Tag Archives: Actor training

Guest Post: How to Record a Dialect Donor

One of the best ways to ensure that you have all the materials you’ll need to learn a particular dialect is to make the effort to find someone who speaks with exactly the accent you have in mind and record them following specific guidelines.  I’ve written two posts on this topic in the past: Finding a Dialect Donor and How to Interview a Dialect Donor.  Today’s post written by recording engineer Tim Keenan of CreativeMediaRecording.com covers the final piece of the puzzle — the technical aspects of recording your donor.

Recalling my own awkward early attempts at recording donors outside of a studio setting, I asked Mr. Keenan to share some advice that can help ensure that you don’t have to make all of the mistakes I did before you can achieve useful recordings. Here’s what he has to say on this topic:

You don’t have to be a recording engineer to capture good quality audio recordings in any reasonably quiet environment and store them them on your computer as MP3s for future reference. If you don’t already own a portable digital recorder there has never been a better time to buy. Even the basic Zoom H1 digital recorder with a street price of $99.00 will do a decent job. It has built-in microphones or you can use an external mic. An added bonus is that you can even use this same device to record voiceover auditions, drag and drop the files to your computer and email them out as MP3s.

If you have the budget, take a look at the other models with more bells and whistles but a similar digital performance. Lots of equipment resources are out there but I like the folks at http://bswusa.com/ for their selection, helpful advice and pricing.

The two things to consider when recording at a remote location are the recording environment (where to set up) and the actual recording process (placing the mic, etc.).

The Environment:

First of all you want as quiet a room as possible away from kids, phones, animals and distractions. Looks for rooms with carpet, drapes and overstuffed furniture to help minimize room reflections. Make sure the person you are interviewing will be sitting in a comfortable place where they won’t move around much. Stay as far away from windows as you can and shut the drapes. The microphone will also pick up noises behind the subject as well so a good way to eliminate background noises is to position your interviewee with their backs away from windows, fans and other noise sources.

The interview subject should remove any noisy jewelry and bracelets. Try to minimize any paper they’ll be handling so you don’t have to worry about paper noise and hand fidgeting. All of those noises will detract from the final recording.

The Process:

I recommend a microphone stand to help you position the recording device as close to the subject as possible without being a distraction. Ideally you want the mic to be no more than 12 inches away (give or take) from the interviewee’s mouth.

*Very Important* Wear an ear bud in one ear to monitor the recording process. Listen for the sounds in the room – sounds like fans and other noises that will interfere with hearing your interview subject clearly. Wearing headphones is sometimes the only way you’ll actually notice these ambient sounds.

Pamela has some great tips for questions to ask to put your subject at ease. A good technique is to start by talking about local restaurants or recent movies to put your subject at ease and conversing comfortably. Use the first few questions to really listen and make sure the recording sounds clean and to note any distracting background room noises. Then you can then move into the meat of the interview.

Be sure to do some practice interviews with friends and family to get familiar with the equipment and how to best position everything to gain optimal sound. That way you’ll look like a pro when you go to capture the real thing and won’t waste any time getting what you need.

Tim Keenan is a long time recording engineer, voice talent and owner of CreativeMediaRecording.com an Orange County, CA based media studio specializing in voice recording and editing. On Twitter with tips & tricks for voiceover folks @tjkeenan and tips on recording & audio for video @Soundtrack_Pro

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Myth du Jour: Actors Need General American Accents

Myth: To work regularly, you need to be able to speak in a General American Accent.

Reality: The reality of this situation is that for each and every actor the rules are different. (Doesn’t seem fair, I know. Sorry ’bout that.)

It comes down to this– the way you speak is one essential component of your unique, complex acting product and if you take the time to harmonize your speech skills to the rest of your acting product, you can maximize your casting opportunities. The General American accent itself contains no magic. It’s just a tool. If the General American accent ‘tool’ fits well with your acting career, great. Use it. If there are other tools (other accents) that fit better, stop fretting over the General American accent and make sure you master those accents so that you can find yourself booking jobs more frequently.

