Designing a voice for a character

LESSON 3—Designing a voice for a character


Educational Objective: Students will choose a character from a fairy tale and design a vocal pattern for them using the various qualities of voice and animal imagery.



  • Clip of any appropriate interview with Ralph Fiennes
  • Clip of Lord Voldemort in the graveyard in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (starts with “Welcome my friends.  Thirteen years it’s been…”)
  • Picture of the Dragon from BBC’s
  • Picture of a wrinkled old man 
  • Lesson 3.Pictures



Hook: Today we are going to do an energy circle.  This is where everyone stands in a circle and once person starts by doing some kind of action and a vocal thing (this could be saying a line or making a funny sound).  The person on their left then does the same thing and it carries down through the circle.  It is like doing the wave.  Once the action and sound come back to the person who first did it, the person on their left starts a new one and it then travels like the wave through the circle.  This continues until everyone has had a turn coming up with something for the circle to do.  However, this time their vocal action must be animal based.  Moo, bark, etc.  It is ok if there are repeats, but try to help them come up with a variation on it instead of doing the exact same thing


Before you start ask them to look for the qualities of each sound (pitch and rate).


Step: Did  you hear some interesting sounds?  Which?  What were they like?  What do you think that animal would sound like if they were speaking English?  What qualities would their voice have?


Step: Explain that in order to create an interesting voice, we must know who our character is first.  Sometimes actors will take one personality trait from their characters and build their voice around it.  This often happens in fairy tales or when the character is an animal or has animalistic traits.


Step: Review tone, pitch, and rate with them.  Since last class period have they heard any unusual or interesting voices?


Step: Tell them that they are going to hear examples of how changes in these qualities can create a vocal pattern for a specific character.   Ask them: “If you were playing a character who was described as a snake, what changes would you make to your voice to get it to sound snake-like?”  Have them discuss their ideas with a neighbor. 


Play a clip from an interview with Ralph Fiennes so they can hear his normal speaking voice (only let them hear the audio so they will focus on the voice).  Tell them that the next sound clip is the same person, but he has made changes to his voice to create his character who is described as a snake.  Play a clip from Harry Potter where he is playing Lord Voldemort, who is snake-like, clip (only audio).  What were the changes they heard?  How does it sound more snake-like than before?  Make sure to point out that he may have created a voice that was different than what they would have done.  If he did, it is ok.  Actors and designers often make different choices for similar ideas)


Step: Show a picture of the dragon from Merlin. NOTE: Don’t tell them it’s from that show, it might taint their design ideas.  Ask them: What characteristics would an old dragon have? Have the students list on the board ideas that they have about his characteristics ( the dragon is old, wise, big!) Have a student act as scribe and write what they all come up with on the board.


Ask them: Given the characteristics you listed, what do you think his voice would sound like? (let them refer to their scales from lesson one) Would they sound angry or dangerous? Soft? Gruff? High? Low? Fast?


Introduce the clip of the dragon by explaining again, that the following is just one interpretation of what a dragon’s voice could sound like. Play the clip (audio and visual, any Merlin scene will do wherein Merlin speaks with the dragon) for them to see and hear the qualities of the voice. 


Step: We can also work the other way round. Show a picture of an old man.  Ask them: what personality traits or characteristics might this person have?  What animal do those traits remind you of?


Step:  Explain that they will now get to practice changing their voices for a specific character by picking a person or animal from a fairy tale and designing a voice for them.  Divide them into groups and assign the groups a fairy tale.


Step:  Have them decide on a character and let them refer to the scales they used in Lesson One to help them decide what qualities they will give their voice.  (They should be looking at rate, pitch, tone, and diction.)  They need to be prepared to introduce themselves to someone while using their new voice.  Give them about 10 minutes to work on this (check on their progress about half way through and allow them to brainstorm in their groups).


Step: Have the students circle up together.  Have them go around the circle and use their new voices to introduce themselves and their characters to the group.  Explain that they must use the form of the slate to do it: “My name is The Big Bad Wolf and I’m being played by Emily Feveryear.”