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Speech 101
Vocal Strain Part 1
| Sunday, 03.18.2018, 10:00 AM |   (38992 views)

Vocal Strain:  Part 1

By Ginny Kopf

Voice feel strained?  Constricted?  Then “check your neck.” 

When someone complains of tightness in the throat when they speak, I check their neck, and nine times out of ten, that is exactly what caused the problem.

          Look in the mirror and sing or speak.  Are veins popping out of your neck?  Your sound (raw emotion) should come from your gut (your passions, your diaphragm) and just pass through your neck and out of your mouth.  If it gets “stuck” then it means you aren’t letting the sound pass through.  You’re constricting, holding back, not letting it flow. It feels like a swallow.  Swallow and see what I mean:  everything constricts.  You want the opposite of a swallow.  Now blow out your lips, as if blowing out a candle across the room, and notice how the air stream flows freely.  Now try it with an extended “Woooo,” pumping from the gut, not the neck.  Extend that “Wooo” into a siren, up and down the scale, like an ambulance.  You’re pumping from the guts and the neck is very loose.  And it’s loud, isn’t it?  Memorize this feeling.

          Here’s another check for tension.  Feel under your ears, to make sure the muscles stay soft, even on high notes or really loud sounds.  When you “Woooo” a siren, up and down your range, put your fingers under your ears and feel how soft it stays.     

          Of course, improper breathing, lifting the shoulders and breathing high in the chest instead of the diaphragm, is also a culprit.  You have to learn how to let the air easily drop down your “tube,” down into your guts when you take an inhalation.  When you sing or speak, look at your lower neck and collarbones in the mirror.  You shouldn’t see the neck tighten inward, imploding with every intake of breath.  Your aim is to see the very minimum of movement in your neck.  Remember, the sound is just passing through the tube.  Always keep the neck soft and flexible, yes, even belting or projecting.

          So you can use your mirror and your hands to check for tension in the throat.  Go ahead and massage that neck and throat as part of your warm-up.

          To “check your neck” also involves neck posture.  Next issue, more on how to “check your neck” to eliminate strain.


Ginny Kopf is well known throughout Florida as a voice, speech and dialect coach.  For over 25 years she has been a teacher at Valencia and Seminole Community Colleges, and L.A. Acting Workshop.  She’s given thousands of workshops nationally and has done extensive coaching for Disney and numerous theatres, films and television series.  She holds a Masters Degree in theatre voice, and an MFA in vocal science.  Ginny has written two textbooks, The Dialect Handbook and Accent Reduction Workshop for Professional American Speech (CD set).   Web site: 


Ginny Knopf

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