If you are dubious about my claim, I encourage you to take a few minutes and make a list of all the high-profile actors you can think of that don’t use a General American accent very often (or ever) in their careers. There are plenty of them.  There are also plenty for whom a General American accent is indispensable. Your challenge as an actor is to figure out into which category your own acting product logically falls and take action as needed.

Here are some places to start if the idea of thinking about your acting product/image/essence/brand (whatever you’d like to call it) is new to you.

1) You may find value in this blog post I wrote earlier this year.

2) You may benefit from attending personal brand workshops such as those taught by Sam Christensen in Los Angeles and NYC. (If you live outside these cities, you can see clips of Sam’s work on YouTube.)

3) You may wish to invest in a dialect fitting with a qualified dialect consultant who specializes in such matters.

I hope you’ll enjoy this part of your journey. If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to contact me here in the comments section or at dialect411 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Speech Class: Vowels and Consonants

I’m not going to try to hide it from you. Today’s post isn’t light reading. It’s equivalent to an hour’s worth of private coaching, or a session in an acting conservatory classroom. The upside is that this post is free which will save you anywhere from $75 -$200 in coaching fees, or even more when compared to the cost of prestigious private acting conservatories. (Cha-ching!)

If you are fairly new to learning authentic, actable dialects, it can be very helpful to know a few terms before you head off to hire a dialect coach. Familiarity with common linguistics terms will make communicating with your coach easy, and it can help you to quickly get your bearings if you find yourself in the unhappy situation of having no access to a coach and thus being limited to working with commercial dialect acquisition CD’s.

To get the most out of today’s lesson on vowels and consonants, you may find it valuable to glance back at this post explaining the difference between written and spoken language, and this post that elucidates the difference between voiced and unvoiced sounds of speech, and this post which will give you a good understanding of the body parts responsible for speech sounds.

Today I want to share with you a few things about vowels and consonants—exactly what they are, how you can tell if a sound you’ve never heard before is a vowel or a consonant, and I’ll even a throw in a bit of acting theory related to these two groups of sounds.

First, a basic definition: In the arena of spoken language, linguists consider a speech sound to be a vowel  if it is comprised of an uninterrupted, unimpeded voiced stream of air.  On the other hand, a speech sound is considered to be a consonant  when that sound is a voiced or voiceless stream of air that is stopped, impeded, or interrupted in some way by the articulators.

If you are not keen on wordy definitions, here are some more ways to think about these two groupings:

Vowel= unimpeded or uninterrupted voiced stream of air.

Consonant = voiced (or unvoiced!) stream of air that is somehow interrupted, impeded or stopped.

We could even go out on a limb and say that vowels are more static in nature, and consonants are more dynamic…

Here’s why:

When you happen to speak a sound that has been classified as a vowel, you’ll find that you can do so without moving any of your articulators during the creation of the sound, and you’ll also notice that your articulators aren’t constricting your breath channel enough to cause audible friction.

I want you to try a little experiment, but you’ll need to learn a tiny bit of the IPA (The International Phonetic Alphabet) to do so, so here is the International Phonetic Association‘s Vowel chart which shows all of the vowels  that are used in the many languages on Earth.

If you are curious about exactly what sounds each of these symbols represent, you can go here and listen to dialect coach Paul Meier pronounce them for you using a nifty interactive version of this chart that he and coach Eric Armstrong co-created. There are also other interactive versions available on line. If you listen to several, you’ll begin to notice where the IPA chart leaves off and the human element comes in…

For now, merely notice the very first symbol in the upper left-hand corner. It looks like this —>[i].  If you happen to speak in a General or Standard American accent, this symbol represents the sound you’d use in words such as ‘flea, me, sweep, greedy, and easy.’ (If you don’t happen to speak in a General or Standard American accent, now might be a good time to check out Mr. Meier’s/Mr. Armstrong’s interactive vowel chart and listen to this sound.)

