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Voice and Acting Coach Patsy Rodenburg.

Voice and acting coach Patsy Rodenburg. (“ROH-den-burg”) She’s worked with some of the world’s leading English-speaking actors, including Judi Dench, Daniel Day-Lewis, Maggie Smith and Nicole Kidman. Her new book is “The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer.” (St. Martin’s Press) Rodenburg is the Director of Voice at London’s National Theatre and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. “The Actor Speaks” is a complete vocal workshop for performers of every skill level.


Other segments from the episode on November 27, 2000

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, November 27, 2000: Interview with Patsy Rodenburg; Review of the album "The Jimi Hendrix Experience."


DATE November 27, 2000 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Patsy Rodenburg discusses her techniques for training

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

When you're nervous or self-conscious, it often affects your voice. That's
one reason why Patsy Rodenburg is often in the wings coaching actors on
opening nights. Patsy Rodenburg is a vocal coach who has worked with many
leading British actors, including Ralph Fiennes, Sir Ian McKellen, Judi Dench,
Maggie Smith, Trevor Nunn and Daniel Day-Lewis. Rodenburg is the director of
voice at London's Royal National Theatre and the Guildhall School of Music &

But she doesn't work just with actors. She's trained public speakers of every
sort from teachers to politicians. After writing two books about the voice
for a wide-ranging audience, she's just written a new book directed toward
actors called "The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer." I asked here what
kind of work she does with actors backstage to help them prepare for

Ms. PATSY RODENBURG (Author, "The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer"):
There are certain things that can happen to people when they're very
stressful. A lot of the listeners will feel it. It's not only the actors.
But if you get very nervous, you tend to lift out of your body. What I mean
by that is the shoulders start to come up, the jaw might tighten. And if that
happens, you just stop breathing. In fact, if you just lift your shoulders
now and you try that, it's quite hard to get the breath in. If you can't get
the breath in, you've got no power. You can't think. You can't feel. So
that needs to be centered, which means maybe a lot of releasing across the
soldiers. The upper chest where the sternum is--people get very tight there.

This is completely unnatural for the human body, but that's the sort of stress
we put on ourselves. And when that happens, the breath fails. And within
about three or four minutes of trying to use your voice, your voice begins to
diminish. So people will say to me--it's rather moving, actually. They say,
`I'm much more interesting than I sound.' And it's because their voice is
being trapped, because ...(technical difficulties). Well, I personally
believe that everyone has a fantastic voice.

GROSS: Can you give us an example of a couple of the warm up kind of the
exercises you'll give actors to do right before a performance to warm up their
voice, to get them breathing in a relaxed way, in a deep way?

Ms. RODENBURG: I would start by checking in on their body. I would check in
the placing of their head, their shoulders, the release of the shoulders, the
spine. When you get very nervous, a lot of people might collapse through the
spine. As soon as that happens, the voice tightens, the breath stops. The
way you stand is terribly important. You see, a lot of what I'm talking about
is about subliminal communication. I would say to anybody long before
somebody speaks you know whether you're going to listen to them--so the body,
centering the body, stretching the rib cage. You know, there are certain
parts of the body that gets very rusty very quickly. The rib cage will go
within about three or four days of not working it. So this area around the
center of the body has to be kept flexible and strong to power the voice.

GROSS: Can you demonstrate a couple of the vocal warm ups?

Ms. RODENBURG: Well, after getting the breath into place and getting the
breath underneath the voice so that the voice is being used with a breath,
you start to warm up the voice. You start very gentle humming, very
simple--(humming)--all over the place, just beginning to get the voice
warming up. And when it warms up, it begins to feel--it doesn't splutter. If
you try that first thing in the morning, it's splutters, so you basically get
the voice motoring. You then warm up resonators, the amplifier of the voice,
the head, the nose, the face, the throat, the chest. You then warm up a range
of the voice.

Now all this work--the image I always give to actors is I want them to know
the work so well that they can forget it. So you have to get all this going
in order for them not to think about their voice on stage. I don't want them
to think about their voice.

GROSS: How do you warm up the resonators in your head?

Ms. RODENBURG: Well, if you put your hand on your head and you hum right up
there--(humming)--you start to get a buzz up there, and the whole voice begins
to lift. And if you hum into your nose, you'll feel a buzz
there--(humming)--the quality will change. And as the voice warm ups, you can
get stronger and stronger with these exercises.

