Posts Tagged ‘Resource For Teachers’
Voice work with Middle Schoolers
The years between the ages of 11 – and 14 can be especially difficult ones for children who, concurrent with experiencing the rapid maturation of their bodies, are often dealing with new academic responsibilities and expectations as well as a myriad of changes in social and family relationships.
As a director of productions for young actors, I have found that it is often difficult to find ways to help Middle Schoolers free themselves from the concern that they are appearing foolish, that others will judge them. This keeps them from being able to release the internal strictures these emotional concerns place on their vocal as well as their physical performances.
As we open our mouths to let sound and words pour forth, we frequently
reveal the deepest parts of ourselves…our fears, our denials and in some
crucial instances our very souls. No wonder it can be such a terrifying
act to speak. No wonder it is a right attacked and repressed by those
who think they are more powerful or articulate or have the right to
control how and what we have to say. (Rodenburg, P. 1992)
While Ms. Rodenberg was probably in great part speaking here about adults and their experiences, I also feel that this statement lends itself to the kinds of oppression our Middle Schoolers encounter in their young lives on a daily basis. Feelings of self doubt and oppression by others – peers, teachers, even family members – in school, at home and in social situations run rampant in the lives of young teenagers. This can lead to feelings of powerlessness, which in turn can contribute to depression, vulnerability to bullies, eating disorders, substance abuse and even suicidal feelings. (Rider, E., Sigelman, C., 2012.)
It is my goal with this project to develop a packet of approaches to voice and body work for pre- and young teenagers that may be a helpful resource for teachers and directors who work with children during this exciting, challenging period in their development. With this packet of warm-ups, exercises and games I hope to engender in other teachers, directors and – by proxy – the young actors themselves, knowledge of how to release, maintain and utilize a healthy, productive voice that originates from a relaxed, comfortable body.
In this way I also hope to help facilitate and free our young teenagers towards the expression and self-confidence that I believe is the birth right of every human being. As Patsy Rodenburg says, “the right to speak is a right we all have.”(1992) I believe she is not simply commenting on the “right to speak” words, but on the way an open, confident, harmonious voice can help engender an open, confident and, yes, harmonious existence in every way.
It is my great hope that teachers and directors will find this collection of exercises and activities useful in facilitating the Middle School child’s journey toward the joy of the discovery of their own clear, confident voices. And that through this process we may at the same time begin to engender in the students a fuller realization of that glorious, powerful feeling found in owning, understanding and using a clear, strong, healthy voice; to express oneself emotionally with extra confidence, to advocate for oneself, and for use in performance.
Relaxation and Breath
Arthur Lessac points out that there are four relaxing actions we come by naturally – stretching, yawning, shaking of muscles, and swallowing…these are the natural ways of controlling and directing the state of feeling good.”(Lessac, A. 1967) It is that simple! Encourage your students to begin with a huge, open yawn. Even the reluctant student will not be able to resist for long as the contagiousness of yawning eventually captures everybody.
When your students have yawned a few times, invite them to add sound as they exhale. They will, perhaps for the first time and right before your eyes, be experiencing the sensation of creating a truly open sound. Call this to their attention.
Next, have them add a full body stretch to their yawns. Stretching and yawning are often cohorts and natural partners – is not a good stretch very like a full body yawn? Encourage deep, open vocalizing; remind them not to worry about the sound and just to let it ring out from their bodies.
The next step is a fabulous shake from head to toes. Begin with the top of the head and proceed to the face, encouraging the wobble of the cheeks and tongue, and move downward to the shoulders, through the torso and the hips and legs. Ask the students to add a sound to this – the silliness of the noises produced will hopefully create a few smiles, even among the shyest young people. Get them shaking around, encourage them to loosen their feet from the floor and dance about.
As for swallowing, it will make much less of an impression on your students initially but will still be an effective way to help the jaw and throat relax and helps with the essentials of lubrication as well. Coach the kids to gather saliva in their mouths before practicing in order that there is something to swallow. “Sucking on a mint is an aid in the swallowing action.” (1967) Offering mints will also be a way to increase the popularity of this exercise, believe me!