Now for the experiment: I want you take a few moments to speak the sound [i] in a sustained way…sort of like a monk chanting…any note you want to use is fine…just speak [i] in a sustained way for as long as your breath allows. Then do it again and as you do, allow your mind’s eye to focus on your articulators (your jaw, your tongue, your teeth, your soft and hard palate, your gum ridge etc.). Notice how they don’t have to change position at all while you are making this [i] sound? That’s one of the hallmarks of a vowel sound. You can take up the position of a vowel sound and then remain in that position as you send a voiced stream of air through the shape you’ve created with your articulators. No moving necessary speech-wise. (You will of course have movement within your body in order to exhale the air you need to vocalize, and so that you can engage your vocal folds, but we can safely categorize these as movement needed for vocal production rather than movement required for speech.)

See? Vowels have a sort of static quality to them.

Consonants on the other hand will involve some combination of articulators to be moving, or to be placed in such close proximity as to cause audible friction.

Here comes another chart from the International Phonetic Association…This one is dedicated to consonants (not all of them, though). I’m sharing it with you not to overwhelm you, but in an attempt to be as precise about our discussion as possible. (This blog has readers from around the globe, so it would be folly to assume that everyone’s idea of how to pronounce a particular written word will be similar…Please don’t get scared off by this chart!)

Again, let’s start by looking at the upper left hand corner. See that lower-case P sort of symbol —>[p]? If you happen to speak General or Standard American English this is the unvoiced sound you’d speak in words like ‘promise, pepper, apt, sleepy and deep.’ If you’d like to hear this sound pronounced, Paul Meier can help you out here.

Experiment time again: I’d like you to try pronouncing this sound and sustaining it like you did earlier with [i]… Go ahead… Give it a whirl… Try to chant like a monk using a [p] sound…Can’t do it, can you? Me neither. It’s just not possible. The speech sound [p] can’t be sustained because it is a sound that is ‘stopped’ ‘impeded’ or ‘interrupted.’ Say [p] a few more times. (You might find that you end up adding  a voiced ‘uh’ kind of sound right after it out of habit. Don’t worry too much about that right now.) Instead, send your mind’s eye to what’s happening with your lips… Say [p]… Can you say it without moving your lips? Nope.  [p] is a consonant alright. A voiceless, stopped consonant that ends in a little mini-explosion of air. Pretty dynamic!

Take a look back at the IPA consonant chart. Near the center of the chart you will find something that looks like a lower case ‘S’—> [s]. If you happen to speak General or Standard American English, this symbol represents the voiceless sound you’d use in words such as ‘sea, storm, essay, east, and less.’ (Check with Mr. Meier here if you’d like to hear this sound.)

One more experiment: Try to speak a sustained [s] sound. How long can you sustain it? As long as you have breath exhaling from your lungs, right? Try another sustained [s] sound and as you do, send your mind’s eye to your articulators… Notice how they don’t have to move once they are in position for the [s]? [s] happens to be an example of a voiceless,  impeded (but not stopped!) consonant. As you say [s] two of your articulators (your tongue and your gum ridge) are in such close proximity  that audible friction occurs. We can consider that friction to be dynamic.

Okay, enough tech talk! If you’re still here, I commend you! (If we were in a room together right now, I’d be passing out celebratory cookies, so consider yourself virtually cookied!)

At the beginning of this post I promised you a little vowel and consonant theory, so here it is…

Many people assert that at the core of the matter, the informational content of a person’s spoken message is contained in the consonant sounds, while the emotional content of the message rides out on the vowel sounds.

(Yeah, go ahead. Read it again. Let it sink in.)

Information loves a consonant, Emotion seeks a vowel…

I’ll leave you now, but with some questions to ponder and then talk about over tea. (And if you’d rather wax poetic in my comments section, have at it!)

Knowing what you know now about vowels and consonants, why do you think that that many people have come to the conclusion above?

Do you agree with this conclusion, and if so, how might you take advantage of this idea in your craft?

Joy to you,

Pamela


Learning a Dialect: Five Ways to Squeeze in the Time

Becoming convincing in a dialect and being able to maintain that convincing nature while acting in a film or play doesn’t happen overnight. Even when you are familiar with the most effective dialect acquisition techniques available on this pretty blue planet, learning a dialect is still going to take a bite out of your schedule.