GROSS: You know, you point out that when we talk about singers, we praise
them for having a big range--`Oh, she can sing two octaves, three octaves.'
But we kind of forget about that with speech. And you say most people just
speak across, say, three notes when they could be speaking across several

Ms. RODENBURG: Absolutely. And organically, if we get excited about an idea
or passionately connected to a feeling, the voice wants to move. It's that
the voice has been closed down. We all come into the world with this
magnificent instrument. I must work on a voice for maybe 50 hours a
week--voices. It never ceases to amaze me how extraordinary the human voice
is, but most of us don't use it.

GROSS: Is there a way you could give me an example of the difference between
speaking on, say, three different notes and then using the full range of the
voice to speak?

Ms. RODENBURG: Well, if I just now closed down my voice, you know, you can
hear me, but really nothing's really going on, is it? I mean, I'm now just
sort of droning on. Now--this is very naughty of me, but some people use it
as a technique to put people to sleep so that they get their way, you know?
You can just drone on and on and on. But if you actually want to speak about
something that matters to you, naturally the voice would move. I mean, it's
get excited. I mean, my voice moves. Your voice moves when you get animated.
That's the human voice.

GROSS: Well, are there exercises that you give people to help them use their
full range when they're speaking?

Ms. RODENBURG: The first exercise would just be to simply stretch it--not
sing, but just come down through your range on a glide--(makes noises). You
just start doing something that simple. Now what most people'll start to
notice when they do that are their little breaks or blips. And that means
that the voice has got tension in certain places. So we might not know that
break or blip is there, but unconsciously, we do know that so we don't use
our voice in that place. So some people will say to me, `I've got two voices.
I've got my top voice and my bottom voice,' and in between is a break. So the
first stage is to stretch the voice out, to absolutely get it free and then
dare use it. So I would make people--not only actors, but people who have to
command attention in any field of life, I would make them speak using that
range until they feel that they can. And then you want to say to them, `Now
that it has worked out, forget it,' and the voice will sound more interesting.
It will perk up.

GROSS: Now you point out in your new book that many singers are frightened of
speaking and many speakers are frightened of singing, and that those two
voices rarely meet and overlap with ease. You say there's often a grinding of
vocal gears as a singer moves into speaking or a speaker into singing. Why is

Ms. RODENBURG: I think it's because they've been taught that there is a
speaking voice and a singing voice as opposed to a whole voice. If you go
into some cultures in the world, they don't have that fear. I've recently
been in Soweto teaching Zulus, and there isn't a notion that somebody can't
sing. People sing, and, therefore, the singing voice is used.

Many singers know they've worked their voice very particularly, sometimes
seven hours a day--just the singing voice--and they don't necessarily feel
that connects to the speaking voice. So you will often hear a singer
introduce a sing, you know, maybe in a recital and they become inaudible
because they don't realize that speaking requires work in the same way as
singing. A fantastic exercise that will link the voice is intoning. It's
something I would ask anyone to do if they want to open up their voice.

GROSS: What's the exercise?

Ms. RODENBURG: (Singing tonally) One, two, three--(in normal voice) you
know, just in tone, just keep a very steady, fluent sound coming out of--and
it sounds very odd. Some people get very embarrassed, but (singing tonally)
one, two, three, four. (In normal voice) And as you start to do that, the
voice begins to motor. If you then drop into speaking from intoning, you
often get a very strong speaking voice. So it would be something like
(singing tonally) one, two, three, (in normal voice) four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten, as opposed to--(in a hushed tone) most of us sort of do this
sort of speaking when--a lot of singers, they will pull back. But if they can
tap into their singing power and make a transition, actually on the same
breath--which is a trick--it shocks them into it. The spoken voice begins to
be like the singing voice. And if you're a speaker that wants to sing, the
intoning can take you into singing.

GROSS: Would that happen in the reverse way, where you start speaking and
then start singing?

Ms. RODENBURG: Yes, you can do that.

GROSS: Would you do that?

Ms. RODENBURG: (Speaking tonally) One, two, three, four, (singing tonally)
five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. (In normal voice) And it's just getting
the voice going without judgment. One of the terrible bags we all carry--we
have this really heavy-duty judgment about our voices. You've just got to
play with them. They liked to be used, you know? You might have to make some
very strange sounds as long as you don't feel that they're pushing or hurting
your voice. If you use your voice, it's going to get better. Even if you
warm up your voice for three minutes before a huge meeting, you are going to
perform better.

GROSS: You know, I think it's particularly true of a lot of women that they
speak in one octave and then sing much higher than that.


GROSS: Why is that?

