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'Just Give Us Five In A Row' ...
Prepare By Practicing Variety
By Randye Kaye
Voice Actor & Coach
Sooner or later, as a voice over talent, you’re going to hear this direction:
“OK now, just give us five in a row.”
This usually happens when you’re at the opening line or closing line of the copy, but your client may also ask for it anywhere else.
Why? Usually one of two reasons:
  • The client isn’t sure what tone he wants and needs your creativity to hear possibilities
  • You are stuck in the same reading tone, and the client needs you to break out of it and show some range.
Even when you’re in your home studio, and the “director” is – well, you - you still may find that you need to open up to create more possible ways to approach the words in front of you.
We all get stuck now and again!
Part of your job as a VO professional is to be flexible, imaginative, relaxed enough to go in a different direction, and professional enough to maintain the change when necessary.
So – your practice routine should always include finding ways to open yourself up to more variety.
How to find the variety? The key is to be prepared, by practicing variety.
There are two ways to approach this, using both sides of your brain, and they ultimately function together. These are:
  • Control of your instrument  /voice technique (left brain)
  • Freedom of your imagination (right brain)
Huh? What about my brain?
Yeah, this is simplified.
But basically we need to access both sides in practice sessions - the right side, where imagination, whole concepts and emotion are key - and the left, which is more about separate ideas, organization, logical thinking.
Think about learning to play the piano, for instance.
Left brain: correct finger positions, practicing scales, posture, learning the notes.
Right brain: feel the music. Let it flow through you. Trust the techniques you’ve practiced, let them go, and be the music.
So – here are some exercises to use when practicing variety.
For these exercises, use any phrase or sentence, such as:
  • And then he left the room,” or
  • “When it comes to getting paid for voice overs, it pays to practice.”
Right Brain:
Read the above phrase using ... 
1. Different emotional states.
These are usually adjectives, such as: Angry. Sad. Disappointed. Frightened. Disgusted. Perky. Secretive.
To make these work, it helps to imagine the reason you might feel this way. What happened to make you feel that emotion?
Actors call this “the moment before.”
Imagine who you are mad at, for instance, and why. No piece of copy comes out of the air. There is always a reason to keep talking.
You can “color” an entire copy section with the tone change, or just infuse one word with it. For example, “delicious,” or “anguish” – for a non-pitch path to emphasis.
2. Different gestures/body language.
Your brain has spent a lot of years associating emotions and vocal elements with certain gestures.
If you throw something across the room, I dare you to sound relaxed and calm while you do it.
I always ask my classes to try to be the voice of the Wicked Witch of the West without scrunching up their nose, stooping over, and making those crunched-up witch hands.
There's never enough commitment to the reads without the body to go along with it.
Try it sometime. With this phrase, just use your already-strong connections and try a few gestures:
  • Read the phrase while shaking your index finger, angry Mom-style.
  • Shrug your shoulders
  • Put your hand on your heart
  • Smile
  • Raise your eyebrows
  • Furrow your brow
  • Sweep your hand across the sky
  • Put your hands on your hips and frown
3. Different thoughts.
Actors call this subtext. If you say “I hate you” while thinking “I love you”, or vice versa, you’ll see what I mean.
Try some of these thoughts:
  • I have important info for you
  • No, you're wrong and I'm right
  • This is soooo funny!
  • You must believe me or we’re all doomed
  • This is a wonderful secret
  • This is so simple
4. Different intentions.
As in, “But what’s my motivation?”
It, too, changes everything.
These are usually verbs, something you are trying to do, something you want. For example, you want to:
  • Convince
  • Entice
  • Seduce
  • Warn
  • Share
5. Different characters for you and/or your listener.
Some of this comes with a change in body language. But remember: we speak differently in different roles in our own lives - employee, spouse, best friend, child, sibling, co-worker.
Are you reading as a stuffy professor? Straight-laced CEO? Friendly neighbor?
We speak in different tones to different listeners, too - a baby, a boss, and peer, a young child, a teenager, the President.
Let this natural variety work for you when reading copy by using your imagination.
Who are you talking to, and why?
OK, you get the picture. Some imagination techniques put everything else into gear without overthinking.
Record yourself practicing these reads and listen back to see if you fully committed to the changes your imagination wanted to make.
Stuck for ideas? There are excellent lists of intentions, characters, etc. in any good improvisation book. Or take a class!
Left Brain:
Conscious Control
Practice these exercises ... 
Then there's the left side of the brain, where thinking is more linear.
Here's where conscious control of the elements like tempo, pitch, phrasing and volume can also help you find ways to vary your reads.
1. Pitch. Try:
  • Changing the overall pitch of the piece, by finding a different placement – not a lot, just a step up or down to see what happens
  • Pitching up on certain words, especially ones you want to emphasize, like contrasting ideas: e.g. When it comes to getting paid for voice overs, it pays to practice
  • Pitching down on words
  • Changing dynamic range, i.e. how high and low your pitch goes in the phrase
  • Changing pitch within the word – there are various degrees of pitch change.
2. Phrasing/Pausing.
Sentences are made up of ideas, usually in phrases, not just words.
In natural conversation, we stop to think. We stop to absorb. Try:
  • Pausing in different places in the copy, which will change the phrasing
  • Marking copy to make sure phrases are clear.
3. Tempo.
In real life, tempo is more like an accordion.
We speed up, slow down, we change mid-sentence.
Also, in VO, you may need to hit a particular time. Tempo change can change the energy. Try:
  • Tempo changes, reading the whole sentence faster, slower.
  • Partial tempo changes – one phrase slow, second one fast, and vice versa
  • Elongating words as another way to emphasize without using pitch.
4. Volume.
Just be sure you always treat the microphone as if it’s someone’s ear!
5. Emphasis. Try:
  • Changing the words you choose to emphasize, and
  • The way you make the emphasis – Pitch? Coloring words with emotion? Pauses? Elongation? Overarticulation?
For excellent technique exercises, I recommend the Industry Guidebook from Edge Studio, Chapter 4. Just make sure to apply the exercises to other pieces of copy once you’ve used the examples in the book.
You can find this at (Editor's note: Mention VoiceOverXtra when you call, for a special discount on training there.)
And, yes, “the possibilities are endless.” There's so much more, but that's what coaching - and focused practice - is all about.
Meanwhile, jump in and aim for variety. Try 20 in a row.
See what works and what doesn't.
This business is all about play, and practice brings confidence. So – play!
  • With emotions and well as techniques.
  • With your intellect as well as your imagination.
That’s practice. Then, when you’re on the job, these skills will be there for you without overthinking.
By approaching copy from both sides of your brain you'll find your own ways to increase your skills and your ability to communicate with your client.
Happy clients are a good thing! 
Randye Kaye has over 20 years of experience as a voice talent, stage/TV/film actress, and radio personality, with a long list of major clients including, Dannon, Kyocera, Big Lots, Burger King, Executone, Continental Airlines, MISTO, Toshiba, Verizon, and many more. She provides a trustworthy and intelligent voice for countless websites, e-learning courses, phone systems, on-hold messages, promos, industrial narrations, audiobooks (children, adults), science/medical/technical instruction, video games, travel/real estate/museum tours, and live events. She is also a voice over coach with Edge Studio in New York City and Connecticut.


