Singing regularly is a fantastic way to improve your speaking voice and the advantages for voice actors shouldn’t be underestimated!
Speaking and singing require good control of the breath, the vocal folds and the muscles of articulation. Exercising your voice doesn’t have to be about set vocal warmups. Singing along to whatever comes on the radio and mimicking other people’s styles gives your vocal range a real workout, gently stretches you to your limits of pitch, improves breathing, pace and articulation as well as helping you to recognise the natural rhythm of a spoken script.
Here are four great reasons why every voiceover artist should sing
1. Extending your range
To create character voices you need to move comfortably above and below your natural range, without your voice cracking or turning to fry. Songs from the musicals are great to challenge your range, and there are also loads of popular artists you can use for practice. David Bowie and Freddy Mercury effortlessly sang at least 4 octaves, while Prince, Mariah Carey, Axl Rose and Steven Tyler have all recorded over 5 octaves!
Nailing Bohemian Rhapsody might prove a bit much for some of us, so if you prefer to keep it simple it’s worth knowing that even Happy Birthday jumps a whole octave – quite a challenge if you aren’t ready for it!
As with any type of exercise – listen to your body and don’t force or strain.
Regular practice and patience will pay off.
2. Planning when and how to breathe
There are only certain points in a song when you are ‘allowed’ to breathe, and if you try to snatch a breath in the wrong place you either miss part of a word or upset the rhythm. The same goes for voiceover! Singing regularly helps you learn instinctively when to take a breath – and sometimes it’s wise to take a breath before you actually need one, to avoid coming a cropper later!
When you learn a song you have to figure out in advance where to breathe, and this is also useful for a voiceover script – especially those scripts that have a lot of words in a short space of time. Singing also familiarises you with different types of breath, from big diaphragmatic breaths to a short, sharp snatch breaths or the sneaky ‘top up’ breath.
Songs which make me think about where and how to breathe include:
- Rocket Man (Elton John)
- You’re so Vain (Carly Simon)
- Moonlight Shadow (Mike Oldfield ft. Maggie Reilly)
3. Improve lung capacity
I don’t think there’s any dispute that singing improves lung capacity, but just to prove a point I work as a volunteer with a singing group for people with chronic lung conditions like asthma and COPD. Some carry portable oxygen cylinders and most have their lung capacity measured regularly by their healthcare team. We are only singing for fun, but many have reported an increased lung capacity since they started singing, and have more trouble breathing if they miss a class or two.
Improving lung capacity means you can comfortably get to the end of your phrase while maintaining a nice, full voice . Any song with a note that’s held for over 10 seconds makes great practice – check out the following:
- Woman in Love (Barbara Streisand) 11 seconds
- I Will Always Love You (Whitney Houston) 12 seconds
- Lovely Day (Bill Withers) 18 seconds
- Hallelujah (Jeff Buckley) 21 seconds
- Don’t Cry (Guns n Roses) 28 seconds
Granted, Axl Rose doesn’t stay on the same note for 28 seconds but it’s still an impressive amount of time to keep the air moving and control the sound coming out
4. Articulation practice
This is interesting, as we don’t necessarily articulate the same while singing as in speech. Some lyrics sound better with an American twang and there’s a certain amount of artistic license in getting lines to rhyme. It’s common to drop letters at the end of words and sometimes it seems like the performer misses out more consonants than they actually pronounce, although you can still understand the message. Don’t try this with a corporate explainer video. Your client won’t be impressed!
But singing can still be a fun way to practise your diction. Rappers are masters at covering lots of lyrics in a short space of time and Eminem would be awesome reading the small-print T&Cs at the end of those financial commercials. In his 2020 single “Godzilla” he achieves over 220 words in just 30 seconds! If that’s a bit too fast (or a bit too rude) you can start out with the opening verse of A New England (Kirsty MacColl), the last verse of We didn’t Start the Fire (Billy Joel), or try Give it Away by the Red Hot Chili Peppers – they all make great articulation workouts!