Start low, breath correctly
As a Vietnamese voice artist, your breath comes from the descending of your diaphragm, the floor between your lungs and heart and your abdominal cavity where you have a bunch of more slimy organs like the pancreas, spleen, and stomach. As the diaphragm pulls down, it creates low pressure inside your lungs, which sucks in the air. When you breathe out, the diaphragm pushes back up, expelling the air. Your lungs don’t contract and expand by themselves. Too often people try to suck air in by lifting their shoulders, but if the diaphragm doesn’t move, you don’t breath. And your breath is what vibrates your vocal chords, so nothing vocal happens without it.
Exercise: Find a counter or sturdy table that is about as high as 2-3 inches above your belly button. Lean on it so that your weight is resting on your stomach. Using only the force of your diaphragm, breathe in enough so that your entire body is pushed back. Think of it as a push-up by breathing.
Your lips polish the sounds that your vocal chords have created. Lips are also a direct extension of your jaw and cheek muscles. Speaking clearly and at the appropriate volume requires muscle development in order to move your lips properly. You can’t exactly do pull ups with your lips, but the good news is you don’t need to. Lips are about flexibility and endurance.
Exercise: Have you ever tried to play the trumpet or another horn instrument? Put your lips together and buzz them forcefully, enough so that you’re making a mouth trumpet sound. Now fluctuate between a higher pitched sound (faster buzzing) and a lower pitched sound (slower buzzing). Stand in front of a mirror. When you’re buzzing as fast as possible, your lips should look like a blur in front of your face. Using your breathing exercises, try to buzz your lips as long as possible before running out of breath. Use a timer to measure your progress.
Rotate the tongue
Aside from your vocal chords, your tongue is probably the second most important speech organ. It shapes all of your words and syllables. It’s what gets in the way when you get tripped up by a tongue twister. The tongue is a muscle like the lips and diaphragm. Making it stronger and more agile will make you a stronger and more agile voice actor.
Exercise: The tongue helicopter. Take your tongue and move it around the part of your mouth that’s outside your teeth but inside your lips. Make a full circle. When you’re standing in front of the mirror, you will be able to see the bump of your tongue run around the bottom of your mouth by your chin and the top of your mouth under your nose. Now just like a helicopter taking off, speed up the rotation. Once you’ve gotten a good speed, change direction. You’ll gain both strength and control.
Go for endurance
The vocal chords need to be strengthened as well, but you have to be careful to start slowly and move your way up. Your vocal chords are one of the most sensitive parts of your body, and injuring them could mean saying goodbye to your dream career of voice acting. The best way to start is to read out loud, but just reading without tracking what you’re doing is not going to help you improve.
Exercise: Read for half an hour straight – out loud – with a decibel meter. Cut each passage into 500 words and time yourself. How long did it take you to read those 500 words? Now, for the next 500 words, read at exactly that same speed again, don’t let yourself go faster or slower. The decibel meter will make sure that you are keeping a consistent volume. If your volume starts to drop off towards the end of the passage, it means that you aren’t breathing correctly. When you’ve got this exercise down, move on to more difficult passages. Pull out an old copy of Nathaniel Hawthorne or Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and try navigating very complex sentences. If you can find your breathing and sustain your energy in one of those famous, paragraph-long sentences, you’re on the right track.
Work on your silences
As a Vietnamese voice actor, silences are critical. Not only do they make it easy for editing after the fact, but they are moments that control the rhythm and they are when you breathe! Humans have a tendency to occupy all silences. In fact when we speak, our phrases are continuous sounds that our brain deciphers into different wordsand meanings. Punctuation is your friend. Commas and periods should be noticeable; they are there for a reason!
Exercise: Record yourself speaking with a program where you can see the recording waveform like GarageBand or Audacity. The wider the amplitude of the waveform, the more sound you were making. When there is no amplitude between the wider parts, just a flat line, you completed a perfect silence. Your waveform should have perfect silences regularly through the recording. If you start to see fewer and fewer silences towards the end of your recording, it means that you were rushing.
Sing a variety of music
Getting out of your comfort zone is probably the most fun of all voice over exercises. Singing is a great way to work on endurance, breathing, and different voice ranges. A lot can be said about your talents if you can sing Barry White and Beyoncé side by side! Singing has the added benefit of having a built-in rhythm, which will naturally rub off on you the longer you sing.
Exercise: Get out your headphones and listen to a song you like in front of the lyrics. Then, turn on your microphone and get ready to record. Now, sing the song along with the version playing in your headphones. Once it’s done, go back and listen to your recording. Sure, it might sound absolutely terrible, but the idea is to identify where you can improve. In this voice over exercise, your capacity to understand how you sound is key to being a voice actor, and it’s often easier to do that when you’re comparing yourself to a song than comparing a voice recording to how you think it should sound.
The beauty of these exercises is that they all build upon each other. It’s impossible to forget about one piece of the puzzle, because if you do, you won’t progress with the other parts. Voice acting in Vietnamese is a challenging career that requires you to perform at your absolute best. Remember the guy at the gym: he’s always there, and he’s always grunting, but he is unquestionably the strongest one.