Fundamental Aspects Of Vocal Resonance Education Essay

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Resonance and articulation are produced at the last stages of vocal progression. The vibrations are produced by true vocal folds and are generated by resonating spaces within the throat, mouth and the nose. As a result, initial sound is reformed into vowels and consonants of language. The concept is similar to how string instruments such as violin and cello induce sound where the initial sound is amplified into various pitch and tone. The final music assembled from the instruments depends on the surface area of the instrument and the skills of the player.

Just like in music, actors require strong articulation skills where their performances are dependent on the ability to 1) deliver the true and deep meaning of texts, 2) apply additional qualities such as emotion and feelings that 're-shape' the communication between the audience and the actors (Shewell 2010:203).

This essay will cover fundamental aspects of vocal resonance and articulation such as anatomy physiology and will critically discuss resonance and articulation. Additionally one possible approach will be suggested that may contribute to an effective strategy for training acting students.


The literal meaning of resonance is 're-sound' and the resonance of human voice can be anatomically explained. Initial sound waves from true vocal folds pass through spaces of vocal tract and vibrations results from air molecules trapped within these spaces. Vibration can be categorized into sympathetic and harmonic vibrations. As a result, the initial sound is louder and presented with various textures (Houseman 2002: 162). The vocal tract operates as an acoustic resonator, an air filled cavity, where vibrations that travel through are either maximised or dampened. The vibrations are comprised of natural and multiple resonating frequencies, which occur when the vocal folds open and close per second, and form harmonics. Vowel sounds, also known, as formants are directly dependent on vocal organs of vocal tract. Usually lower frequencies are generated by larger spaces and higher frequencies by smaller spaces in the vocal tract. The resonance in this form is called 'primary resonance', which is air-conducted (Lawrence 2007:106) (The diagram of Source Filter Theory can be found in Appendix 1- A, B). Vibrations occur in other parts of the body and are referred as 'secondary resonance' or 'indirect resonance'. Anatomically, the sound is conducted through bones, including teeth, hard plate, nasal bone, cheekbones, sinuses, forehead, and cranium and secondarily in the spinal vertebrae and the rib cage (Lessac 1997:16-17). Christina describes the process, what actually happens in our body:

If you intone a long aah as fully and loudly possible, you may feel as if you have a good strong head resonance, and that you voice is echoing in your nasal and frontal sinus spaces. But what is actually happening is that the bony structures of your hard palate, teeth and cheekbones are picking up the vibrations, and you feel them in the front of your skull. As your soft palate is probably up against the back wall of your pharynx, there is no column of sounded air vibrating in your nose, as your nose and upper head are closed off from the voice vibrations. (Shewell 2010:176-7)

Sundberg (1987) describes 40 different places on the body where people can feel vibrations as they speak. As a result, people misunderstand that these sympathetic vibrations are caused by resonance chambers in the top of the head, above the eyes, and in the chest, where most distinct vibrations occur in the body. However, the spontaneous resonating chambers only include airways above the larynx from glottis to the lips.

The vocal resonators consist of three sections; the pharyngeal, oral, and nasal. Seikel (1997) defines the chambers within vocal resonators into oral, buccal, nasal, and pharyngeal cavities. The buccal cavity is at lips, between the teeth and the cheeks, which is the oral section of the vocal resonator. (An illustration of the vocal tract can be found in Appendix 2). The complex features of these cavities are what make resonance of human voice unique and balanced (Carey 2008:115). Actors require prerequisite skills of controlling these cavities and master voice techniques to perform various roles.

The 'blend' feature of resonance rose from nasal cavity. Despite its small, fixed and limited structure, it has a vital role in resonance. The vibration produced from nasal cavity is at high frequencies and pitch, which often add power. In contrast, the tube-shaped pharyngeal cavity in three regions; laryngopharynx, oropharynx, and nasopharynx have flexibility by adjusting the height of the larynx and the width of the pharynx. The most significant chamber in resonance is oral cavity where speech is produced. The vowels and the consonants are formed by the muscle movement of tongue, located on the floor of oral cavity that created space. The anatomy of hard plate, the roof of the mouth extends to the soft palate and velum. The velum is the movable muscle separating the oral and the nasal cavities (An illustration of the anterior view of oral cavity can be found in Appendix 3).