The Beam of Light Alignment
Have the children stand straight, feet hips distance apart, hands at their sides. Ask them to imagine a beam of light at the base of their spines and shooting straight up through the top of their heads. This will help them attain the proper body, neck and head alignment.
Instruct the children to raise their arms over their heads, stretch their hands to the ceiling and then bend their knees slightly and flop over from the waist, allowing their heads and arms to swing naturally until they stop on their own like a pendulum. Mention that they must be cautious to make sure they allow their necks to stay relaxed while they are in this position in order to keep from injuring themselves.
Coach them to pay attention to maintaining the looseness in their knees, in their necks, in their arms and hands. Invite them to sway gently from the waist, side to side touching first one foot and then the other. Mention that this is to feel like a free swing, not a forced movement.
Have the students inhale through their mouths, and guide them to feel the breath entering their bodies, not as an expansion of the chest, but as Lessac says, through the “expansion of the entire waistline, ‘as [if] filling up the bottom of the bucket’.” (1967) Have the kids exhale with deep, open sounds, reminding them to relax and keep their jaws loose.
Have the students do this inhale/exhale again, but this time ask that they feel the breath all the way down to the backs of their knees. Caution them again against locking their knees and their necks, remind them to keep their bodies loose as they support themselves on their feet.
Next have the them roll up slowly, from the waist, being conscious of each small vertebra in their backs and necks until their heads are facing forward again and their bodies are once again in the beginning alignment.
The Bear Hug
This is Patsy Rodenberg’s wonderful stretch and breathing exercise which is great for helping kids feel the proper placement of the breath as it enters and opens out the space of the back ribs.
Have the students stand in the “beam of light alignment” and start by criss crossing their arms across their chests in a gently firm self-hug, wrists and hands wrapped around the back.
Make sure to coach them to hug themselves without creating shoulder or neck tension. Next they should let their heads drop, lowering the chin down onto the chest. Again, remind them to stay as loose as possible and not to allow tension to creep into the neck or shoulders.
Have the students flop forwards from the waist still engaged in the hug, keeping their knees slightly bent.
While they are in this down, hugged position have them take some in some full, deep, slow breaths and exhale slowly, paying attention to the feeling of expansion in the back and the back ribs. Point out to them that this is the feeling you get when you are filling that important back space with air.
After several breathes like this, instruct the children to release the hug, and let their arms drop down towards the floor, coaching them to come up very slowly, one vertebra at a time and finally back to “light beam alignment.”
This exercise gets the students using the full range of pitches in their repertoire, and can help them learn to release and use sounds that they did not even know they had in their bodies.
Standing in good alignment, have the kids begin humming the lowest note they can find, and slide through their voice higher and higher until they reach the highest. Coach them to listen for and feel any breaks in their voices that might need smoothing over. Have them next hum a Siren starting with their highest notes and sliding down to the lowest place they can reach comfortably. It is important to remind them not to force the sounds. Next open the sirens out to a “mmmmaaawww” sound, and encourage the children to start low, slide up to high and then back down to low again, reminding them always to breathe in an open, relaxed manner.
Some variations on the Siren exercise from http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=1006032412485:
1. Roller coasters–students follow the path of a roller coaster with their arms and voices (for variety we switch arms and start high/low or add loops). Draw rollercoaster patterns on the board and “siren” them.
2. Pipe Cleaner Rollercoasters–Same principle, but students shape pipe cleaners as they choose, then we go around the circle and “siren” each child’s shape.
3. Mixed-up Rollercoasters–Pre-draw several different patterns on separate cards. “Siren” them separately and in a connected line, then shuffle the order.
4. Coyote Slides– I discuss the sound on the cartoon when Wylie Coyote falls off a cliff. Then we put a hand up high and throw him off the cliff with a long, slow “loo” until our voices give out. Then we quietly say, “Splat.” The great thing about this is that you can motivate them – especially the boys – to reaching higher into their registers by saying, “THAT wasn’t a very high cliff! It’s got to start REALLY high!”
