There are some very strange vocal exercises that work wonders for the voice. In fact, if someone hears you doing these, they might wonder if you’ve gone a little nuts! Not to worry… that’s a sign you’re probably doing them right.
Some of the funniest and very effective exercises I teach involve doing character voices. I find cartoon voices especially beneficial! Before we get into them, let’s explore the how and the why.
How do we sound like someone else?
First of all, you have to know that we learn to make vocal sounds by listening to other voices. The vocal apparatus actually tries to configure itself to match the sounds of the voice it’s listening to, for the purpose of being able to communicate well with the other person. That’s how we learn language and songs in the first place, and why people in the same family tend to sound more alike. From the article titled “Are You A Good Mimic” in Frontiers in Psychology,
Vocal imitation provides a basis for acquisition of both languages and musical systems.
The article also shares research that suggests there is some phonological filtering called ‘interference’ that makes it difficult to change the vocal choices and habits from our ‘mother tongue’ or dialect. However, we can ALL change our voices by making conscious choices to change the way we normally move parts of our vocal apparatus and configure our throat channels.
Secondly, it’s important to understand the difference between mimicking and imitating another voice. Award-winning voiceover artist Victoria DeAnda has an article where she explains that mimicking is just repeating what someone else says or sings, while imitating is repeating it the WAY the other voice talks or sings.
For the purposes of the vocal exercises I’m teaching you here, we want to IMITATE another voice, not just mimic it.
Why should you do exercises in character voices?
If you need to sound like someone else to do a sound-alike voiceover, to play a role in a production, or to authentically learn another language, you really have to dig into exactly how the voice you want to imitate is doing it. There is a great video on some specific movements to investigate called‘voice breakdown’ from New York Vocal Coaching’s speech coach (the good stuff starts at 2:06).
But for my purposes, I train voices to speak and sing from the fully optimized, warmed up and flexible vocal apparatus. So I use character voices to help expand the voice and give it options before that voice’s authentic performance. I use at least 3 specific characters to open and tighten parts of the throat channel to limber everything up, expand & contract spaces, and smooth transitions… it’s kind of like kneading bread dough.
OK, let’s do some!
Let’s choose our text. Speakers, just decide on a few lines of speech. You might even use a poem or lyric. Singers, choose a portion of a song. Notice that changing the way you move your eyes (raising or lowering an eyebrow), jaw (dropping, tightening, making a chewing motion), hands, and arms can help alter your sound. We literally call this facial and body language!
I’ll start with a very short demonstration for speakers using this weird phrase:
‘In a distant galaxy, somewhere over the rainbow, way up high and far, far away.’
1. First just say it in your normal voice, noting how your voice feels and sounds.
2. Secondly, while sounding hooty, low, and dark, in a voice like Smoky the Bear, Cookie Monster or Bullwinkle.
3. Third, say that phrase sounding like a munchkin, chipmunk, or like you’ve been breathing helium (NOT recommended, btw).
4. Now go back and try to speak in the middle of those opposite tones, which will be more like your normal voice. Doesn’t your voice feel good and sound a little more agile and interesting than the first time you said it?
Singers, do the same thing but pair the words with a melody.
For example, let’s use
‘you are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey’.
1. First, sing it normally.
2. Second, sing it with a hooty tone like Smoky the Bear, Cookie Monster, or Bullwinkle
3. Third, sing it as if the treble is all the way up, like a munchkin or chipmunk.
4. And fourth, sing it with a tone that’s in the middle of those voices, which should be close to your normal voice.
When you sing it that last time, does your voice feel easier and stretchier and sound more open, resonant, and interesting?
Now get creative!
Use any voice you can think of; try sounding like a chicken, a robot, a character from a movie like Ice Age or the Secret Life of Pets, or an alien in Star Wars or Men in Black. Try sounding like a kid or elder very different in age than you, try over-using a different accent or dialect than your normal one.
You can do this with any text or song. The results should not only warm your voice up nicely but also give you more vocal control and resonance. If you try this, do let me know how it works for you! Leave a comment here, or join the All Things Vocal Facebook group and comment there.
Also (if you haven’t already) – signup for my 5-page report on vocal health, to protect your instrument so you CAN work on it with vocal exercises like this! You’ll also get updates on new All Things Vocal posts, with free vocal training that can make all the difference.
I'm an award-winning vocal coach, recording artist, live performer, public speaker, published author, songwriter, musician, studio producer, blogger, podcaster and vocal consultant with over 50 years of success in the music and voice industry.
As vocal coach online globally, I help develop, maximize and protect voices of singers & speakers who seek to make the world better with their messages and artistic influence. My students and recording clients have appeared on The Today Show, Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres, The Voice, American Idol, America's Got Talent, Grammys, CMA, ACM & MTV Awards Shows, New York Times Best Seller list. They include major and indie recording artists and labels, artist development companies, touring and studio background singers, national public speakers, radio & TV personnel, teachers and voiceover actors.
My career credits include being voted ‘Best Vocal Coach' by Nashville Music Pros, 'Vocal Coach in Residence' by TC Helicon's VoiceCouncil Magazine, #1 and other top-10 Billboard singles as artist on MTM Records, winner of Billboard's and ACM's 'New Female Vocalist' award, BMI 'Million Air' award.
I'm a published author with several vocal training packages on disc and as online video courses. My blog and podcast ‘All Things Vocal’ have received over 2 million views and plays.
With thousands of studio credits, I produce country, pop, rock, singer/songwriter and r&b projects, working in the studio online and in-person. I also specialize as vocal producer on teams headed by other studio producers, and create arrangements and sing background vocals.
Member of SAG-AFTRA, BMI, AFM Local 257, ACM, NATS, I'm based in Nashville, Tennessee.
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