Articulation takes place in the oral cavity, where resonated sound waves are transformed into spoken words that has different meanings and tones. Two types of articulators exist and consist of fixed structures, e.g. teeth, alveolar ridges and the hard palate. The soft palate is known as a movable articulator as broad muscle movement between the pharynx and the nasal cavities produce different vowel sounds and consonants. However, three distinct nasal consonants are excluded (IPA charts can be found in Appendix 4). It is also an essential element necessary to add emotional factors to express vowels and consonants. Its vital role is evident in many voice practitioners including myself (An illustration of 3 positions of soft palate can be found in Appendix 5).

The tongue has three distinctive muscular movements; up and back, down and back, and up and forward (Raphael 2005:108). Vowel sound formants consist of the position of the tongue and the lip rounding (An illustration of cardinal vowel tongue position can be found in Appendix 6). The clarity and precision of speech are decided by various facial muscles from lips to jaw line.

Consonants are formed by a complete or partial closure of the vocal tract, interrupting the air stream by articulators. Therefore, the muscles of the articulators impact directly on resonance and articulation by its diverse effects on resonating spaces. (The Diagrams of the place of articulation of each sound can be found in Appendix 7)

The anatomical and physiological aspects of resonance and articulation illustrate the complex interaction between the two elements. Specializing and mastering both elements is the key to voice training and often present challenges to the actors.

Voice performances from acting are different from voice produced for everyday spoken words. Wide features of expressions such as stamina, flexibility, capability of wide rages of expression in dynamic and emotion, and articulating intellectual. There are many challenges to overcome during acting as characters whom actors play are portrayed greatly by the colour and the quality of the voice. Needless to say, actors' voice should have well connection to the body and the corresponding breathing, to allow voice to come out naturally and freely.

The importance of resonance and articulation in acting.

Resonance brings substance and energy to the voice. When the voice is fully resonant it is fully alive. You can feel the resonance in your body. The voice and body feel fully awake and connected and so they can be more responsive to and expressive of your thoughts and feelings. What is more, all this substance and energy is produced without effort on your part. It is energy for free. (Houseman B. 2005:163)

Barbara describes that it is necessary to work effectively on resonance as it provides energy and the ability to perform without unnecessary efforts. Actors who are in training are often required to 'speaking louder' or 'giving the energy to the voice'. These actors have not yet fully mastered the technique to develop resonance in their voices and often project voices with undesirable qualities. Without completely grasping the techniques, the actors will encounter severe outcomes with voice damages and entails for treatment.

Rodenburg insists:

The more resonators you use, the clearer your voice will be and the easier it is both to sound and project the voice. Also, the more natural amplification you use, the easier it is to work in space. (Rodenburg 1997: 92-93)

The degree of spacing is largely dependent on the extent of size and acoustics and actors need to develop strategies to use more natural amplification to project much more natural and effortless sound. Actors are required to deliver message of their lines with appropriate expressions simultaneously. Long hour rehearsals and intense dramatic roles can leave actors physically fatigue; especially the body parts that assist vocal training. Exceptional plays such as Greek tragedy 'Medea' and Shakespeare tragedy 'Hamlet' necessitates actors who have talents in their voice, bodily language and emotion. Actors who play such demanding and exquisite roles can amplify natural resonators without much irrelevant effort.

One fascinating feature of voice training is encountering different voices from various actors. As Carey describes;

We may also be attracted to the speaker by the sound of his/her voice - its quality, its colour, or its tone. 'Rich', 'warm', 'smooth', 'dark', 'bright' - these are all descriptions of a voice's quality; that is, its resonance. 'Plummy', 'nasal', 'tight', even 'sarcastic' or 'bored' are also qualities connected with resonance.

Ideally, you should have access to a wide range of resonant possibilities. Knowing how to adjust your resonance will allow you a higher degree of control over the sound you produce. (Carey 2008:110,116)

Carey illustrates that voice qualities such as tonality and colours are dependent on how resonance is portrayed. The ability to have a wide range of resonant enable actors to project desired voices for various acting settings including mediums, places, and characters.

Carey also emphasizes the technique to 'balance the resonances' which is often ignored in outdoor locations. Actors are often tempted to speak louder in outdoor sets, which is not part of the character in their role. They need to learn how to control nasal and oral resonance to project brighter and clearer voice without the needs to 'shout' or 'talk louder'.