5. Toss/bounce a stuffed animal and children follow it with their siren voices.
6. Slide Whistle–Students echo a slide whistle.
Some help from Crystal Robbins
Crystal Robbins teaches three classes in Beginning Lessac Voice Development for the Stage at Santa Monica College in Los Angeles. She is an actor in film, television and theatre, writer andpoet, director and producer. She holds a BFA from University of Memphis, studied at BADA in Oxford, the Lessac Summer Workshop Intensive
and privately with Arthur Lessac. She is currently pursuing her certification in Lessac Voice, Speech & Bodywork.
The Y Buzz
Putting Lessacʼs Y-buzz to work – an article
by Crystal Robbins from the VASTA.org newsletter, page 6, volume 16, no.1.
The Lessac Y-buzz should be a part of everyvoice teacherʼs curriculum. It cures a lot of
ails. And it surprises me with new and original uses every semester that I teach. My students are an eclectic blend of nationalities and varied
experiences. I often have theatre professionals from Los Angeles and students who speak little English in the same Beginning Voice Class. I routinely need to combat nasality, monotone speech, poor tonal quality, lack of projection, tension in the face and jaw, excessive nerves that lead to poor performances and inappropriate vocal placement, which leads to sore throats and strained voices. And it is just as likely that the
theatre professional exhibits those quailties as the neophyte does.
What is the Y-buzz exactly? If you donʼt have your Lessac book “The Use and Training of the Human Voice – A Biodynamic Approach to Vocal Life” handy, then let me share. Put your lips in a gentle “sh” position. Think of a slight yawn and hum on y. You are now humming on the Lessac French Horn. Play with it. Stay in the lower third of your register. Now invigorate that Y with a true EE. Keep feeling the sensation of yawn in your mouth and place the sound behind the two front teeth on the hard palate. The buzz
should start behind the front teeth. Then youʼll feel it in your nose bone, and cartilage, up into the forehead and perhaps even in your head. After youʼve experienced that yummy buzzing for a while you even become sensitized to it in your head and neck and down the spine. Feel constantly the quality of YYYYY and the quality of EEEE. Let the sounds marry and create a wonderful vibration unique unto them. If I were there, Iʼd coach you so that you had the right mixture of yawn and Y and E and gentle forward facial posture. I would make sure you placed the sound behind those front teeth so that when you
pinched your nose to check, the sound remained the same. Getting it right might indeed require that an experienced Lessac teacher observe you and help you shape it and feed the Tonal Energy.
. . . but one thing is for sure, once your BODY recognizes the vibration, it commits it to memory and seeks it out and begs for you to do it again. Itʼs downright addictive, that seductive Y-buzz. The body tingles, it buzzes, it sings. It is alive and the cells dance.
There is a whole chapter in Lessacʼs book, which gives many wonderful opportunities to identify and play with the Y-buzz and to put it into practice in your life. I encourage you to check it out. Why? The benefits of this little exploration are
1. Once a sense of forwardness is fully experienced (as is necessary in creating
the buzz), nasality disappears easily, comfortably and is instantly recognizable
to the student.
2. Once the spot of vibration behind the two front teeth can be identified and easily
felt in the student, all full speech (or CALL) can be accomplished without any
strain or stress on the throat. With continual exploration and experimentation,
even the smallest, quietest voice distinctly improves from physically experiencing
where sound is best placed.
3. There is a natural relaxation that occurs when the body is in “gentle turbulence”
from the vibrations used in Y-buzzing. The mind relaxes, the heart stops racing,
the nerves are calmed. My students have reported using it in times of severe
trauma and stress and in feeling a sense of ease and control. This makes it an excellent
tool before scene work, auditions and performances.
4. The Y-buzz has actually helped several students each semester with sinus
problems. One student reported to his astonishment that he could now breathe
through his nose for the first time intwenty some years. His doctor contacted
me for information on what Iʼd been doing in class work, which would allow for
such movement of congestion.
