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Warning: A Tense Body Creates
A Tense Voice - How To Relax 
By Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D.
Voice Specialist
A tense body can affect your voice in many negative ways.
And as a voice over artist, you canít afford for that to happen.
There are two areas of the head that harbor lots of tension: the forehead and the neck.
Tension in the forehead is a sign that thereís tension cascading down from there into the jaw and neck.
Two places you donít want it to be.
Wrinkle up your forehead right now and observe how the rest of your head feels.
Most likely, you will find that your jaw is tenser.
If your jaw is tense, itís going to affect your resonance (the richness and fullness of your voice), as well as your articulation.
To learn more about these two areas, click to read more on resonance and articulation.
When the tension hits the neck, it has the potential to make our pitch rise. Not what you want happening every time youíre in front of a microphone.
The vocal folds (cords) are tiny folds of muscle and ligament in our throats (to watch them at work click here).
Adding or reducing tension in the vocal fold area creates our vocal pitch. The greater the tension, the higher the pitch.
I often tell my clients who are television reporters or anchors to watch their work and look at the tendons in their neck.
If those tendons look like steel cables, they can be assured that their pitch is elevated.
So what can you do to avoid facial and neck tension?
For starters, try these simple shoulder rolls:
  • Roll your shoulders, moving both at the same time.
  • Begin by pulling them up toward your ears.
  • From this position, rotate them back so that your shoulder blades are coming together.
  • Now relax them down.
  • Finish by rotating them forward, as if trying to make your shoulders touch in front.
  • Continue this rotation 4 times.
  • Change direction and rotate 4 times.
This simple exercise done a few times a day will eliminate tension from your upper body.
Here are five stretches that can be done separately or as a sequence.
You can perform the entire series in less than five minutes. But you can also pick out a single stretch and do that alone.
Do all these stretches in a standing position, with your knees slightly flexed and your feet spread about as wide as your shoulders.
Keep your chin parallel to the floor during each stretch.
If you have any pain, do not do the stretching, and check with your doctor.
1. Begin with your hands at your sides.
  • Raise your hands above your head in a slow stretch.
  • Reach straight up several times, as if you are trying to pick apples just above your reach. Remember not to look up.
  • Reach up with each hand 10 times, holding each reach for five seconds.
2. Bring your arms straight out in front of you and interlace your fingers.
  • Imagine someone is pulling your hands away from your body.
  • Keep your chin parallel to the floor.
  • Feel the stretch in your shoulders and upper back muscles.
  • Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat once again.
3. Bring your hands behind your back, with your arms straight down toward the floor.
  • Interlace your fingers with your hands behind your buttocks.
  • Try to pull your fingers apart, feeling the stretch across your chest and shoulders.
  • Keep your chin parallel to the floor and avoid arching your back.
  • Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat once again.
4. Pretend you are swimming using the breaststroke.
  • Begin with your arms straight out in front of you, with the backs of your hands touching.
  • Stroke back as far as you can comfortably with both arms.
  • Repeat 4 times. Pause and repeat 4 more times.
5. Finish by rounding your arms in front of you, as if youíre hugging a large beach ball.
  • Hold the stretch and feel your shoulders and upper back relaxing.
  • Repeat this 4 times.
Do these stretches before going to the mic. Youíll feel more relaxed and your voice will sound better!
Ann S. Utterback, Ph.D., is a voice specialist with more than 40 years experience and has helped hundreds of people make the most of their voices, working with broadcasters, voice over artists and podcasters around the world. An author of eight books and over 50 articles on voice, her Broadcast Voice Handbook is used in newsrooms and classrooms throughout the U.S. It is designed as a self-help book that teaches how to improve every aspect of your voice. Her website offers more information, including a link to her informative blog and a free mp3 to begin your voice improvement.
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Comments (5)
Roxanne Hernandez
5/11/2011 at 9:36 PM
What a great article! I shall incorporate this as part of my daily warm up.
Dave Cupp
4/30/2011 at 9:34 AM
What a great warm-up, Ann!
Thanks for posting this.
Bettye Zoller
4/29/2011 at 3:09 PM
It's good to see Dr. Utterback here. I have taught at three universities using her fine textbook on broadcast and voice overs and on-camera, too. It is a standard, a staple. It's a definitive work. Thank you Dr. Ann.

Last time I taught with it was at the University of Texas at Arlington Radio TV Dept. I created quite a few students who went on to be professionals, including not only those in the U.S., but several now on Telemundo in South America and Mexico. One is now on the national Fox news network and another is on MSNBC. This is my 34th year as a voice talent and teacher and let's hear more from you Dr. Utterback. We all can learn from you.
Ann Utterback
4/28/2011 at 12:33 PM
Thanks, BP, for your insight. I think being a voice artist is an invitation for stress! Using healthy ways to combat it just makes sense.
BP Smyth, Narrator
4/28/2011 at 1:14 AM
Excellent advice Ann, thanks for sharing it. Being tense during a VO session is quite common due, to a large part, that we want to make the best impression possible. But being tense is a negative, all the way around.

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