How much of a bite? It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly, but it’s a smart move to budget a few hours per day for anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks. For now let’s assume two hours per day for six weeks…that comes to 84 hours.

So, it’s going to take around 84 hours to master an unfamiliar dialect…

Wowza.

It’s in realizing this that most actors decide to put off their dialect aspirations.

After all, who’s got 84 extra hours?

Believe it or not, you do.

Really, you do.

You just need to be clever about it.

Here are five clever ways to sneak a little dialect work into your skill set without wreaking havoc on your life:

1) Listen while you commute. Many actors report that driving while listening to dialect source materials on the stereo not only allows them to squeeze in an hour or more of practice per day, but also has a calming effect during traffic jams. If cars aren’t your thing, try wearing headphones on the train or subway. You may not feel as comfortable responding  aloud to your recordings, but you can at least listen for details. If you are fortunate enough to have created recordings for yourself that have long interview sessions with a dialect donor, public transportation commutes can be a convenient time to listen to those.

2) Listen while you work out. If your daily workout includes walking, swap out your Lady Gaga recordings for your dialect materials. (Do be careful walking around wearing headphones. Remain aware of your surroundings!) With the advent of cell-phones with ear pods, even if you happen to be responding aloud to your dialect recordings, most people who pass by you will assume you are on the phone.

3) Listen on your way to lullaby land. Head to sleep 15 minutes early and squeeze a little practice in then. There have been no formal studies done as of yet to directly verify this, but since dreams appear to be our way of processing the events and information of our lives, it seems to follow that practicing a dialect as you drift off could have its benefits.

4) Listen while you do housework. Simple tasks such as folding laundry, sweeping the floor or deadheading roses provide great opportunities to practice your dialect. (And it won’t add a single minute to your busy schedule!)

5) Listen in lines and lobbies. When you have a wait ahead of you, even if it’s only going to be five minutes, try listening to your dialect materials.  Learning a dialect requires consistent exposure over time, so every little bit counts.

Annnnnd a bonus idea…

6) Listen while you relax. This one’s not necessarily a time saver, but I mention it because some actors report that they learn more quickly when they work on their dialect in a relaxing environment. Consider donning your ear buds and heading out to swing in a hammock or lie on the beach, or try working on your dialect while you enjoy a hot bath. (Safely please.)





Top Ten Dialect Posts

The other day a new reader asked me which Dialect411 posts did I think they should take the time to go back and read. At first I thought ‘all of them!’ Then I realized that in four short months I’ve already posted 35 entries and reading all of them might indeed be quite an undertaking…

So today for your enjoyment, I present to you what I think are the Top Ten Dialect411.com posts. Whether you were with me from day one or just arrived last week, these ten will give you the essential information you need to benefit from the posts that lie ahead!

If you have time to read only three posts, I recommend:

1)  What Are They Expecting — Which explains exactly what it is that casting entities and productions are looking for when they are casting dialect roles.

2)A Good Private Dialect Coach — Which lets you know what to look for when hiring a professional dialect coach.

3) The Steps To Learning Any Dialect — Which describes the process of learning a dialect, so you won’t be unpleasantly surprised…

If you have time for three more, I offer you:

4) What is Good Speech (You might be surprised.)

5) You Have an Accent (Yes, you.)

6) Myth: I’ll Add The Dialect Later (You can try…)

And if you want more, check out:

7) Fit to a ‘T’ — Which explains an effective tactic for using dialects to increase your casting opportunities.

8)  Voice Care Practices (Actual Title: Start From Where You Are) — This is where I share information on caring for your voice when the voicing gets rough.

9)  Finding a Dialect Donor — Where to look if you’d like to try your hand at recording your own dialect materials.

10) How to Shop for Dialect CDs— Tips on what to look for in the theatre bookshop if you must rely on purchased goods.

That’s it! My choices for the 10 essential Dialect411.com posts!

But…I am one of those people who always likes to send my guests home with a little extra, so if you’re ready for dessert, please enjoy:

Why? A Tangent Worth Taking — The post I almost didn’t publish, but the one that has garnered the most response.