5. In that same vein, I personally have seen great results when I have had a cold.
Recently, I was scheduled to film on a day when I was suffering a severe head
cold. I concentrated on placing sound forward, even though I couldnʼt hear
myself and was clogged and nasal. I knew, however, the distinct FEEL of the
Y-buzz. Through the Y-buzz work, I knew intimately how tone felt on the hard
palate. I guided my tone to those wellknown buzzy areas and the playback of
my scene sounded clean and crisp and clear. No evidence whatsoever of a cold.
6. The Y-buzz grounds the voice and keeps the spiraling excitement of the scene,
or the natural inclination for nerves in check. It is impossible to allow emotions
to create a shrill or unpleasant voice with the Y-buzz firmly in oneʼs grasp. The
consummate actor and user of the Y-buzz always has the necessary tools easily at
hand to rein in the voice when in danger of losing all good tone.
7. In life, too, good command of the Y-buzz allows he user to stay fully in charge.
Indecision, despair and uncertainty are kept under control. After learning Ybuzz,
one of my students had the “voice” (as she called it) to fire her unproductive
manager who had been manipulating her and sexually harassing her.
I like the fact that a tool used in my class can become a tool for life, that a student finds power in her voice and discovers the power within. But donʼt just take my word for it. Check it out in Arthur Lessacʼs The Use and Training of the
Human voice, (3rd edition, McGraw-Hill publishing.)
Useful phrases for exploring Lessac’s Y-buzz with kids:
“why fly so high in the sky, sky guy?”
“no way, Jose”
“they came so late”
“it may rain today”
“in Spain it rained yesterday”
Crystal Robbins is an open, warm person who I, with the kind help of Professor Erica Tobolski, was recently able to contact and ask for some assistance in gathering information on helping Middle School Students with their vocal needs, how to help them increase volume in a healthy way without microphones, how to foster the growth of the male pre-teen voice while it is changing. I also asked for techniques she might have had success with for decreasing feelings of student self consciousness during the work. Her very generous emailed response, full of cheerful, helpful insights, information, tips for working with kids and personal anecdotes, appears here:
Crystal Robbins: Sure! You’ve addressed exactly what I do with my middle-schoolers at Burbank Youth Summer Theatre Institute and this is the focus of what I’m presenting at the Lessac Conference in January, when I deal with young people and safe, familiar ways to access their ability for volume. In 3 weeks time, I work with kids from 9am-3pm, Mon-Fri in warm-ups and hourly rotations while blocking, running and building a Shakespeare production that they design and learn. We’ve done 3 years of it. They not only know what they are saying, they are full-voiced and comfortable. It is a joy!
I don’t know how familiar you are with the Lessac work in depth, but all of my work with kids is based on it. The first thing I recommend based on what my syllabus is: daily voice and body integration. We don’t just have a warm-up, I’m teaching the same body/vocal events that I teach my college class (simpler words, perhaps, but the content is the same). In other words, I teach them Lessac Body NRGs (I call them float, shake and yawn) and Lessac Voice NRGs (I call it Voice Play–consonant music, tonal-the grounding of the voice, structure-heart-shaped vowels) and we play with them all! I could not get anything out of them if I didn’t teach them the body NRGs. They are vital. I teach them body events that reinforce the combination of buoyancy and potency, so they begin to understand on a feeling level what the marriage of those NRGs are. For example: Lessac push-up series, yields a healthy give and take understanding between how one floats down to let the forehead touch the floor as the body gently inhales, and then powers up with the exhale and potent curved back on the push up part. This is really crucial for them to feel, because they have to know how to find the ease to create the voice, not JUST the power. Power can equate push for them unless they are coached to also feel the ease of buoyancy present once potency is turned off.