Ms. RODENBURG: This is very complex, but I'll try and explain it simply.
Most women, with their bodies--it starts in the bodies--close down their
bodies. They tighten around their bodies. They stand with their feet
together. They clamp their thighs. All those physical constrictions stop the
breath. And so when they speak, the voice is actually tighter than it should
be. Now it just so happens that at the particular moment we live in, the whim
of fashion is to have a lower voice. (Speaking in deeper tone) So a lot of
women, in order to get power, push their voices down, you know, there, (in
normal voice) so that when they start to sing, the voice begins to jump up
away from the tension. The pushing down on the voice is another form of
tension. But put that with all the sort of physical squeezing that a lot of
women do in their bodies, you know, tightening the shoulders, tightening the
waist and everything, holding the stomach in--you need to release your stomach
in order to use your voice. This is very hard for people when they feel that
they have to hold their stomach in. But if you open those tensions and just
try using your voice, the voice will change.

GROSS: My guest is vocal coach Patsy Rodenburg. Her new book is called "The
Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer." We'll talk more after a break. This

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Patsy Rodenburg. She heads the
voice department at Britain's Royal National Theatre and London's Guildhall
School of Speech & Drama. She has a new book called "The Actor Speaks: Voice
for the Performer." But she not only works with performers, she works with
people in prisons, with politicians, with teachers, with lots of people who
have to speak, which we all do.

Do you work with people about finding the natural placement of their voice or
the natural range of their voice?

Ms. RODENBURG: Absolutely.

GROSS: How do you find that?

Ms. RODENBURG: That's where I stop.

GROSS: How do you find that?

Ms. RODENBURG: You start, again, by releasing useless tensions in the body.
You then concentrate on getting the breath into the body. Most of us don't
take our full breath. We don't feel the breath enter right the way down
into the lower abdominal area. So that's the first series of habits.

We all come into the world with this fantastic voice. If you listen to a baby
cry, tiny little vocal folds. The voice goes on and on, this amazing range,
and gradually it closes down. This is my philosophy: If the voice is free
and is not trapped and is powered by the breath, it will go where it wants to
go, and also at that moment, you will find that you have a center to your
voice, which is what you're born with. The voice has a particular note. We
can extend away from that, but most people today don't speak with their free
voice. They speak with a lot of tension in their voice. So the whole of the
work start--if I'm training young actors, that takes about a year to find
their natural voice as opposed to what I call their habitual voice, the habits
that we've gather that clutter the voice.

GROSS: And is there an exercise you'd give an actor to help them find what
their most comfortable or most natural speaking range is?

Ms. RODENBURG: Yes. I would isolate what they tend to do to stop
themselves. I mean, the worse thing you can do to your voice--and you see it
on chat shows. You see it in those sort of trial shows that you have in
America--is to push the voice, because that--you think you're being
authoritative, but you're actually blocking your voice and it hurts. If ever
your voice is uncomfortable, if it tires, if it hurts after using it, you're
in some way doing some damage. And that is--normally, most people push their
voice. So, you know, a lot of actors think that if you just shout, you'll be
heard. Well, it's very interesting. You can often hear a voice, but if
you're shouting, people will not listen to it.

(Speaking in hushed voice) A lot of people do this, you know? This is what I
call--it's actually devoicing. When I do this, I'm using half my vocal folds.
I'm not using my whole voice, and this is very tiring. I call it--it's a bit
naughty of me, but I call it `the caring voice.' I was doing a lecture
recently in London to the Freud Society, and I was doing these voices. And I
looked at all of them when I was doing them and suddenly realized that I'd
done the therapist voice, you know. This is this voice, which is, `I'm really
listening. I'm really'--but in fact, it's actually--if you just do that for a
bit, anybody, you can feel that the voice begins to tighten.

(In normal voice) So those sorts of habits are maybe fashions. So I unlock
that habit and then get the voice completely without--you shouldn't feel the
voice. The first thing you should feel is that the voice leaves you, the word
has left you. So I would use, maybe, very gentle `ooh' sound. The human
voice works like an arc, it's up and out. So I would get somebody to look at
a point just above eye line and very gently send a sound there, like (makes
ooh sound), and eventually, they begin to feel that there's no pressure in the
throat at all. The voice just leaves. If they feel this pressure, there's
the oldest trick in the book, which is to think of a yawn. And as you think
of a yawn, the throat opens and the voice escapes.

Now I know you can't speak yawning, but it's a way of beginning to feel the
freedom. And as soon as the voice gets free, not only do you have more
options and the voice will move more organically, but people listen to you. I
mean, your voice is very free. That's why people listen to you. But you
know, you hear a lot of people with tension in their voice, even very small
bits of tension, almost put a barrier between the speaker and the listener.

GROSS: Can you do that yawn thing that you're talking about?

