How to voice a run-on sentence comfortably in a single breath
Aug 29 2017
So there you are, cruising along in a script, sounding natural and vocally free, and suddenly the Director stops you. You’ve been narrating in moderate-length phrases, taking breaths just often enough that you can sustain a comfortable delivery, not chopped up by too many breaths, yet not straining to finish a phrase. Now you’re told, “Don’t breathe during this phrase. Say it as one continuous statement, without pause, and don’t rush it. Oh, and keep the easy, natural sound.”
How do you deal with that?
Let’s back up … The rule of thumb in voice-over is to phrase the script in ways that don’t require you to strain. If you try to extend a phrase too far, yes, you might get the words out, but the listener might hear you straining to find the breath – no matter how expertly you try to hide it. But at the other extreme, that doesn’t mean you have to speak always in short choppy phrases. Even in a genre such as video narration, where relatively short phrasing is often the norm (so as to let the video play out and sink in), variety is the spice of authenticity.
Sure, the engineer could edit out a breath, but if the Director wanted to do that, she wouldn’t have asked you to take a shot at it. Or she may not have thought about it, or might not realize how easy such an edit usually is.
There might be a good reason for not pausing. For example (admittedly one contrived to avoid embarrassment), suppose the client insists that their advertising slogan not be broken up, and their slogan is:
“The place to go when you just don’t have the hang of
hassling with computers and today’s high-tech electronics.”
(This example is even more challenging because, look at all those H’s! An H sound uses more breath than average. See our footnote.*)
Take enough breath to begin with, so you can read without straining. Not a big breath every time, but before the line where you’ll need it. (And, as it happens, reading in a relaxed, strain-free manner itself allows you to read longer on a given amount of air.) For tips on this, and how to breathe as silently as possible, see our article, How to breathe well. It’s easy, and it isn’t(Parts 1 and 2). As that article explains, breathing from the diaphragm will help you get a full supply.
Important: Don’t confuse “breathing from the diaphragm” with “speaking from the diaphragm.” You can inhale using your full torso, yet (if you want) speak from your head. That way you won’t sound like a classical orator.
Before taking an unusually full breath, exhale first. This opens your throat and also removes a bit of stale air. But it will take an extra moment of time, so it might call for post-processing (editing out or minimizing the breath). But at least the cut can be in a more natural place. Otherwise, you can minimize inhalation noise by turning your head away from the mic.
Include this sometimes in your daily practice session. Like many other habits in voice acting – such as enunciation – when you’ve practiced breath control enough that it becomes second nature, you can focus on something else – namely the matter of being the narrator or character you’ve chosen to be.
Fast-paced patter-song lyricists keep phonics mind. As Lin-Manuel Miranda explained, regarding Stephen Sondheim’s song “Getting Married Today” (as in this scene from “Company” with Madeline Kahn), on the NPR program Fresh Air:
“It’s also in a masterclass in making a lyric easy. There are consonants on which you waste air. H – there’s no H’s in that because if you say (imitating H sound), you’ve lost half the air in your lungs. So it’s very T’s and P’s. … It’s more about breath control … about being able to say it in one continuous breath and getting out of the way and choosing words that do not require any extra air or any extra tongue or jaw work.
Miranda says he followed these principles when writing ” Guns and Ships” for “Hamilton.” May the authors of your scripts always be so kind. (Wink)
How to breathe well. It’s easy, and it isn’t.
8 Voice-over diction guidelines for voice actors.
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