice. 🙁 )

Anyway, enough about me reliving depressing memories of small, smelly, and claustrophobic practice rooms…

In this post I’d like to share with you some of the practice methods that the musicians at my university used to accelerate their skills and how you can use them to your voice acting advantage.

Any musician worth his or her salt can not only play with great technique, but also with feeling and expression. The trick for any performer (musician, voice actor, or otherwise) is getting to the point where they can do both of them simultaneously. And the way to do that is to practice each one separately…

Getting great technique

Musicians practice technique drills for hours and hours at a time in order to make their fingers faster, their breath support stronger, and their rhythm rock-solid. During these technique exercises, feeling, expression, and musicality take a back seat. The reason? The performer should be focusing all of his or her concentration on the muscle motion, clarity of the sound, and evenness of the pitch.

Practicing voice acting technique is similar. The drills for voice acting include diction, pronunciation, breath control, and others (tongue twister and diction exercises are perfect examples.) These should be practiced with proper vocal technique firmly in mind. If you’re a beginner to voice acting, don’t worry about putting feeling and emotion into these drills. Focus on producing a clear sound with your voice.

Feeling and expression

Musicians will, in addition to the often mind-numbing drills, practice actual music. The focus when practicing real musical compositions is to work on the interpretation and execution of the feelings within the piece. Sure there might be some technically difficult passages that need to be worked out. But on the whole, the piece should be practiced with musical expression as the golden ring to be grabbed.

In the voice acting world, this would be the practice of scripts, narration, copy, etc. Focus your energies on the interpretation of the scripts and breathing life into the words. Don’t worry about pronunciation, diction, and the like. Instead, express yourself in the words and work on getting more authentic emotion into your reads.

The magical mix

When I was first taught this way of practicing music, my mind immediately rebelled: How on Earth can separating the two vital components of an exceptional performance (technique and expression) during practice lead one to becoming a professional musician? The answer: quite easy…

After practicing like this during the first few weeks of my freshman year, I discovered something almost magical happening: naturally my practice drills began to sound more expressive without any extra thought on my part. And the opposite became true as well: I could handle more and more difficult pieces of music without needing to concentrate on the technique.

Your turn

As you practice your voice acting skills, try to separate your sessions into two phases. Practice technical drills such as tongue twisters, diction and pronunciation exercises, and breathing exercises. And then, work on interpreting copy and scripts with focus on adding expression and life to your reads.

I believe that you will see great improvement in your performances in a shorter time than you thought possible.

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