Ms. RODENBURG: Well, if I just think--in fact, actually, it was how they used
to train actors about 80 years ago, you know, (in different tone of voice) to
speak on the edge of a yawn, which is why they all sounded like that, you
know. (In normal voice) But we can't do that anymore, nor should we, because
it sounds odd. But if you just start (yawns)--it's a very good warm up
exercise--if you start just speaking on the edge of yawn, the throat begins to
open, breath comes in freer because there's no blockage in the throat. If
you then just take yourself into speaking thinking of that yawn, the voice
starts to feel easy, effortless, effortless.

GROSS: What is it that enables an actor to project in a large theater without

Ms. RODENBURG: A free voice, something that I call support, which is the
breath underneath the voice, getting the breath in and then underneath the
voice so it's actually powering the voice. Here's a very simple, again, what
I call a cheap trick. If you push against a wall gently and keep your
shoulders free and you begin to breathe, you will feel your breath engage
lower muscles in the body, muscles in the abdominal area. And if you then,
very gently, speak with that push, your voice will suddenly get much more
clearer and powerful.

The next stage is to allow the word to leave you. Now that sounds very odd,
but if you want to be heard even on a microphone, the voice has to be finished
outside you. So people do a lot of swallowing, you know, if I pull back my
voice now I just pull it back, you know. I don't finish the word. You've got
to breathe, support, keep the voice free and define the word in space. You
don't need to be loud. You can be very clear in space as long as those three
things are in place.

GROSS: The exercise we were talking about where you're pushing against the

Ms. RODENBURG: Mm-hmm.

GROSS:, I guess, connect with your breath, is that...

Ms. RODENBURG: Yes. And you then speak with the outward breath, with that
power coming through your body and supporting the voice. Actually, you can do
it in a meeting. You're being bullied. Somebody's getting at you. Even if
you put your hand on a desk and just push into that desk, the breath will drop
into the body. You will take tension away from the shoulders, which will
always weaken your voice. You've got no chance, really, to communicate
effectively if there's tension in the shoulders. I mean, if you just push
against the desk and breathe, the voice begins--the breath begins to settle in
the body and then you have the power.

I'll tell you, I've got these things from natural releases of the body. I
mean, you have those tabloid press headlines that say things like, 85-year-old
Woman Lifts Car Off Husband. I mean, she did it by breathing low. She found
that strength because of need, and that's the other thing that a great
communicator has. They have need and they have passion. You've got to want
to communicate. In fact, you've got to believe that communicating is an act
of grace, that you're actually giving words to people. You're not holding
them. You're not squashing them in your body. You're giving out.

GROSS: Patsy Rodenburg's new book is called "The Actor Speaks: Voice and the
Performer." Rodenburg will be back in the second half of the show.

Let's close this half-hour with Angela Lansbury from the British cast
recording of "Gypsy." Lansbury will be our guest tomorrow. I'm Terry Gross,
and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite from British cast recording of "Gypsy")

Ms. ANGELA LANSBURY: (Singing) Some people can get a thrill knitting sweaters
and sitting still. That's OK for some people who don't know they're alive.
Some people can thrive and bloom living life in the living room. That's
perfect for some people of 105. But I at least got to try when I think of all
the sites that I got to see and the places I got to play, all the things that
I got to be. And come on, Papa, what do you say? Some people can be content
playing bingo and paying rent. That's peachy for some people, for some
hum-drum people to be. But some people ain't me.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. LANSBURY: (Singing) I had a dream, a wonderful dream, Papa. All about
June and the ...(unintelligible) circuit. Give me a chance and I know I can
work it. I had a dream, just as real as can be, Papa.


GROSS: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, coaching women politicians. We continue our conversation
with vocal coach Patsy Rodenburg, and Milo Miles reviews a new Jimi Hendrix
collection containing mostly previously unreleased material.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with vocal coach Patsy
Rodenburg. She heads the voice departments at Britain's Royal National
Theatre and London's Guildhall School of Speech & Drama. She's worked with
many of Britain's leading actors, including Ian Holm and Judi Dench, Maggie
Smith and Daniel Day-Lewis. Her new book is called "The Actor Speaks: Voice
and the Performer."

I know sometimes when I'm watching a show, some of the women in the show speak
in a voice that I would guess is much higher than their real speaking voice.


GROSS: And it's a very theatrical voice, and it seems maybe closer to the
voice that they sing in, than the one that they speak in. And when that
happens, I find it unnatural sounding.

Ms. RODENBURG: And it's off-putting, isn't it?

GROSS: Yeah, it is. It's false.

