Voice-acting tips from
"The Art of Voice Acting Workshop"

Dropping Ends of Words
The Cork Exercise

If you’ve read my book, The Art of Voice Acting, or if you’ve taken my workshop, you know about “the cork exercise.” Dave Shropshire has been using the pencil variation of the exercise and wrote in with this question:

 It has been over a year since I purchased your "The Art of Voice Acting" and I must say I love it! Although I don't have a cork, I did purchase some pencils and it really does the trick. I am looking for a voice coach here locally and I have received some great referrals from the Voice therapist who works with my 8 year old autistic son Chris. Just purchased online Daws Butler's book and I am so thrilled that its out. I am a big fan of all the cartoon VO stars: Daws, Mel, June, et al.

I also love your newsletters . . . very informative. There is one problem I am having which I don't remember you covering so I'll ask here . . . I do a lot of hardsell over the top big voice car dealer commercials and the one problem I have is dropping the ends of my words. Quite often I am not aware of it until after it happens and I review the track. I notice this happens on both hard and soft sell reads. Do you have any suggestions that might help? Thanks.

Here’s my reply:

Being aware of your problem puts you at least half-way to correcting it. Without awareness you will never be able to change. As for your ends-of-words problem - that's exactly what the cork exercise is all about! I generally recommend using a cork instead of a pencil simply because a cork will give you a better workout/warmup. Since a cork is a much larger diameter than a pencil, it forces you to work the muscles in your jaw, cheeks, lips, and tongue more than using a pencil. Some people do have difficulty with a gag reflex when using a cork, so the pencil is definitely an option in that case.

If you don't drink wine, or anything that would have a cork in the bottle, there are ways to get a cork without having to buy one (besides if you purchase a new bottle-cork, its diameter will be too big - the process of corking a bottle compresses the cork to the proper diameter for the exercise. The next time you're out for dinner at a nice restaurant that serves wine, or has a bar, ask your waiter or waitress to bring you a cork or two from an empty bottle. She may look at you funny, but will generally be more than happy to help. The last time I did this I left with about a dozen - my waiter just kept bringing corks to my table, which got an interesting reaction from everyone else at the table. When you get home, I recommend soaking the corks in a bowl of water with a little chlorine bleach added. This will disinfect the cork and eliminate most of the residual wine.

For the cork exercise to be effective and truly help you to not drop the ends of words, it is absolutely essential that you over-articulate every syllable and the end of every word in the script as you do the exercise. Also, make sure you are speakingv e r r r r y y ys l l o o o w w w l l y and that you exaggerate the physicalization of forming every sound of every word. In other words, make big mouth and facial expressions as you slowly speak the words. The purpose of the exercise is to re-train your muscles so that speaking clearly and completing words becomes totally natural. Give yourself permission to be really silly as you do the exercise – most people will hold back or feel slightly embarrassed, which will limit the effectiveness of the exercise.

Now . . . a comment on ends of words when performing: If you focus on articulating the end of every word when delivering a script, there is a very good chance that your delivery will sound artificial, phoney, or too forced. People simply don't talk with extremely crisp articulation. The goal in voice-over is to speak clearly, yet naturally when delivering copy. The cork exercise will warm up and stretch your muscles so that you are able to speak more clearly without thinking about it. It isn't necessary - in fact it's usually not even desirable - to fully articulate the ends of all words in a script. Depending on the copy, your character, and delivery attitude, your delivery style may be very colloquial or casual - but if your instrument (your vocal muscles) are warmed up and in tune, the listener will be able to hear every word clearly, even in a very casual delivery.

To sum it up, what you are striving for is to speak just enough of the end of a word to give the listener a sense of completion. Many times, adjacent words or the sentence structure will provide this sense of completion without the necessity of articulating the end of a specific word. Also, if you have the same letter or sound at the end of one word and the beginning of the next, it is perfectly conversationally acceptable to tie the two together. However, if it would make a stronger delivery to complete the first word for emphasis, a simple beat or pause might be inserted between the words to allow both the sound of the end of the first word and the beginning of the next. For example: the phrase "She wore glass slippers." has two adjacent "s's".a conversational delivery, it would be appropriate for the line to sound like "She wore glass lippers." However, if the material the slippers were made of is important to the story, a stronger delivery would be "She wore(beat) slippers."

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