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Comments (12)
Randye Kaye
8/4/2010 at 4:07 PM
So glad you're finding it useful - the VO community rocks, doesn't it? Love how we all learn from each other. I'm working on YouTube video of technique #2, soon as I have time. Luckily I'm busy recording - clients are back from vacation, whew...

8/3/2010 at 12:05 AM
Thanks SO much Randye! This is one of the best articles on delivery I have ever seen. You rock! Thanks for sharing. :)
jill goldman
8/1/2010 at 11:56 AM
Randye, what a fabulous article! so much to chew on - I can't wait to give all of these exercises a try! Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us.
Debbie Irwin
7/30/2010 at 11:56 PM
Hi Randye-

Such good reminders, and like Pamela, I too will print this article and make a concerted effort to practice its pearls of wisdom. See you at Edge!

Best, Debbie
Alan Sklar
7/30/2010 at 6:09 PM
Randye ...
treat the mic as if it's someone's ear ...
That is so cool ... and such a lovely insight.
I shall never forget that one.
Alan Sklar
Pamela Tansey
7/30/2010 at 4:47 PM
Thanks Randye, for an insightful and helpful article! I had to print this one for future reference! Good stuff!
Justin Hibbard
7/30/2010 at 3:12 PM
EXCELLENT advice, Randye! Thanks for sharing!

JustTheVoice Imaging & Productions - Los Angeles
Randye Kaye
7/30/2010 at 11:57 AM
thanks, guys! so glad you're finding this useful!

I'm working on a series of you-tube videos to illustrate these - and was even brave enough to record episode #1 in bad lighting and with no make-up! my you-tube channel is "Randye Kaye, Voice Talent", and there are also some samples of videos I have voiced, mostly in the warm/friendly/narrative tone :)
Linda Naylor
7/29/2010 at 10:13 PM
I learned much, took notes, plan to take your advice, will practice and thank you for sharing. You gave me much to reflect upon, and you challanged me to do more than "status quo". I am smiling, because I see the "play" in your approach. Thanks. Linda Naylor
Mike Coon
7/29/2010 at 6:05 PM
Dear Randye:

Thank you for sharing some very practical and challenging advice/coaching! This will keep me busy for a loooong time. It'll be great to have this "under our belts" when a client asks for "20," and without batting an eye....we just do it!

Johnny George
7/29/2010 at 4:56 PM
Great info. Right on target.

I learned this technique many years ago from one of my coaches and it never fails to bring out the real variety that we possess inside of each of us. And, it's so easy to forget what resides inside of us just waiting to get out, if WE would just get out of the way. It's so easy to get stuck in a monotone delivery or style.

Open up & breath this life back into your delivery.

Thanks, Randye!
j. Christopher Dunn
7/29/2010 at 3:07 PM

Thanks for the super article. You've confirmed what I was taught. I had an excellent VO coach that started each of my sessions with a warm up that featured a number of phrases. I was to act each phrase differently, and I had to use a different "voice" each time. It did wonders in expanding my range and I continue to do it as part of my daily vocal exercises. It really does make a difference.
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