Modern acting requirements are different from the past where current acting settings are highly specialized in vocal enhancement. Actors use specialized microphones in radio, film, commercial and music theatres and their voices are edited to have precise and distinct qualities. Despite the technology, it is actors' responsibility to blend resonance and deliver the characters. Stanislavski insists that actors need to acknowledge the importance of diverse factors in acting to prepare well for their characters. When creating a character, resonance will give you a broader range of vocal options. In the English Native countries, voice teachers assist accent training. Applying appropriate accent in preparation of a character is very significant as it represents the culture, origin and the personality of the person. Actors are usually required to fluently adapt to three types of accents prior to casting as the ability to do so means they have articulation skills.

Once actors understand and established the connection of voice, body and breathing, they focus on words. In the verbal play, words show meaning of the piece and send specific messages. During training, a large section of methods are taught to express word with deeper inner resonance as it will significantly affect how characters are portrayed and seen to the audience. Shewell (2009:103) mentions 'word filling', which illustrates the way that a speaker's voice can make a word 're-sound' with its meaning. Theoretically, it means that

Vowels always bring resonance by providing energy and emotions to the spoken words and are dependent particularly in resonance formants. Therefore, actors are able to explore hidden qualities to connect the meanings by establishing and developing resonance.

Berry mentions that words should be delivered with its intellectual meanings. He quotes;

The perception of the length and movement of the vowels, and the length and vibration of consonants … it is this that keeps the language always active and muscular. (Berry 1987:45)

The tone and the accent we produce when we speak are affected by how we position our tongue and the shape of the mouth. One difference between normal communication and performed communication is that the passage delivered by actors is memorable and exclusive. A Korean actress named 'Gun-young Moon' is one of the best actresses in Korea although she is only 25 years old. She has had amazing performances in the past and is noted by her brilliant dramatic and emotional characters. Despite her amazing talent to connect to characters emotionally, critics have often criticized her lack of delivery of passage, which her characters say. Often viewers are more attracted by her delivery of emotion rather than focusing on the real character. The actress herself recently informed to the public that she is well aware of her faults in her acting careers and is getting trained in areas that need re-evaluation. To deliver actual texts and messages successfully to the audiences, the actors should be able to control tongue and jaw movement. Linklater says;

The voice and the breath are the servants of emotion while the tongue serves the intellect. … emotion and intellect, voice and speech must be equally balanced in communication. (2006:139)

The muscular and physical factor of articulation is of great importance to acting skills as it provides balances emotional and intellectual expressions during performance. Obtaining these skills will resonate texts by actors' unique emotion, awareness, understanding and experience while its intellectual message will spontaneously deliver to the audiences.

A proposed 10-week programme in resonance and articulation for acting students

The aims of the 10-week course will focus in 1) basic knowledge of anatomical and physiological aspects of resonance and articulation which is related to the actors' voice, 2) to awaken students the importance of resonance and articulation for actors, 3) to acknowledge their weakness and strength in their resonance and articulation, and 4) to overcome those lackness through practical exercises. Overall the course will have many interactive strategies for the group of student and will comprise of creative methods for an effective teaching programme. As 10-weeks is a short to provide full resonance and articulation training, the course will primarily focus on voice awareness rather than working on texts. The evaluation of students will be in week 4 and 10 where their ability of resonance and articulation will be critically assessed.

Week 1

The beginning of the course will cover basic alignment, breathing and phonation and various group exercise such as quizzes. Lectures will be accompanied by visual materials, such as DVD, pictures, and handouts to teach about fundamental aspects of resonance. The materials will cover, how vibrations are generated by vocal folds, and then amplified through the three resonators, pharyngeal, oral and nasal cavities. Voice exercise will be also included where students will experience and feel vibration in the body. Their listening skills will be also improved by many sound recordings that include animals, music theatre songs, authentic spoken voice, and the voice on the stage and are expected to identify vocal differences from given sources.

Week 2

The students will have practical sessions to experience primary resonators, pharyngeal, oral, and nasal cavities. Through these exercises, students will explore the relationships between resonators and voice qualities and the relationship between the pitch and the resonators. In addition, students will also explore the diversity of spaces which is caused by opening/closing the soft palate, change the tongue position and widening the back of the throat. This session will allow students to discover their optimum pitch and resonance. Once they are capable of finding their own resonance, sessions will focus on discussions about factors that can reduce and increase resonance and the importance of resonance in acting.