Ms. RODENBURG: Again, I go back to the body and the release of the body. I
think you can create a clear voice in the space by using upper harmonics in
the voice, i.e., head resonators, which women have more naturally than men, so
the voice can carry. But what you're describing is that there's probably no
underneath of the voice. You don't feel that there is a power or a resonance
underneath. Because we can hear sometimes pitch, and get it mixed up with the
idea of resonance. So, for instance, if you're hearing those very high
voices, next time that happens, if you look at the speaker, you'll probably
see a lot of tension in the upper chest. As they're speaking, the upper chest
is lifting, so they're using not much power. They're relying on their head
voices to carry sound rather than the lower breath to carry sound, and at the
same time, the upper chest is blocking off all the lower resonators of the
chest, so it becomes an imbalanced voice and it's ascetically--actually, you
know, we could go into political issues here. Many women believe that voice
is more appealing, and they have habits of...

GROSS: Which voice?

Ms. RODENBURG: Well, the higher voice. A lot of women--I mean, I know it's
changed recently, but you still get women who use those little voices, you
know, their sort of pleasing voices. I'll tell you a little story of a
student of mine at the moment in London, and she came in, and she's just one
of those little bitty English girls that does, you know, does a lot of
fidgeting and a lot of head moving, and she had this little voice, you know,
and it wasn't her voice. But she had all the tensions I'm talking about.
But, you know, she spoke like that. And as we started to work and she started
to find the fuller range of her voice, she said a very wise thing to me. She
came in to my studio and she said, `You see, Patsy, when I use my centered
voice, Daddy doesn't give me 50 pounds.' Now if you think about it, she's
learned that that sort of voice appeals to him. And my answer to her, you
know, education is about choice. I said, `Look, you know, you can always go
back to that voice. I just need you to develop your whole voice. You've
developed a bit of your voice and you've got a series of habits that are very
useful to you, survival habits, you know?' Her daddy didn't like her, you
know, speaking on her full-powered voice.

GROSS: Is the other voice a weaker, more submissive, deferential voice?

Ms. RODENBURG: Yes, I think it is. I think it is. And I think those are the
habits we develop. I think men have huge problems about creating a powerful
voice, so you often get men with what I call--they're equally tense, but I
call them bluff voices. (Talks in deep voice) You know, those sort of voices
that sort of bluff on. And again, you hear all this sound and fury, but you
don't hear what's being said. And I think the habits men develop are equally
negating their whole voice.

So my vision is just to open up the whole voice and offer choice. You can use
any part of it that you need. An actor needs to have all their voice in order
to transform, to change character, to serve different texts, to serve
different spaces.

GROSS: Do you work with politicians?

Ms. RODENBURG: Yes, I do.

GROSS: What kind of problems do they come to you with, and what typically do
you work with them on?

Ms. RODENBURG: Well, there are certain arenas that politicians have to work
in in the House of Commons in London. It's an arena, a geography of conflict.
So for lots of women, that is very, very difficult. Women are better
communicators in more informal settings, because, again, their habits--we were
talking about this earlier--their habits of giving in and giving way. So I
do a lot of the young women members of Parliament who find it very
intimidating to talk across that geography of conflict. And I did one whole
session a year or so ago--they have to stand up to ask a question. Now if
they don't stand up with authority and energy and center, nobody notices them.
It's quite extraordinary. I had 30 of them, and I watched them on television
and they were standing up and wobbling and then trying to ask a question; and
apologizing, snatching their breath. If you snatch the breath--I call it the
victim breath (takes deep breath). As soon as somebody does that, they're
easy. They're pushovers.

So I did a whole session with them just standing up breathing and asking the
question with authority. And within a week, they would be noticed. So those
particular women had huge problems even getting noticed because of their
habits, are very--they're good listeners, that's all fantastic, but in that
arena it didn't serve them.

The other arena that I work with, Cabinet, a young Cabinet member daring to
answer the prime minister back and doing it with authority, getting into the
conversation, not--men have these habits as well, but women, they will trail
off, what I call the falling line. Also very hard to be heard in space if you
have the falling line, which is this thing of, you know, I just start speaking
then I just drop off. I give up halfway. Now men are very good at holding
debate, following that energy through. Now if you try and ask a question to
somebody, and you trail off, you're not going to be noticed again.

So again, it's not so dramatic, but in order to hold your voice, to hold
space, what I call own the space with your voice so that people notice you,
and that can be trained.

GROSS: I think a lot of times when people's voices trail off it's because
they're not confident of what they're saying...

Ms. RODENBURG: Absolutely.

GROSS: ...or they're not sure where the thought is going. I know that
happens to me a lot. I start a thought and then I think, `Hmm, I have no idea
how I'm going to end this.'

