Parts of the Voice

Lesson 1: Parts of the Voice

Length: 70 min.

Objective:Students will demonstrate an emerging understanding of vocal technique by charting human anatomy, miniature exercises, and a game which practices projection.

Levels of Understanding:

apply, self-knowledge, explain

National Standards:

TH:Pr5.1.7.a. Participate in a variety of acting exercises and techniques that can be applied in a rehearsal or drama/theatre performance.

Materials Needed:

Whiteboard and dry erase markers.

Student-created monster example of anatomy chart

Auditorium or theatre space.

Prewritten quiz questions and answers


Have the outline of a human body with a reptilian head drawn on the white board. As students ask why the image is on the board, tell them it has to do with what we’re learning today, but do not give them real answers. Tell them to take their seats and you’ll explain later.

Step 1:

Have the students get out paper and pen for a pop quiz of 5 questions worth 100 points. It doesn’t matter which questions you ask, as this pop quiz secretly will not count on the students’ grade. However, you should pick questions the students will definitely know the answers to.

As you administer the quiz do so only orally. None of the questions you say should be intelligible, as you will not use diction nor projection. You may also rush through a question, speaking very quickly. When the students get frustrated or treat the assignment as a joke, reassure them that they are likely doing great and that the quiz is worth 100 points.

Have the students exchange to grade papers. Restate the questions, this time clearly and intelligibly. After the students have received their scores have them pass the papers up and in, thanking them for giving their best efforts, pretending that you will grade them. Then with dramatic flair, hold up all the papers and drop them into the recycling. That is, after all where this quiz should go.

Step 2:

Ask the students why that quiz should be in the trash. Discuss why clear speaking is important in life in general and in theatre. Inform the students that in this unit, they will be learning about the voice. This will help them in their acting, so their performances avoid belonging in the rubbish. It will also help them effectively communicate their opinions, beliefs, and feelings in real life.

Step 3:

Bring the students’ attention to the outline on the whiteboard. Before students can use their voices, they must first have an understanding of human (or even monster) anatomy. Have the class name the monster drawn on the board.

Step 4:

Have all the students get out a piece of paper and draw the monster outline. They will use this diagram to chart a simplified, human, vocal anatomy. One student will come up to the white board and be the scribe, then another, one scribe for each body part. All students will receive credit for their personally-drawn diagrams.

Step 5:

Walk the students through the anatomy in the chart below, completing each physical or vocal exercise with each body part and corresponding use or definition. Map each item on the monster’s body as a class, having the scribes come up to draw and chart in writing.

Body Part




When straight and relaxed, enables good posture for better use of lungs and diaphragm and better air flow. The spine extends from the tailbone to the skull, flowing through the back and neck.

Have the students get in golf stance, drop their bodies and slowly roll their spines upward, as though a string were coming out of the top of their heads. Have them loosen their shoulder blades by rolling them and gently roll their necks. Doing so will release neck tension, and allow for proper spinal alignment.


Lungs hold the air.

No exercise.


The tube which connects the lungs to the mouth.

No exercise.


Pushes air in the lungs. Using the diaphragm enables for increased projection and sustained breathing.

Have the students breath, making the chest expand and contract. Have them make “ha” noises. Now have them fill their core and stomach instead, again making “ha” noises. Notice the difference in power.

Vocal Folds

Vibrate 100-1000 times per second to create sound as air travels through them.

Have the students hum and talk, placing their hands on the front sides of their throat. Can they feel their vocal chords vibrating?


Also known as a voice box or Adam’s apple. Protects the voice while swallowing. Singing with a raised larynx will cause damage to the voice and result in poor technique.

Have the students swallow. Can they feel their larynx raise and drop? Sometimes people will raise their larynx to hit high notes or swallow their larynx to hit low notes. This is bad. Notes can be hit with practice and proper, relaxed air flow.


Allows for airflow while the mouth is closed.

No exercise.


Jaws should be loose and relaxed when speaking. Clenched jaws cause physical stress. We move our jaws when we speak.

Can the students speak with their jaws tightly closed? Have the students yawn. Opening and loosening the jaw allows for more air to enter and exit the body.


Helps control vibrato and helps your body know when it is getting a dry throat


Soft Palate

Helps control the sounds you make. Lifting the soft palate enables your voice to carry and have good resonance.

Have the students inhale on a “Kaah noise” to raise their palates. Then have them speak, visualizing the sound spinning out and up along the spine, arching up and over into the nasal cavaties then through the front of the face.

Hard Palate

The hard ridge in front of your soft palate.

No exercise.


Used in forming words and sounds

Ask the student what sounds they make with their lips. Can they say “Maybe I’d better eat a fantastic mushroom or another vegetable” without using their lips?


Used in forming words and sounds

Have the students make “t”, and “d” sounds. Have them share what their tongue and teeth do. Their tongues should be pressing against the aveolar ridge just behind the teeth. What other sounds rely on the teeth? Have them try talking as though they had no teeth, and had lost their dentures.


Used in forming words

Have the students stick out their tongues. What sounds rely on the tongue? Can they speak without their tongue?


Step 6:

There are two more terms the students must know in vocal production: diction and projection. On their papers, have them write “Diction is the clarity of your words.” Diction is aided by the teeth, tongue, and lips. Next class, they will begin to practice diction and other exercises necessary to their puppet performance, but today they will learn about the second term: projection.

Step 7:

Have the students turn their papers in and move their things to the auditorium. Have them take a seat anywhere they like. Speak to them, projecting from the stage. Inform them how the word on the street is that when Guys and Dolls was first casting in New York, the casting directors had each actor speak from stage without a microphone while the casting directors sat in the back of the theatre. The casting directors were looking for people who could project, as the show required a loud, brash cast. Demonstrate speaking like Nathan or Adelaide. While not every show involves loud New Yorkers, the principle is the same: actors must project to be heard.

Step 8*:

Students will play the following game. One by one, the students will come onstage and give their name while projecting. This allows the teacher to coach them how to use their diaphragm. After the student has said their name, the class (who is still scattered throughout the auditorium) will begin to talk freely and loudly. The student onstage will then give the class attention call, not shouting but projecting, aiming their voice up and into the places of the theatre designed for good acoustics. They will be coached by the teacher as they do this. When the other students can hear the call they will respond and be silent. Once the entire class is silent, a new player stands onstage.

After so many students, to avoid unnecessary boredom, have partnerships come up. Attention calls may change. Eventually, the entire class can go onstage and call for the teacher (who could then be in the auditorium) to stop singing and listen.

*Note: Not only does this exercise help students learn how to safely project, it helps them learn to listen and what it is like to be the teacher and call for attention!


Student-created example of a simplified anatomy chart for a monster named Sophia:

 (see link under materials above)