Understanding volume

This is how loud or quiet your voice is. Varying volume is important to communicate a range of emotions and situations. Anger or excitement might be communicated with a loud volume while fear could be shown by using a quiet voice.

Volume is important in a large theatre auditorium. An actor needs to be able to project their voice but still keep connected to the emotional truth of the character. This depends upon good breathing, so breathing exercises to ensure the voice is supported will help. If you simply shout without producing the voice properly, the sound will catch in your throat and you will experience vocal problems, such as loss of voice or a sore throat.

Remember you don’t need to ‘shout’ to be heard but the audience needs to hear you. This clip from the BBC’s production, When Romeo Met Juliet, shows actor Adrian Lester explaining the importance of projecting your voice in the theatre.

Tone

Tone of voice is its ‘colour’ or emotional quality. A mother may speak to an upset young child in a soothing tone of voice, but if the child is misbehaving, the mother might use a stern tone of voice to ensure she’s obeyed. The child recognises what is communicated through the tone of voice as much as the words themselves.

When performing a scene you must identify the emotion of your character at each given moment. You must make sure that your tone of voice matches the character’s mood and what you need to communicate about their feelings. Although we each have a distinctive way of speaking we vary vocal tone considerably to make ourselves understood.

Vocal tone exercises

Practise speaking the line below using the suggested vocal tones and note the difference in intonation and emotion.

Why did you come here?

  • A bitter tone of voice
  • An accusatory tone of voice
  • A frightened tone of voice
  • An angry tone of voice
  • A curious tone of voice
  • A surprised tone of voice

Pitch

Pitch describes the degree of highness or lowness of a vocal tone. For example, when a person is excited or nervous their pitch may become higher. If a person is trying to control emotion or expressing something serious or confidential they might use a low pitched voice.

Practise using a range of notes in your voice so that your voice is flexible and expressive. A voice that is all on one note is in monotone and unless this is a character decision, it can be very boring to listen to.