One simple early experiment that I have applied is an exercise I learned from British director Deborah Warner when I was at Oxford. She had us run and jump over a chair and call out our names. Well, “calling” is deliciously Lessac, so I adopted this. I don’t use a chair, I use a crumpled piece of paper and I explain that we are looking to let the body have a experience that matches what is happening in the theatre of the head. They know by now that the more space they have in their mouth, the fuller and richer the sound is, we’ve already done some exploring that uncovers how different “hello” is when one has no space and when one engages yawn, so they know that. They’ve already been introduced to float and yawn energy. They have also already had a familiar event with Lessac sit-ups which release, in potency, a huge bellowing full and open call tone. So, now I remind them of how free that voice was and that we want to experiment again. I have them do a “float run” and when they leap over the paper, just as the sound is moving UP and not OUT, they are to call out their names. Big space, big yawn, big voice. Then we move onto full names, short phrases, pieces of their lines, or any lines, etc. They really love running and jumping. If there is push or something that I detect is not healthy, not enough space, spreading rather than open tone, I side-coach. Within one day of doing this, they know how to side-coach each other (I call it, “giving encouragement”–what encouragement would you give Johnny? I ask. Johnny needs to reach with the back of his head not his chin, they say. The more I let them discover and teach one another, the better always. We have regular “3 praises and a wish”–I’ll take hands to hear 3 praises they wish to make to others for their commitment and a wish (a note) for someone that would encourage them to be risky or make the scene/moment better! (We have used many of these ideas in production!)
They do tend to all think that what I’m teaching is weird, wacky, bizarre. We dance, we boogie to pretend musical instruments, we run around and jump over paper, we do tripods and rolls. But they LOVE my rotations. We do adapted Viewpoints gridwork, that I’ve found marries wonderfully with Lessac work in that it gives them something to hand their hat on. They aren’t just asked to feel a body NRG in a random space, they have a grid they need to move on and through. When I’m trying to teach them on levels with pitch, we actually walk through the grid and find what the term levels means in relation to the body, to give them the frame of reference for what I’m trying to teach with voice (and for that matter, it carries over into blocking as well.) I again borrow from Viewpoints and have created physical manifestations of the Lessac bio-dynamics so they can experience what they are. They are not even in the Lessac book, I hand wrote mine in pencil at the workshops: high vs. low, concentrated vs. dilute, voice vs. unvoiced, fast vs. slow. My experience is what they FEEL they can USE.
I’ve had some boys in the program who are clearly in voice transition. I didn’t think my job was to camouflage it (I’m not sure I would know how to do that or that that is really the goal), but to let them feel that wherever their voice was in that moment, they could still have good yawn space and open flexible lips. I’m not a therapist or pathologist, but I can discern when someone is pushing their voice or when there is vocal tension. I have had occasion to mention this to a parent and direct that young actor to a reliable speech language pathologist because I could hear or sense nodes. I’ve never been told I have to do something special for those whose voices were just changing. In fact, we are specifically teaching them how to be in the moment and use what the moment yields. In this last play, we had someone in rehearsal have a voice break and he used it beautifully for his Dromio part. It didn’t happen on the performance days, oh well. He was quite comfortable within the world of theatre to just let it be. His peers thought how he used it in his comic moment was brilliant. In fact, I find the problem is often more of one for the teacher than the student. If the voice is changing, there is just no way, I don’t think, to mask it or get through it quicker, you have to work with it and help the young actor to be comfortable in his own skin. When I have middle-school teachers come to my workshops, they sometimes say, “how do we get rid of that, make it go away, etc.” I say, you can’t. You have to give the actor good vocal body tools and just work with what you have, it’s the nature of the theatre! If the student is aware that they have a grounded voice, through ybuzz and wonderful variation in call pitches and flexible lips in diluting the call, they won’t have to stay on one pitch, one plane of the voice, they’ll have more choices, which I imagine can help. It won’t make it go away, it will give the student actor more choices.
One of my co-directors for this project is a man who is a real genius in improvisational theatre for kids and his work as well gets the kids into their bodies creating character, creating story, creating suspense, finding the ways to help them ‘squeeze the lemon’ out of any given situation. Body comfort came for us through lots of trust games & experiments and we spent time daily, after lunch, with about an hour of theatre/ensemble games, Spolin games, Viewpoints games, etc.
