Upping the Articulation Challenge

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on October 11, 2016

lettersMany of you liked the last month’s articulation challenge so I’m giving you one a bit harder.

This challenge attacks some sloppiness that has become okay in conversation, but it’s often not acceptable for professional work.  You’ll have to decide if your work needs this articulation clean-up or not.

In conversation we’re a bit lazy, and one way we’re lazy is dropping an ending plosive consonant if the next word starts with a plosive consonant.  (As a reminder, plosive consonants are /t/ /d/, /p/ /b/, and /k/ /g/.)

Take these two words:  “it can.” In conversation we usually say, “i can.” We drop the /t/ on “it.” To have really crisp articulation we need to hit that /t/.

As I pointed out, this can make you sound very precise, which is not always what you want as a broadcaster or voiceover artist. The advantage of learning to do this correctly is that it gives you the option for very precise speech whenever you feel you need it.

So how do you master this skill? In a word, practice. You have to challenge your articulators to work harder.

The first challenge is to be sure you can make plosives easily. Check out this post of mine that gives you drills to help you improve plosive pronunciation.

Once you have mastered the plosives alone, you must practice two words together that present a challenge.

Begin by allowing all the space you need between the words to make the plosive on the first word correctly. Next, close up that space making sure you’re not losing the plosive on the first word.

Here are some words to practice (taken from Hilda B. Fisher’s, Improving Voice and Articulation):

that proves               hot potato                last call

it can                           light brown             that cat

that book                   had taught               past due

street cleaner           dad bought              that bottle

 

Working on these endings is just one of the things I cover in my Articulation mp3. Buy my 10-minute Articulation mp3 for only $9.99 many more exercises on all aspects of articulation.

 

 

 

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Keep Allergies From Wrecking Your Voice

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on September 26, 2016

This month has been an allergy nightmare here in D.C.  Don’t know if you’re experiencing the same thing, but it’s a good time to review this blog post that offers some tips to survive the season….

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With allergy season upon us, you may find yourself sneezing through your on-air work. There’s nothing like a runny nose and a scratchy throat to make your broadcast sound like it’s being done by a person with a bad cold. So what should you do when allergies strike?

First drink plenty of water or any decaffeinated fluid (caffeine has a slight diuretic effect). Aim for half your body weight in ounces a day.  This will help thin out the mucous that the histamines are triggering when you have an allergy attack. The thinner the mucous, the less problems you’ll have with it flowing through your throat because it won’t be thick and gluey. There are loads of apps like MyFitnessPal and devices like FitBit that can help you keep track of your fluid intake.

To attack the allergy itself, I like the natural remedy of using a neti pot.  You can pick these up at most drugstores, and you use the neti pot to rinse out your nasal passages.  I find this often takes care of my allergies if I rinse once or twice a day.  Here’s what the FDA has to say about the use of a neti pot.  The most important thing is to use only distilled water.

The next thing to consider is whether or not to take antihistamines. This drug can do wonders to dry up the mucous that is driving you crazy, but in the process it may make your throat too dry. A dry throat is an invitation for possible damage to that delicate tissue. The vocal folds (or cords) are two very small pieces of muscle and ligament in your throat that can be easily damaged when the throat is too dry (see my blog post, Don’t Let Coughing Sabotage Your Broadcast).   See a doctor if you think you need antihistamines and follow directions closely so that you don’t get too dried out.  You don’t want to cure one problem only to create a bigger one.

Ck out my ebook, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOKYou can read about lots more ways to care for your voice.  Helpful for Voiceover Artists and Broadcasters!

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The Final Exam of Articulation

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on September 7, 2016

Student ExamSchools are beginning a new year around the country, but I’ve got a final exam for you!  I usually save this challenge for the last articulation goal I present to clients working on articulation, so get ready to work.

Almost everyone has difficulty articulating the /t/ or /d/ sound when that sound is tucked in between two other consonants as in the word, “expertly.”  It just seems too hard to hit that /t/, and if we do try, it sounds over-pronounced.  An artificial and over-pronounced delivery is as offensive as using sloppy articulation and should be avoided at all costs.

