Merriam Webster’s dictionary describes elocution as the study of how to speak clearly and in a way that is effective and socially acceptable. But before we focus on precise articulation and pronunciation, we must focus on a suitable warm up for our vocal cords. A professional athlete would not start a race without some dynamic stretches, so we too must put the muscles we use for speech and producing voice through their paces to make sure they work efficiently and effectively.
Vocal warm ups are particularly useful if you mumble, have a slightly muffled sound, have a lisp or any other kind of consonant issues. If you are ever accused of being unclear—then a few minutes a day getting your tongue, lips and palate into gear, will do you the world of good!
Warm ups and tongue twisters are great for targeting your tool set (the bits of your instrument that you articulate with).
When speaking we rely on breath from our lungs to travel up into the voice box, for our vocal cords to vibrate to make an audible sound, and that sound to be shaped by articulators, such as the lips, the tongue and the teeth. It is at the articulation point where people can get into difficulties, a lazy tongue can for example lead to a mess of sounds, very far from the clarity we associate with a good communicator!
So if you think you under articulate, or if you have a speech coming up and are concerned your audience won’t be able to tell you d’s from your t’s, then indulge in a bit of vocal warming up from some of our favourites below.
Just ten minutes a day for ten days will give you noticeable results!
Our top warm up exercises
So let's start with the face. The soundboard of the piece. With some jaw stretches and massage, the face can be put into action to shape and form vowel sounds with the greatest efficiency. Now give the following a try:
- Massage the jaw and face
- Chew on an imaginary piece of toffee and imagine the toffee getting bigger
- Make the face as small and then as big as you can. Do this three times
- Encourage the jaw to loosen by using the heels of the hands to open it and leave it open for a few seconds
Your tongue is a large muscle that needs working out to keep it vigorous, much like any other muscle in the body.
Try the following warm-up exercises to focus on the rate and range of movement of the tongue for extra precision in your speech:
- Clean the front and back of every tooth using the tongue three times
- Point the tongue, holding it still for 10 seconds. Then relax the tongue. Repeat three times
- Circulate the tongue around the front of the mouth, ten times clockwise and ten times anti-clockwise.
- Stretch the tongue towards the nose, and then the chin
- Now add some speech sounds, repeating consonants at high speeds:
BDG BDG BDG … (sounds like ‘budiga’)
PTK PTK PTK… (sounds like ‘putika’).
The lips not only help to shape sounds, but they also serve as the point of release for our speech. If your lips are tight and unmoving, then it will have a detrimental effect on the clarity and the power of what you are wanting to say. This routine of lip exercises will aid your placement of sounds and provide an all round stretch to help wake up these important articulators:
- Blow through the lips like a horse (you will not be able to do it unless you are relaxed)
- With teeth closed, spread the lips into a smile, and then into a pouting shape
- Putting your lips into a pouting shape close and open them (like a fish). Do this ten times
Now you're limbered up, lets wrap our mouths around some tongue twisters and really put your instrument through its paces:
Whether the weather is cold
or whether the weather is hot
we'll weather the weather whatever the weather
—whether we like it or not.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
Betty Botter bought some butter
But she said the butter’s bitter
If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter
But a bit of better butter will make my batter better
Don’t worry if the tongue twisters got the better of you this time, with practice you’ll soon master the art and become a lingual wizard.
Try working your warm-ups into your morning routine. Imagine a quick round of tongue twisters just after brushing your teeth to start your voice, and your day, in the right way. Also use your exercises prior to those speaking occasions where you need that little extra oomph, your presentation at work, that speech to the board or the job interview you know you will ace.
After just one cycle of vocal warm-ups you will feel instant changes to you spoken output, with increased power to your voice. After several days, you will start to see noticeable changes to the quality and clarity of your speech. Sharper consonants. More distinctive vowels. And a big smile on your face.