Another piece of vocal advice: have them acting in the actual space, if possible, so it is not a surprise at performance time what is needed of them vocally. Or in a close facsimile. Our performing space is on a lawn, with no masking of the nearby freeway noise, airport trafic. We found this year the most successful because instead of rehearsing in a beautiful deco building with small rooms for rotations, that building was under construction and we were instead in an open warehouse where all rotations were housed in one giant space. My area with mats was in one corner, the center was a blocking area and the design rotation was on the opposite wall from my space. We also had one director just outside in the shady porch area. It was loud! (did I mention this was 41 kids? between 7 and 14?) Not only do I have to be a model the whole time using my own good yawn voice, for them to work in rotation with me and be heard, they must consistently apply what I’m teaching and I have more opportunities to help them along the way. Consistent use of the work is vital. The other teachers knew enough about my work by now to able to reinforce (feel your yawn voice!) when the students were in session with THEM. It was a win-win.
One of the outcomes eventually contributed to the play organically. As we were exploring call voice like vendors, we had each person come up with things they’d like to sell that they could actually sell in the town of Ephesus. They developed the body of that character through body nrgs, the walk, the internal rhythm, the style of call. They played beautifully with this as a large group coming up with things like fortune tellers, beggers, swords salesman, fresh fish vendors, flowers, olive oil, street performers hawking their play, & more. . . .We ended up creating an opening scene that highlighted everybody before the dialogue ever begins. Each person got to come out in a wonderful opening scene (originally crafted through some dynamic of grid work and ensemble playing space with viewpoints) and pitch their wares. The scene was awash with color and flair and characters. Plenty to look at, plenty to hear, some leading characters came in and helped to establish who they were, but THIS moment was for the ensemble of about 35. Everyone there mentioned how much they loved that scene. And this helped so much when we had other large town scenes to stage because each character had a story, a history, relationship with other people in town. Just lovely.
Of course, they don’t show up on day 1 ready to do that. But the more daily body and vocal work I do. Do they understand WHY I’m doing small ball rolls, Lessac sit-ups, push-up series, playing with body NRGs in weird ways? Not at first. They do by the end. They grow more and more confident, the more we do it. They begin to long for the different experiments.
Their favorite consonant warm-up was the Consonant Soul Train. Remember the old show from the 70′s? Soul Train? Dancers get in a circle and two in the middle start down the middle together doing a dance of some kind? Well, we do that but we are singing on consonant instruments, doing drum beats. The kids on the circle watching are clapping and saying “go Johnny, go Johnny” and keeping the beat and cheering for the person closest to them. As the first team begins to get to the end of the circle to join back the next two peel into the circle dancing/humming down the center of the circle and so on. They LOVE this. They are so easily transformed to the playground voice here, it becomes the familiar event that I ask them to harken back to when I have them in small groups.
They also love playing Shakespeare Insult games, calling to one another across the playing space with various Shakespearean insults, the healthiest side wins. (Note, not the loudest!) We never, ever say, LOUDER, you’ve got to reach the last row. Then they try to throw the voice, instead of feeling the space within that must move UP not OUT. We give them the organic instruction of “more yawn voice, please”, or “feel yawn in the back and float in the front”.
I do have to say there is always the person who resists, for whatever reason. We had one young guy who could be loud as could be at break time, clear, easily heard, etc. He REFUSED (I think it was an authority issue) in any form of game or experiment to use the work. He was the one who sometimes thought we were doing stupid things and wouldn’t fully give over to it. This 12 year old mumbled, spoke too fast, didn’t use yawn voice. He was just too cool. We knew he COULD, he just didn’t. However, once he got notes from his friends outside of the production on the day of the final dress, which was an invited audience, that they couldn’t hear him or understand him, by the next night he had decided to do it. He could be heard, mostly. It was infinitely better.