Ms. RODENBURG: But you stop it with energy, you see. You don't apologize and
drop back in. What I'm talking about is you can actually see people dropping
back into themselves, the whole energy of this voice is just pulling in. You
can stop, but hold your energy out, you know, and that is about--you're
absolutely right. I'm talking about the technical thing. You're talking
about something as important, if not more important, feeling that you have the
right to speak. And if you don't feel you have the right to speak, you
develop habits like that falling off, which give you less right to speak and
more rights to other people to squash you.

GROSS: My guest is vocal coach Patsy Rodenburg. Her new book is called "The
Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer." We'll talk more after a break. This

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is vocal coach Patsy Rodenburg. She heads the voice
department at Britain's Royal National Theatre.

Now one thing politicians have to do is make speeches and read from a text
that they may or may not have written themselves. And I think a lot of people
are in that position of having to give a speech to a group that they belong to
or to people who they work with or, you know, at a conference or whatever.
What's some of your advice to people who have to read from a script? And, I
mean, they're not actors...


GROSS: ...but they still want to sound natural, even though it's an unnatural

Ms. RODENBURG: I think you can do two things that are very useful that will
help immediately. You can warm up. You can--it's not going to happen--if
you're getting nervous and you've got to read, you should at least practice a
bit of breathing, getting the breath, warming up the voice. But a lot of
people come to me and they say, `I work on these speeches and they never
work,' and I just ask a very simple question, and I say, `Do you work on them
out loud?' And they say, `No.' Well, you can't work on your voice silently.
You've got to--even if you get the first sentence, even if you can run to the
toilet and sit on the toilet or whatever and read the sentence out loud before
the presentation, at least you're giving yourself physical memory of what it's
going to be like. You can mouth the text quietly, but the mouth is doing the
work. So you're actually feeling the word in your mouth, so that you're
telling the muscles what to do. It's more than an intellectual process,
speaking, it's a physical process.

And the other thing I would say to anybody who has to, on a regular basis,
read out, is practice. Read out loud every day. Use your voice. Within 10
days, it gets easier. I mean, we get so frightened of using our voice, so we
have to work through it, we have to do the work through those fears and make
yourself read out loud. Even if you get that transcript a few minutes before,
try and just speak a bit of it out loud, so the muscles of communication at
least have been warned.

GROSS: You know, you were talking before about some of the things that happen
to us physically when we're nervous, as we often are before we have to do
public speaking, or as actors are before they go on stage. You know, the
shoulders get tense and the breath gets constricted. But I think many of us
tend to talk faster when we're more nervous, too...


GROSS: ...and that's a bad thing if you're trying to communicate.


GROSS: But sometimes you're so self-conscious in that situation of public
speaking that it's hard to take control over all the things that you should be
concerned about.

Ms. RODENBURG: A couple of little tricks. Do you want some tricks?

GROSS: Yes, absolutely.

Ms. RODENBURG: OK. Now, again, we're going back to the breath and then I'll
go to the word. When you get fast, it's because you're breathing ahead of
your head. When people rush, it's because their voice and their breath are
divided. In acting tones we have a saying called `being in the moment.' You
have to just mean what you say as you say it. When you get very, very
nervous, it's like your head has trotted off and your mouth can't keep up, so
you start sort of to stumbling. The number-one trick is to take the breath,
and if you're feeling very nervous, even halfway through the presentation,
adjust your shoulders. Nobody will see you. Nobody will see you.

The other thing you can do is just very gently, quietly sigh out. As you sigh
out, the breath calms down, and then you can start again. So number-one
trick, try and breathe slowly and deeply and calmly. And you can practice
that again. Before you do the presentation, you can make yourself do it
almost unbearably slowly, and that will help the muscles remember what they
have to do.

But the next trick is you can keep yourself at the right pace if you speak the
whole word. When you listen to somebody rushing, you know, half the words are
going (mumbles), half the words are not spoken, and they just sort of skid
rather like Bambi on ice. They just skid all over the text. So you just try
and speak clearly, and that will help.

GROSS: So you recommend, among other things, that before you even begin to
give the talk, while you're waiting backstage or...


GROSS: ...or whatever that you do a lot of deep, slow breathing.

Ms. RODENBURG: You know, go back to the pushing, even if you put your hand
out against a wall. Do you know, we do this organically. You know, I've
gotten of my exercises from watching people under stress. People under stress
will often put their hand on the upper chest. And that is to stop the breath
lifting there, because that is a way of trying to get the breath down. Or if
you push with one hand against the wall and just take your time--breathe in,
breathe in calmly--everything's going to be better in life if you breathe. I
always say to my dentist, `Why don't you have "breathe" written on the
ceiling? Because as your tooth is being filled, it would be better.' But,
you know, we just forget these basic things.

