Apart from your physical appearance, how you walk and talk are your two most recognizable features. In the pursuit of portraying characters different from ourselves, we recently explored a method to change different aspects of our walk.
That method revolved around finding our center and letting it drive our body from different locations. As we develop new voices, we’ll be using the same principles in method I call vocal mapping. Not only will it help you discover new voices, but it will help you be able to recover them quickly when you need to get into character again.
Find your vocal center.
Say the phrase “Me, Me, Me. La, la, la. Doh, doh, doh.” You’ll feel the “sound” coming from three different parts of your mouth. “Me, me, me” sits right at the front of your mouth. “La, la, la” moves slightly further back. “Doh, doh, doh” is almost being swallowed in the back of your mouth. Bounce it back and forth between “Me” and “Doh” a few times until you feel like you have control over where the sound is coming from in your mouth.
Move your vocal center.
Now, mentally shift that sound to other parts of your head—not just your mouth. It’s a little silly to visualize, but try to picture your left cheek having a mouth of its own. How would that sound? Say a few lines of whatever you want. Does it change if you move your vocal center to your other cheek? What about your nose’s voice? Or if your forehead had a mouth of its own? Literally try to talk out of different parts of your face. It will all ultimately come out of your mouth, of course, but subtle contortions will create very different sounds.
Visualize a character with that voice.
What sorts of characters and images come to mind? For me, my lower left cheek is where I find my “cowboy” voice. My upper right cheek picks up an old-timey New York accent, like a fast-talking reporter from the 1920’s. They don’t all have to be caricatures and exaggerations. There’s more to a voice than it’s accent. Adjust the tempo and pitch of your natural voice to discover new ways to speak.
Map the character voice.
When you find a new voice and character that you like, take note of where your vocal center is. Next, and this is important, designate a phrase that fits the character of that voice. For example, when I say, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us,” I quickly settle into that cowboy voice in my lower left cheek. This phrase becomes a trigger. Just by saying (or maybe even thinking) your trigger phrase, you can recover that voice after days or weeks of not using it, if you need to.
Repeat this process with as many voices as you’d like. Soon, you may have your head “mapped” like acupuncture with dozens of vocal center points, characters, and trigger phrases.
What voices and characters are on your vocal map?