But if you’re really diligent, you can hit these /t/ /d/ sounds without sounding over-pronounced.  Here’s the trick: learn to produce a /tl/ or /dl/ combination of sound smoothly and effortlessly. Let’s break it down.

For the /t/ and /d/ you should place the tip of your tongue right behind your front teeth, and then let the air explode out as you make the sound.  For the /l/ sound you must quickly pull your tongue back and attach it to the same spot as the /t/ /d/, but don’t explode the sound.  Let the sound come out while the tip of your tongue is locked in position.  The /l/ sound is a bilateral sound, which means it comes over the edges of the tongue. (For more on the /t/ /d/ sounds, see this post on /t/ and /d/ production.)

Now combine just the /t/ and the /l/ to make a /tl/ sound.  Explode the /t/ and quickly pull the tongue back for the /l/.  This gives you a little couplet to practice.

To make these two sounds together requires a LOT of practice, but if you stay at it, the sounds will begin to blend.  Practice when you’re driving or have a few minutes alone.  You don’t have to remember anything except /tl/ and /dl/ to practice.

The next step is to plug this blend into some words.  Here’s a list to practice (taken from Improving Voice & Articulation by Hilda Fisher):

PRACTICE WORDS


 

mostly                                fondly

costly                                  blandly

listless                                friendless

correctly                             handling

exactly                                kindly

softly                                   roundly

swiftly                                 soundless

aptly                                     boldly

abruptly                               coldly


Can you plug the /tl/ and /dl/ blends into these words easily?  If not here’s another thing to try: Think of the word as divided right before the /t/ or /d/ so you say, “mos  tly” or “fon   dly.” Putting the cluster by itself can make it flow easier.  Practice starting with a big break and then reduce the space until the two parts of the word are united, but you’re still able to make the clusters easily.

I said you’d need to practice diligently to make this work, so go for it!

And if you are a nut about proper pronunciation like I am, check out Kenyon and Knott’s, A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English. It’s been around since 1953 and is the go-to source for pronunciation.  It uses the American Phonetic Alphabet, but there’s a great chart in the front to use.

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Burnout Can Torch Your Throat

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on August 3, 2016

Are you the reporter in the newsroom who always agrees to work that extra shift?  Or are you a person who says yes to every VO job that comes along?  If you are, you might be headed for burnout.

Burnout happens from the chronic stress of being spread too thin. It can make you snap. You might get sick, have an accident, or just make everyone’s life miserable, mostly your own.

The getting sick part is very real. A study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (October 2010) found that a healthy person has a two-fold risk of developing musculoskeletal pain in the neck, shoulders, or lower back when they are facing burnout. And there are much scarier statistics. The European Heart Journal reports that working 11-hour days increases your heart attack risk by 56 percent.

And don’t think being spread too thin doesn’t affect your voice. Chronic stress makes it more difficult to breathe well, to focus your thoughts, and to control your rate. Voice something after a 12-hour day, and I bet you’ll hear those things happening.

What to do? First, use your calendar wisely. Don’t over schedule. Block off at least an hour to relax after an unusually busy day. Take a walk outside or listen to music. Also schedule some social time every week. Basically, learn to pace yourself. Remember your voice will not be at it’s best if you’re approaching burnout.

Within your day use some breathing exercises to relax. Ck out my video on breathing from a previous blog post to learn how to do deep breathing. You can find much more in my book, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK or on my mp3 for breathing.  Also, click on the breathing link in the right sidebar for more posts on breathing.

And if rate is an issue for you, ck out this blog post of mine on rate.

Make self-care a priority. Don’t take on another job or stay late in the newsroom if you feel burned out. As a VO artist or a TV broadcaster, every product you turn out can make or break your career. Make performing at your peak your goal rather than slogging though another assignment. You’ll feel better and your voice will sound better!

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Summer Heat Can Make You Sick

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on July 6, 2016

Heat Stoke GraphicI recently heard from a reporter who had gotten sick covering a story in Texas.  The more I learned the more I realized this person had suffered heat exhaustion, which is a very dangerous condition.  This happens every summer to reporters and can happen to any of us. It’s usually avoidable by taking a few steps to take care during the summer months.