Week 3

Week 3 will focus on 'extreme character voices' through exercises that mimic animal sounds. Prior to exercises, students will get to explore bone conducted resonance, that involve releasing and feeling vibrations from face, head, chest, back and some other parts of body. Week 3 will have advanced exercises, which were done in week 2. In the animal exercises, students are expected to obtain their resonating skills, which is the level they feel comfortable at projecting sound and are capable of distinguishing ordinary spoken voice from stage performances. Students will be divided into the groups of four or five according to obtaining similar resonating patterns. Each group will be asked to come up with different character voices and animal sounds from films or recordings in the next session.

Week 4

This session will design 'get the students work'. Groups will create and present work that mimics the sounds they have brought. The group activity will enable students to work as a team and develop listening skills. The objectives of this session is to extend their knowledge from past three sessions and to study how sound is projected and to explore various sound and voice qualities in these area. They will also be critically evaluated after each group activities and presentations.

Week 5

This session will follow the progression from week 4. Students will be re-grouped and will be participating with different members. They will be expected to teach sounds to each other, and also explore new sounds. They will create the pieces with different sounds and are expected to give presentation. Following the session, students will have learned how to be interactive among groups, acknowledge the difference of resonance among them and be aware of possibilities to produce various vocals.

Week 6

Anatomical and physiological aspects of articulation will be focus on this session using handouts with pictures. The role of articulators will be illustrated, which involve the soft palate, tongue, lips, teeth, and jaw, and will be explained why muscular movement in these areas are important to actors. Students will have direct experiences with their own parts to understand how voice is projected. Linklater's exercise will be also included that focuses on effective vocal channels and articulators without any jaw tension. (Linklater 2006: 129-137). Students will be informed of final assessment in week 10 and asked to choose texts and a character based on previous work for a 3-minute presentation.

Week 7

This session will focus on 'vowels', examining open vowels to close vowels with pictures and practical exercises. Students will take time to feel various areas in tongue and mouth, and will be taught how to stretch and release muscular tension in mouth (Linklater 2006:139-160). Group exercises, will focus on how vowels are produced by various tongue positions , lateral and horizontal movements and explore diphthongs to change from a vowel to a vowel.

Week 8

Sustaining consonants will take in this session, starting with nasal consonants, which is relatively less tense than mouth. Nasal consonants exercises, will cover the soft palate movement with nasal consonants /ng/ and all vowels. The exercise will be based on Estill technique. Images that represent floating such as seaweed under the sea will be shown to mark the feature of sustained consonants. The session will also introduce the differences between the voice and voiceless sounds to understand consonants extensively. Students will be expected to deliver texts intellectually rather than emotionally at the end of the week.

Week 9

Un-sustained consonants will be focused in this session, which will cover musical instruments from Lessac'. At week 9, students will encounter different musical sounds and the requirement for rapid tongue movement in order to produce similar sound. Enjoyable and playful exercises will assist stress-free resonance and articulation training.

Week 10

This session will have individual presentation of text within 3 minutes, recited by a character students chose to portray. In 5 minutes individual presentation, each student will show how much they have improved their articulation, and explain his/her strength and weakness. Final discussion about areas of improvement for resonance and articulation and feedback about the course will be conducted.


This review has covered fundamental aspects of resonance and articulation and its importance in actors. The factors of resonance and articulation that influence-acting qualities directly are explained extensively, especially, the anatomical and physiological elements. With great theory behind resonance and articulation related to acting, one possible approach for an effective training for acting students is proposed. I believe my proposed 10-week acting course covers all necessary elements and is different from past programmes, which often lacks proper explanation, and have misinterpretation of principles behind resonance and articulation in acting. As a result, the objectives of my proposed training considers such limitations and are aimed to overcome them by allowing actors to fully understand their vocal ability initially and provide appropriate methods to increase their capabilities. It is important that actors acknowledge the various qualities of resonance and articulation and its development as mastering them will entitle them to many vocal choices.

As a voice teacher, it is important to have an access to all areas that involve vocal training as there are no limitations to new methods and development. Prospective strategies will be more creative and effective and possibly will result quicker achievement, which is beneficial for both students and the teachers.