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Why is Speech and Breathing so Important in Drama?

Updated on August 22, 2015

Drama as a Teaching Method

Speech and breathing are vital elements when it comes to drama. They are just as important, if not more so, than the costume or scenery. Voice control can determine the whole tone of a production, and the way that an audience feels about it at the end. Speech is vital to put across emotion in a piece and this is how we would communicate in real-life.

As with the learning to play aspect of drama in education, speech is formed as a child and they usually learn more words when they are younger than older. People’s speech is often affected by a number of factors such as where they live, culture and even economic standing. Using these variations in dialect, tone and pitch can affect the way a monologue or speech is portrayed.

Being able to use speech skills in this way shows a deep understanding off language command which is an essential part of drama in education.

Breathing and Voice Production

There are a number of ways to improve upon the use of breathing and speech within a performance. This is through the practice of various sounds such as vowels, letter formations and relaxation techniques. These techniques can also be used in real-life situations which then make it more realistic when used in a performance.

The practising of techniques also means that a performer’s speech control becomes stronger and they can use breathing to add tension.

Breathing is an essential part of good voice production and learning how to combine the breathing with relaxation means that tension is released from the body. By being relaxed the resonating cavities open up and the body is able to use the correct muscles needed to make the most of vocal expression.

Controlled Breathing

One of the most important parts of the body which needs to be relaxed is the neck/ throat area and it is also the area that most commonly suffers from tension, leading to the restriction in movement and in the voice.

The neck and throat area are also important when it comes to breathing and it is important to remember that there are two types of breathing – involuntary (when you are asleep or unaware of the need to breath) and breathing when required to develop speech. This means forced relaxation is a technique which needs to be developed as learning to relax is a major part of vocal training. Being relaxed lets the muscles used in voice production function at a high level.

Forced relaxation enables the body to relax as it helps us to draw in deep and regular breaths. This generates more oxygen in the body which not only invigorates the muscles but also provides a sense of well-being. These actions cause the body to relax further.

To a performer, controlled breathing is essential as this effects the voice. Uncontrolled breathing is also a classic sign of a performer being nervous.

Breathing Methods

In biology, there are three methods of breathing used for voice production - the upper chest method; the lower chest method; and the whole chest method. This later method is the most effective when performing as the whole chest cavity is used. It is the part of the chest where there is the most movement which enables the air and breath to be controlled far more firmly.

As the air is exhaled, it passes through the larynx at the top of the windpipe. This system of cartilages not only allows movement, but also protect the fragile vocal chords. The chords are fragile as they are like elasticated tissues which rotate and stretch in order to create sound. The air pushed out by the lungs causes the chords to vibrate and this adds to the sound.

Throughout the body are several sets of resonators which can be described as the hollow of a bass drum as they amplify sound when it reaches them. The resonators are found in the chest, larynx, pharynx, mouth, nose and sinuses.

The words sound are also dependant on movement and breathing. Enunciation is particularly dependant on the mouth. Vowels are fluid sounds and much of speech relies on these sounds, while consonants are more like noises.

Modulation

As vowels are crucial to speech production, it is important for the jaw to be relaxed. The tongue and lips also need to be as flexible as possible which can be achieved through the use of practical exercises.

Once a performer has grasped the best way to produce vowel and consonant sounds accompanied with breathing, they then need to learn about modulation which is the dynamics of speech. Modulation is made up of several elements:

• Pitch

• Inflection

• Tone Quality

• Tone Amount

• Pace

• Pause

The use of modulation adds interest to speech, otherwise it would all be on one monotone level which would ultimately bore an audience. It would also be very hard for people to detect emotion in a piece if there was no pitch, tone etc. used within it.

Added Quality

A great many speech and breathing techniques are used in theatre and practised by Drama in Education students. But, they are also things that we do naturally every day when communicating. By ensuring students are relaxed and comfortable with their role, teachers can prevent them from feeling on show, and having a false, strained quality to their speech.

To find out more about what drama in education is as a teaching style, take a look at What is Drama in Education?

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