Summer can also be hard on your voice with summer colds and allergies.  If you want to stay healthy and sound great this summer, try these ten tips.  I’ve provided links to some of my other blog posts if you want to read more, but here’s a list for a quick reminder:

  1. Keep your vocal tract moist by drinking half your body weight in ounces of nonalcoholic fluid a day (for more on fluid intake check out this post). During the heat carry a thermos instead of just a water bottle so that you can drink cold water. You can also freeze water bottles and drink them as they melt in the heat.
  1. Eat foods that help keep you hydrated. For example, a slice of watermelon contains 10 ounces of water. A peach or a cup of strawberries has 5 ounces. Other foods high in water are cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and raw squash.  Soups, tea, and coffee are also good for hydration.
  1. If you have allergies or get a summer cold, limit throat clearing and coughing.  Did you read this post on the dangers of coughing? And limit your use of antihistamines because they are diuretics.
  1. To help avoid Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke, check out these cooling bandanas that really help you stay cool.  I’ve tried this one, http://www.mycoolingstore.com/chill-its-temp-control-cooling-bandana.html, and it works well without getting your clothes damp.
  1. Keep up an exercise program, but if you’re exercising outside and it’s hot, do it early in the morning or late in the evening.  Why exercise?  It helps develop good breathing, but it does much more.  Check this out.
  1. Use SPF 30 or higher sun block every day and reapply it every few hours!  And if you’re outside much of the day, you can purchase clothes that are SPF treated, or you can actually make your clothes sun proof with Rit Sun Guard.  It’s a washing powder that stays in through 20 washes and blocks more than 96% of harmful rays.  You can also find SPF umbrellas to use.
  1. Ramp up your protein intake for better overall health and great vocal energy.  This blog post explains why and how.
  1. Get at least seven hours of sleep each night for better health and vocal energy.  That’s the minimum that doctors recommend.  Go for more when you can.  And remember that computers and tablets emit blue light that mimics sunlight and can keep you awake.  Dim them down at least an hour before bedtime. For more on this, click here.
  1. Spend some time relaxing this summer even if you can’t take a vacation. To quote the author, Anne Lamott, “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, even you.”
  1. And finally, have some fun this summer! Fun goes a long way toward decreasing your job stress.

BSGCoverBlueWant more tips like these?  Ck out Broadcaster’s Survival Guide.  It’s only $4.99 and loaded with voice and lifestyle tips!

 

 

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Please Don’t Fade Away!

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on June 1, 2016

dark streetI’m frustrated! I’m hearing more and more voiceover artists fading away towards the end of each sentence, which means the listener has to strain to make out the last couple of words in that sentence. I’m not just blaming voiceover people for this because it can be equally true for broadcasters.

Let’s tackle this problem. What causes the slow fade? Basically it’s because the person is not sustaining their breath for the duration of the sentence. They are not practicing good breath support.

The bottom line is that breath support must be built. I feel anyone making money with their voice should be doing breathing exercises on a regular basis if, for no other reason, because as we age our breath support gets more difficult.

I’ve written many posts on breathing and provided a video. Here’s a link to some great breath support exercises. Pick one or two you really like and do them often.

My basic advice to clients is to make the last word of a sentence as strong as the first word. That’s an easy way to avoid fading away. You can practice this with any printed text or even while making up sentences while you’re driving.

Along with good breath support comes the challenge of not letting air leak out when you pause in a sentence. To practice this, read the sentences below making the last word as strong as the first and pausing without letting any air escape at the slash marks. (These are not necessarily places you would ordinarily pause in these sentences.)

I enjoy biking/ skiing/ swimming/ and fishing.

I enjoyed visiting Italy/ or France/ or Germany/ in your world travels.

I started out lifting light weights/ but as I got stronger/ I increased the pounds I lifted.

These exercises will get you started on a better voice that doesn’t fade away!

For even more breathing exercises, check out the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK. It’s available to instantly download on my website.

 

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Sound More Conversational

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on May 3, 2016

MenTalking When you’re in front of a microphone, sounding conversational is one of the biggest challenges whether you’re a voiceover artist or a broadcaster. That’s because none of us is trained to sound comfortable talking to a wall, which is usually what we’re doing when we go into a sound booth.  To sound conversational, we need the interaction of another person.