Which are your favorite posts? I write this blog for you and love hearing about what you enjoy and what you’d like to see more of! Leave a comment here or send me a private email at dialect411 @ gmail dot com!

Speech Class– An Exercise in Listening

I promise this will only take a minute:

Grab your iPhone, computer or any semi-decent recording device, head to a quiet corner, and record yourself saying the following words. Speak them as you normally would…just be sure to take your time and leave some space in between each of the words. (Read aloud the titles of each list too.)

List One

Something — Some King — Something — Some King

Nothing — A Thing — Nothing — A Thing

Humming — It’s a Ming — Humming — It’s a Ming

Mooning — Mood Ring — Mooning — Mood Ring

Drawing– A Wing — Drawing– A Wing

List Two

Fleece — Fleas — Fleece — Fleas

decrease — decrees– decrease — decrees

faces — phases — faces — phases

peace — peas — peace — peas

List Three

Slaw — slot — Slavic

Walk — Wok — Wasabi

Sawed — Sod — Facade

Tall — Tom — Taco

Excellent! If you’ve recorded these, I invite you to read on. If you haven’t recorded these yet, then I invite you to stop reading now and do so. I know it’s hard to resist reading onward, but trust me, it’ll be worth it to wait until you’ve recorded the word lists.

(No peeking if you haven’t finished recording the lists…)

Once you’ve recorded these lists, the next step is to play the recordings you just made and listen for the specific sounds I suggest here:

For List One — Close your eyes and listen. Do all of the words that happen to be spelled with an   -ing sound the same during the -ing part? Or for you is there a slight difference between the way you pronounced the ‘ing in ‘something‘ vs. the way you pronounced it in  ‘some king‘?  If so, what is that difference? How are you physically creating that sound difference? What is your tongue doing? Which part of your tongue is doing it? The front? Middle? Back? If you happened to pronounce all of these words using the same final sound, can you remember hearing someone else pronounce these word sets using two different pronunciations for the -ing parts? Can you smoothly copy that way of speaking? Make it your own? If you used two different sounds, what would it be like to apply one of those sounds to both words in each set? And then apply the other sound?

For List Two — Pay particular attention to the way you pronounced the final sounds of these words.  Do all of the words on the list end with the same sound? Or is something else happening? Can you find a pattern? Does the first word in each pair end with an ‘s’ sort of sound, and the second word in each pair end with a ‘z’ sort of sound? If so, is the ‘z’ fully voiced and really buzzing or is it kind of a soft ‘z’ sound? What happens if you play around with the amount of voicing you give to the final s/z sound in ‘fleas’ ‘decrees’ ‘fazes’ and ‘peas’? How many subtle variations can you find in there?

For List Three — Closing your eyes may really help with this one– For this list, I want you to focus on listening carefully to the vowel sounds in each of the words. When you said ‘slaw’ did it have the exact same vowel sound as when you said ‘slot’? How about  when you said ‘Slavic?’  Do all of these words contain the same vowel sound? Or for you are there 3 different vowel sounds in these sets? Are there two? Can you figure out how you are actually creating each of those sounds? During each of these vowel sounds, what is your tongue doing? Your jaw? Your lips? If you used more than one vowel sound for these words, see what happens if you try saying all of the words using only the vowel sound you used in ‘Slavic’ and ‘Facade.’

At this point I’m getting the feeling that you might want me to quit yakking and just get to the point and tell you which way is the ‘right’ way of speaking each of these word sets, so you can get to work ‘fixing’ any problems.

I can’t.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the desire. After all, most of us would like the security of being ‘right’–it feels good.  Keep in mind though, that as an actor, it is more useful to you to adopt the mindset that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way of speaking. Leave all general judgements aside. As an actor,  how ‘best’ to speak a word will be entirely dependent on the project you are in and on the character you are playing. (Remember a while back I mentioned that good speech is simply speech that gets you what you want?)

Exercises such as the one above are not intended to endorse a particular way of speaking, but rather to sharpen your observational skills so that when you are called upon to speak in a manner other than your own, the path from where you are to where you want to be will be easy to see and enjoyable to traverse.

Questions? Send ’em in. I’m here to help!