I hope this gets you started on some of your questions. Let me know if you need further clarification, have follow-up questions or if you wish to talk by phone at some point. And by the way, I’ve done the same thing for my kids classes every year, from pre-school on up. In fact, it originated in preschool when my daughter came home to show me a ‘t’ and she used so much force and jaw tension to create it I was shocked. I simply said, “How does mommy make the t-snare drum?” And she beautifully felt the spring away action of the snare and made a musical and tension-free ‘t’. A-ha, I thought. Time to go volunteer in preschool. I’m currently volunteering in my son’s 3rd grade class. I see them for an hour every other week, In 3 weeks, I covered, basic stage directions, body NRG origins as pain relievers, yawn voice originas, moving through space to create dynamic, interesting shapes and I just started on consonant music this past Friday. We covered N violin, M viola and TH clarinet (because they had that sound in some of their spelling words so we could make it relevant.) We will be doing a performance of Charlotte’s Web in April, so my goal is to get enough body and voice in them by then, that it can be a real ensemble show and they can be heard without mics. (C. Robbins, personal communication, October 23, 2011)
The “Lessac” Call
• Have the children, with reminders about keeping the jaw loose, call “Hello”, coaching them to pay attention to the open feel of the sound in
the head and face.
Change the word to more of H’lloooooo.
Have them place the back of their hands a few inches from their mouths to feel the airflow. Remind them that they should not feel much air flowing past their hands.
At first they should not focus on the pitch, nor try to control it, but on the feelings of the sound and the sense of the air flowing past their hands.
Next have the students experiment with changing the pitch higher or lower as they repeat the exercise.
Useful phrases for exploring Lessac’s The Call with kids:
“hello; hello Joe”
“Day-Oh, Day-ay-ay –Oh”
“Those old boats don’t float”
“this is good!”
“where were you?”
“you may go”
Another fun activity for working “The Call” with students is to set up a marketplace/city square scenario and assign each one of these “Call” friendly phrases. The students can chime in one by one, and then repeat, overlapping each other for a unique, cannon like effect. Very pretty.
Street Vendor – Apple! Potato! Watermelon! (pronunciation example: Epaw! Pohtehtoh! Wawtahmelohn!)
Train conductor - All aboard! Oklahoma! Emporia! Baltimore!
Constructions workers – OK Joe! Let ‘er g-o-o-o-o-o-o-o! OK Bill! Take ‘em awa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!
Newshawk – Read all about it! Get your paper!
Peddler – Jumbo potatoes! Fifteen pounds for a quarter!
Flower seller – Roses! Dahlias! Roses! Dahlia!
Have your students think of more ideas for the marketplace/city square. You can create almost any scenario and make a game out of the students coming up with dialogue that utilizes “The Call” practice words. This can be done for the Y-buzz as well!
Tongue Twisters for consonant articulation practice – some old favorites and some new ones…
The bootblack bought the black boot back.
A box of biscuits, a batch of mixed biscuits.
A big black bug bit a big black bear, made the big black bear bleed blood.
Cedar shingles should be shaved and saved.
Chop shops stock chops.
Cows graze in groves on grass which grows in grooves.
Crisp crusts crackle crunchily.
The crow flew over the river with a lump of raw liver.
Flee from fog to fight flu fast!
Fred fed Ted bread, and Ted fed Fred bread.
Freshly fried flying fish, freshly fried flesh.
Friendly Frank flips fine flapjacks.
Give me the gift of a griptop sock: a drip-drape, ship-shape, tip-top sock.
Gertie’s great-grandma grew aghast at Gertie’s grammar.
How much wood would a woodchuck chuck
If a woodchuck could chuck wood?
He would chuck, he would, as much as he could,
And chuck as much wood as a woodchuck would
If a woodchuck could chuck wood.
Lily ladles little Letty’s lentil soup.
The minx mixed a medicinal mixture.
Red leather, yellow leather.
Ruby Rugby’s brother bought and brought her back some rubber baby-buggy bumpers.
Swan swam over the sea.
Swim, swan, swim!
Swan swam back again.
Well swum, swan!