GROSS: Now a lot of people are confused about what the difference is between
breathing from your chest and breathing from your diaphragm. And I know vocal
teachers always talk about the importance of breathing from the diaphragm. If
you don't know how to breathe through your diaphragm...

Ms. RODENBURG: Well, I talk about it...

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. RODENBURG: The lower abdominal area. Here's a little exercise you can

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. RODENBURG: If you sit on a chair and your feet are firmly on the
floor--and remember, if your feet aren't on the floor, it's harder to breathe.
Flop over, put your elbows on your knees. Release the back of your neck,
release your shoulders so that you're flopped over, and very gently begin to
breathe in and out. Within a few breaths, you will start to feel the back of
the rib cage begin to move, the back of the rib cage moving easily. And that
means that the breath is going lower into the body. If you then gently sit
up, the breath will feel calmer. You can take this further. You can hug
yourself--stand, hug yourself, keep the shoulders released, although you're
hugging; keep your knees released. A lot of tension, and a lot of people when
they speak in public shake profoundly because their knees are locked. You
know, you cannot use your voice with locked knees. It's an absolute
anatomical fact. So keep your knees released, you're hugging yourself, and
you flop over. And in that position again, you breathe in and out. You will
start to feel the back of the rib cage; you will start to feel the abdominal
area release. And at that moment--you've just got to be a bit careful, 'cause
you might feel a bit dizzy--you let your arms drop, you come up and you feel
calmer, you feel wider. The body--you know, to take proper breath means you
have to take up space. When I said earlier that women often squeeze, a lot of
them don't take up enough space to breathe. You know, they're not getting the
breath in.

I'll tell you a wonderful story about Judi Dench, and I'm sure she won't mind
me telling it. She's a very witty, wonderful woman, and she said to me once,
`You know, Patsy, I knew when I was quite a good actress, because I was
sitting on stage in the most appalling pair of knickers with my stomach
hanging over the top, and I didn't care.' What she was actually saying was
that she had found, you know, her power. Now I know people don't want their
stomachs to fall out, but at the same time, we can release down there--you
might then pull it in a bit, but if you release down there, you've got more
chance--the back is opening and the shoulders are free.

GROSS: I should mention that Judi Dench wrote the introduction for your book
"The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer."

Now when you were talking about how, you know, when you bend over, the way you
were describing, you can feel the back of your rib cage expanding.


GROSS: Is that something you should be feeling when you're upright too if
you're breathing deeply?

Ms. RODENBURG: Yes, you don't feel--absolutely, yes. You won't feel it as
vividly. I mean, you could push back on a chair and feel it, and immediately
you feel not only the breath go in, but you also feel this release in the
abdominal area. You know, the abdominal area is where we hold our greatest
power, and that's where the voice comes from. I'll tell you something
wonderful. I was saying earlier that I was teaching--I teach all over the
world. I have this most privileged life. But I was in the middle of Soweto
teaching Zulus--and they sing magnificently--and they were telling me that
before the white person came they believed their vocal folds were in their
stomach. Now I like that as an image. I think that's a--you know, we worry
so much about our neck and our throat that we forget where the power source
is. And if you feel that your voice is coming from a lower place, it often
improves the voice immediately.

GROSS: That's really interesting that they...

Ms. RODENBURG: Yes. Yes.

GROSS: ...thought their vocal chords were in their stomachs.

Ms. RODENBURG: Yes. I believe them, you see. I think they're right. Of
course they're not, but, you know, the power.

GROSS: What were you teaching them? Why were you summoned in the first

Ms. RODENBURG: Well, I've been all over the place, and I was teaching at the
Market Theatre and I'm an educationist. Well, I believe in education, and
they asked me--there were orphans there that had started their little theater
company, and I went in to help them. And I went back this year as well. And
they're doing fantastic theater.

GROSS: Did you ever have vocal problems yourself?

Ms. RODENBURG: Yes, absolutely.

GROSS: What kind of problems?

Ms. RODENBURG: Well, I was sent, when I was about eight, to a speech teacher,
an elocution teacher, we called them then, and she was a terrifying woman.
And I never achieved what she wanted me to do, which was to speak well. And I
had a terrible time. And I find communicating very problematic. It scares
me. I don't think you could teach with sympathy if you found it easy. So
I've gone deliberately into an arena that has always frightened me.

GROSS: What was your speaking like before you became more confident?

Ms. RODENBURG: I had a stutter and I couldn't say certain sounds. And I was
mocked appallingly at school, so you just get quieter and quieter and you
don't want to read out because people are going to laugh at you. And that
memory I still carry. And I then went to the leading school in the world at
the time, and I started to feel, `Well, I might be able to do this,' and, in
fact, I enjoy helping others that find it difficult. And, you know, most
actors find speaking difficult. That's why they want to be actors. They're
not extroverts. All the great actors I work with are very shy people.