The best delivery sounds like a conversation with a good friend.  I call it “enlarged conversation” because you should be a bit more careful with your articulation, but the general feeling should be one of conversation.

If you think you don’t sound conversational enough, try creating the other person in the conversation.  Right now imagine a person. This person should not be a vague, nebulous image.  Pick a real person who you are comfortable talking with and can imagine very vividly–a sister, friend, coworker, or next-door neighbor.

The most important aspect of this exercise is for you to imagine the feedback the person gives you when you talk to them.  Do they nod?  Do they look interested?  It’s this feedback that will allow you to adjust your delivery to sound conversational even if you’re reading.  When the listener’s feedback is missing, we forget some of the essentials about how to sound conversational.

Remember, you’re always talking with just one person, not to a whole audience, because we listen one person at a time. The secret of a conversational delivery is putting a person in your head when you voice to get a comfortable delivery.

If imagining a person responding to you seems like a hard thing to do, I’ll give you a hint.  You already do this every time you talk to someone on the phone.  We instantly see the person we’re talking to in our mind.  This is a technique you already have perfected.  Now just start doing the same thing when you’re in the sound booth!

Read lots more about this in my ebook, BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK (see chapter 6 on sounding conversational).  It’ll help you put this into practice.

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Let’s Revisit Vocal Fry

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on April 20, 2016

BaconFryingVocal fry voices are being heard more and more from young tv and movie stars like Kim Kardashian and Zooey Deschanel to average teens and college students. I hear this problem often in clients who have just finished journalism schools and bring the sound into their first on-air jobs.  Let me explain.

The problem is a learned pattern of speech called vocal or glottal fry.  How does it get its name?  The glottis is the opening between the vocal folds, which is where this sound originates.  This condition may be called “fry” because it sounds like bacon frying with its popping sound.  In the past, it might have been called a raspy or gravely voice.  It’s caused by a syncopated mode or double-vibration of the vocal folds.

The popping sound of a glottal fry is usually heard toward the ends of sentences. At the end of sentences it usually indicates that breath supply is low, and the pitch is near the bottom of the pitch range.  Some speakers have glottal fry elements throughout their speech.  Normally, however, a glottal fry will begin a few words before the end of a sentence.

The pervasiveness of glottal fry with young women may be an adapted style that helps them fit in and connects them to stars that are using this style of speech.  The characteristics most associated with glottal fry speech are tiredness, disinterest, and boredom.  Can you relate those to teens???

Increased air supply and a slight rise in pitch will usually eliminate a glottal fry as long as it’s a functional problem and not caused from a pathological issue such a contact ulcer on the vocal folds or a thyroid problem.  To correct a glottal fry I have clients work on breath support in ways that I explain on this video.  I also encourage them to make the last word of a sentence as strong as the first word like I talk about in this post.

Below are some more sources of information on vocal fry as well as a link to two workshops coming up in the next few weeks in the Washington, D.C., area offered by one of my Associates, Cathy Runnels.

UPSPEAK & VOCAL FRY: INTRODUCTORY WORKSHOPS ON CHANGE.  Bethesda, MD, Thursday, April 28, 2016, from 11:30 AM to 1:00 p.m. (EDT)  Friendship Heights, MD, on Saturday, April 30, 2016 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 p.m.  Click here for more information: EVENTBRITE.COM and check out April Events.

Read Melissa Dahl’s article that explains a study done in 2011 that focused on vocal fry voices.

If you want to hear some examples of vocal or glottal fry, ck out this video from the Today Show:

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Don’t Let Poor Sleep Sabotage Your Performance

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on April 5, 2016

sleepwalkerSkimping on sleep can be a ticket to disaster whether you’re a broadcaster or a voiceover artist.

I’ve written posts on the importance of sleep before, but a client recently reminded me how it can lead to major problems. This client, like many others I’ve coached, works a morning show, which means she must be up around 2:30 a.m. For her to be at her best, she should be asleep by 7:30 p.m. This is a hard schedule to keep, and she began cheating on it. Consequently, she hit the wall and got sick, but not before she’d had a couple of days of less than stellar work.