A tutor who tooted the flute
Tried to tutor two tooters to toot.
Said the two to the tutor:
“Is it harder to toot or
To tutor two tooters to toot?”
Twelve twins twirled twelve twigs.
Two toads, totally tired.
Vincent vowed vengence very vehemently.
Which switch, Miss, is the right switch for Ipswich, Miss?
Which witch wished which wicked wish?
Which wristwatches are Swiss wristwatches?
Exercises and games from Augusto Boal to assist in freeing the voice, the body and the spirit…
Carnival in Rio
This exercise is from Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed work, and may appear complicated at first. But with patience on the part of the leader and attention paid to work through the process in stages, I feel this game could be of great help in releasing the bodies and voices of Middle Schoolers.
Participants form groups of three and name themselves either A, B or C. The groups all stand side by side in a line. The leader signals A to make a lively sound and action, and B and C copy. Next B is signaled to create his own action and sound, and A and C imitate him. Of course it is next C’s turn to initiate and be copied. All the groups are doing this simultaneously, and each group now knows three sound and action pairs.
Next the leader gives the command “return to your original rhythm!” and the workshop members each begins to perform the sound and action they themselves created for their group, creating a huge cacophony of sound and movement. Then the leader calls out to “unify!” and the groups must negotiate without discussion - while they are making the change – which sound and movement they will now all do together.
Once unified again, the workshop groups begin to move around the space, each performing their own action and sound. After a bit, the leader gives the instruction to change groups if they would like, and the participants have the opportunity to join a new group and take on that rhythm and sound. Finally the command is given to unify into one group and sound, which the participants again do with no discussion.
Slow Motion Race – Based on another of Boal’s creations, this version adds vocalizations as well. Try encouraging the students to use “y-buzz” or “the call” phrases in their race in order to practice thoseskills at the same timel!
Participants “run” as slowly as possible, with the winner being the last person to cross the finish line. The rules are 1) You must keep moving forward, 2) you can only have on one foot on the floor at a time, and 3) the raised foot must be lifted above the knee in the stride. Encourage the students to pay attention to the physical body and how it moves through space, and when they have mastered the art of slow motion racing have them begin to vocalize their thoughts in a slow motion voice as well.
Fainting by the Numbers – more from Boal. This game is more of a trust builder than a vocal exercise, but feel free to encourage the students to create relaxed, open sounds as they are fainting.
Assign each of your students a number from one to ten. (If there are more than ten kids begin assigning numbers from one – ten again so there are multiples of those numbers.) The students walk around the room keeping fairly close together, being sure to observe each other closely. The leader calls out a number and the person(s) with that number will give a signal such as an exaggerated intake of breathe, an open relaxed sound, or place a hand to their head and then “faint” immediately. They must be caught and safely lowered to the ground by the other members of the workshop. “This exercise is a good way to build focus. It is hard to remember who has which number, so in reality when any number is called everybody else is put instantly on alert, scanning faces and bodies for any hints of imminent collapse.” (Babbage, 2004)
So here you have it: a sample of techniques, exercises, some advice, some games, all offered to you in the hope that what I have created and assembled here can be considered a resource for those of us who work vocally with Middle School children. I believe that through the use of the activities described here we will be able to help our young students through what can be for some children a difficult period of development, a time of struggle both internally and externally. I hope that what you find in this packet will be of service to you in facilitating in our pre-and young teenaged students the sense of freedom in their breath, their voices and their bodies that will lead them to become more comfortable with making open, relaxed, productive sound. This, I am convinced, can lead them – through the journey of the discovery of these abilities – to have more faith in themselves as important, valid, wonderful human beings.
Babbage, Frances. Augusto Boal. New York: Routledge, 2004. Print
Rider, Elizabeth and Carol Sigelman. Life-Span Human Development. California: Wadsworth, 2012. Print.
Rodenburg, Patsy. The Right To Speak. USA: Routledge, 1992. Print.
Lessac, Arthur. The Use and Training of the Human Voice. New York: Drama Book Publishers, 1967. Print.