GROSS: I have noticed that interviewing actors, a lot of actors, they have
fantastic voices in films and on stage, but when they're speaking
extemporaneously, some actors have much weaker voices and sound incredibly
unsure of themselves.

Ms. RODENBURG: Right. You see, they need a text. They need to play somebody
else to release themselves. That's part of the issue. But that's maybe why
they want to be an actor. That's maybe why I wanted to be a voice coach,
because it's difficult. If it matters to you, it's difficult, and it matters
to me.

GROSS: Professor Rodenburg, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for
talking with us.

Prof. RODENBURG: Well, thank you.

GROSS: Patsy Rodenburg heads the voice department at Britain's Royal National
Theatre. Her new book is called "The Actor Speaks: Voice and the Performer."

Coming up, Milo Miles reviews a new Jimi Hendrix box set containing previously
unreleased material. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New box set "The Jimi Hendrix Experience"

Jimi Hendrix was born 58 years ago today. Hendrix was a legend, even while he
was alive. Since his death 30 years ago, he's become an industry. There are
about 10 times as many Hendrix albums in circulation now as when he was making
them. But even after too many looks back, music critic Milo Miles says a
thoughtful Hendrix reissue can reveal the vibrant musician, not just the icon.

(Soundbite of music)

MILO MILES reporting:

With every Jimi Hendrix album that came out in my high school years, I learned
more about the depth and possibilities of electric music. After he was gone,
I learned what could happen to a rock legacy when a rising superstar had the
dreadful bad manners to die young. The mishmash of Hendrix material that
appeared in the 1970s remains a model of how not to do reissues. The Hendrix
saga improved when some ferocious concert collections appeared in the late
1980s, starting with "Live at Winter Land." Then, in 1995, Jimi's father
finally got control of the estate. The family operation has deleted some good
packages, and tends to put out more material than most fans need, but I'm
particularly fond of the delicious leftovers on the album "South Saturn
Delta," and the inventive attempt to put together what would have been the
final Hendrix album "First Rays of the New Rising Sun."

But massive Hendrix reissues still make me skeptical, if only out of habit.
Now we have the fancy four CD box, "The Jimi Hendrix Experience," and it's
worrisome at first. It begins with a previously unissued alternate version of
"Purple Haze." Another "Purple Haze"? But the new guitar solo and the
spacier atmosphere and even the unfinished finish prove once again that
Hendrix's alternate takes are only two or three times more captivating than
any other rock 'n' rollers. Danged if it doesn't finally sound like a gift
from the sonic gods, or at least master engineer Eddie Kramer.

(Soundbite of "Purple Haze")

Mr. JIMI HENDRIX (Singing): Oh, yeah, right now. Yeah, purple haze, yeah.
Yeah, baby. No, no, no. Hey, man. Purple haze. Purple haze. Freak out.
(Unintelligible) number nine, "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

MILES: But the 54 unissued performances or mixes or takes are not the point.
The glory of the set is how it presents a full, detailed picture of Hendrix at
work in his times. Hendrix was suited for his lightning bolt career between
1966 and 1970. What made him so modern, even a musician of the future, was
that he was such a voracious studio creature. As he said, a million miles an
hour was his speed. As a composer and player, he rejected either/or in favor
of both/and. He liked wide-open borders and infinite selections. His songs
could benefit from the tight structures of pop, but flourish without them.

Hendrix famously agonized over where his work fit into the spectrum of race
and music in America, but he also relished being undefined, cosmically beyond
it all. "The Jimi Hendrix Experience" CDs pull away some screens of mystery.
Other than the Janis Joplin set called "Janis," I can't think of a box that
humanizes an idol more effectively than this one.

(Soundbite of music)

MILES: Not only can you follow his passionate exploration of later tunes like
"In From The Storm," but you get his most revealing selection of oldies ever.
His treatment of "Johnny B. Goode" and "Blue Suede Shoes" are as untouchable
as his more famous "All Along the Watchtower." And the mildly raunchy
passages he inserts into numbers like "Gloria" help get him out of the cosmos
and back in the roadhouse. Yes, this is an intimidating heap of material, but
it delivers what sketches and candid snapshots are always supposed to, the
unguarded hot moment. Unlikely as it seems, "The Jimi Hendrix Experience" box
must be heard as soon as you decide you're a serious fan.

GROSS: Milo Miles is a music critic living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He
reviewed the four CD box set "The Jimi Hendrix Experience."

(Soundbite of music)


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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