Finding a Dialect Donor

Back on April 15th I suggested that one way to improve your casting opportunities would be to determine which of the world’s dialects would be a nice fit for your particular acting career. Whether you used the how-to steps I provided in that post, or whether you consulted with a dialect coach who specializes in dialect fittings, you might now find yourself ready for the next step: shopping for or recording your own dialect resource materials.

You can always hire a qualified dialect coach to record and edit materials for you, but if you would like the satisfaction of doing it yourself, here are a few ideas about where to find pre-recorded materials and/or people that you can interview and record on your own. (I promise to share with you the secrets of how to approach and interview a dialect donor in an upcoming post!)

1) The Internet— Dialect collection and preservation sites such as IDEA and the British Library offer a wide variety of recordings of people from around the world, all speaking English. (Caveat: Using such a site to find a pre-recorded sample that suits your needs can save you time, but in doing so you may have to sacrifice the flexibility and control that you would have had if you took the time to find and interview a subject yourself.) As I mentioned in my last post, if you’re mindful YouTube can yield some relevant resources and some contacts to boot. Googling around for particular language names or dialect names can also sometimes yield a useful dialect or language contact or two.

2) Clubs and Organizations— There are clubs devoted to celebrating nearly every ethnic background on the planet. In addition, certain clubs may attract people who hail from certain locations. A club dedicated to Japanese flower arranging for instance,  may have at least a few members from Japan. A trick riding club may yield some Montanan, or Texan members. Not everyone in a ‘We Love Switzerland’ club will be Swiss, but you can bet someone in the club knows someone from Switzerland and can put you in touch with them.

3) Places of Worship— The Roman Catholic church can be a great place to find dialect donors, as priests are often brought in from faraway places -(Ireland, Africa, and Mexico to name a few).  Synagogues will sometimes yield donors with Russian, German, Yiddish or New York dialects. Buddhist temples can help you locate speakers with many different dialects such as Thai, Chinese, or Japanese. Certain mosques might be able to lead you to donors with Egyptian, Saudi Arabian, Jordanian, Sudanese, or many other Middle Eastern and Northern African accents. When approaching places of worship, be sure to do some mindful research about beliefs and customs, so that you don’t unintentionally offend anyone.

4) Colleges— Check your local college faculty listings for potential donors from around the world. In addition to faculty members, you may be able to connect with the foreign student advisor and let them know you are looking for help with a certain dialect. They may permit you to post a ‘wanted’ sign, or even put you in touch directly with just the donor you are looking for.

5) Museums— If you have a local museum that specializes in the art and culture of a particular region, you may be able to find contacts through one of their curators, or you may even meet someone at a special event. A night of plays written by Native American playwrights might mean that there’s a chance someone from the Crow Nation will be in attendance. At the very least, your program will be filled with potential Native American contacts who might help you with your search.

6) Festivals— Festivals such as Irish, Indian, Greek, or Polynesian draw enormous crowds of people and performers, some of  whom may have just the sound you’re looking for. You just have to be outgoing and connect with them!

7) Towns within Towns-— Little Armenia, Chinatown, Little Africa, Korea Town etc. Most larger cities have areas a block or two wide where there are businesses devoted to the goods from certain geographical locations. Often the shopkeepers in these stores are good potential interviewees or can put in touch with someone.

8 ) Foreign Consulates— Foreign consulates can be very helpful if you’ve searched everywhere and are coming up empty-handed. Simply call a consulate, let them know you are preparing to play a role and find out if there’s someone there who might like to volunteer to help you for an hour or so.

9) Everywhere— This method takes a little longer, and I admit it is pretty random, but you may wish to consider keeping dialect and language notes on all of your new personal contacts. If you keep your contact information in a searchable database (such as Mac’s Address Book), jotting a few notes like ‘her mother is from Mongolia’ or ‘he was born and raised on the Nisqually Indian Reservation can help you later find the person you need for a project with only a few keystrokes.  Very handy.

I hope these ideas will give you a place to begin your next dialect adventure.

Do you have other ideas to share? Leave a comment below! (I love comments!)