This is an all too familiar scenario, but it’s a dangerous one. New research shows that cognitive function is impaired when we don’t get the recommended 7+ hours of sleep, and it’s more than just having fuzzy thinking. There is evidence that lack of sleep over many years can lead to memory loss and possibly irreversible brain damage (Dr. Murali Doraiswamy, AARP Medical Advisory Board).

How could lack of sleep have this catastrophic effect on the brain? It’s because there are parts of the brain that work several times harder during sleep to clear toxins from the brain. Also, crucial chemicals are released during the deeper stages of sleep that help repair the body in numerous ways. Preventing these processes from happening can sabotage more than just your performance.

Missing those 7 hours of sleep has been linked to an increased risk for diabetes, heart problems, strokes, high blood pressure, and obesity. It also can lower your immune system making you more susceptible to all those viruses and bacteria out there.

You may think you cope well without much sleep, but studies show that people who think this actually have reduced cognitive function and don’t know it.  Much like a drunk doesn’t think he’s impaired, lack of sleep can make you feel like you’re functioning fine.

So getting a good night’s sleep is a must. But how do you make that happen? First, be sure you ramp down your screen time at least an hour before you plan to sleep. If you must stay on your ipad or laptop, turn down the screen brightness. For more on this, ck out my post, Power Down for Better Sleep.

And avoid texting in the hour before bedtime. It has been shown to decrease good sleep both because of the screen light and because your brain is more active during texting.

From a previous post here are are 5 more tips:

  1. Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night.
  2. Keep your sleep times as consistent as possible.  If you have to get up early 5 days a week, try and keep your same bedtime on the weekends even though going to bed early is a drag.
  3. Do at least thirty minutes of aerobic exercise every day for deeper sleep.  It’s been shown to improve good sleep by 65%.
  4. Lower the lighting in that last hour you’re awake. This signals the brain it’s time for sleep, and it makes the body secrete melatonin, which is a natural sleep hormone.
  5. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and large meals at night.  Any of these will disrupt sleep.

Follow these tips, and you should reap the benefits of good sleep!

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A Simple Tool for Better Breathing

by Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D. on March 7, 2016

I’m always on the lookout for aids to help with voice problems.  One came up on my personal Facebook page a couple of weeks ago that amazed me in its simplicity.  I immediately shared it on my professional Facebook page.

I’ve been teaching breathing for 40+ years, but I wish I’d had this tool years ago to use to help clients understand good breathing.  There’s something about this simple gif that illustrates it beautifully.

The gif helps you use breathing to relax (see below: Source: http://i.imgur.com/Huou7Gh.gif).  I’ve rotated the gif to help show you how this can impact your vocal delivery.

Breather

Imagine the top of the diagram is at the base of your breastbone.  Next, expand your stomach by inhaling, following the manner and speed of the gif.  Then exhale with your stomach coming in at the same speed.

One of the first things I notice using the gif is that it’s timed perfectly for a comfortable inhalation and exhalation.  I feel able to follow it with ease for a few breaths without feeling like I’m hyperventilating.

Another thing I notice is that it encourages me to slow down my exhalation.  This may not be true for you, but for me slowing down added to my relaxation.  I can feel my stomach coming in on the exhalation for a longer time with the gif.

Also, I notice that it focuses on taking air in by expanding the abdominal area completely, not just in the front, but in the sides as well.  By incorporating the sides into our inhalation, we get a greater supply of air.

If you’re confused about using the diaphragm for breathing, watch my video to see how I work with clients.  I focus more on expanding the stomach in the video, but the sides are important, as well.

Try using the gif to take three breaths before you go on the air.  Wondering what difference this breathing will have on your delivery?  First, by using it before you go on the air you’ll be more relaxed.  Secondly, you’ll  have more residual air in your lungs so that you can talk longer on one breath of air.  And finally, you’ll get more comfortable with abdominal-diaphragmatic breathing.  All three of these things will improve any voice so put this gif to work for you!

If you’d like to see more breathing exercises, ck out this post, and you can get many more in the fifth edition of BROADCAST VOICE HANDBOOK.  Find out about downloading it by clicking here.

 

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