Reading Aloud
May 25, 2005 8:16 AM   Subscribe

How can I learn how to read aloud?

I love reading fiction aloud, especially short stories and folk tales. I don't often trip over my words, but my style is nothing better than mediocre. The best books on tape I've heard sport narrators who have a bag of tricks filled with varied voices, dramatic pauses of all sizes, impeccable inflection, etc. etc.
How can these skills be learned?
posted by louigi to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You might try acting school.
posted by caddis at 8:19 AM on May 25, 2005

A speech coach?
posted by boo_radley at 8:39 AM on May 25, 2005

You can take voice over classes...plenty if you google them.
posted by stevyb at 9:21 AM on May 25, 2005

I've done a bit of voicework, but am not formally trained in it (some drama classes, but nothing specific to voice). In other words, this is a personal method, but you may find something useful in it.

I've figured out pieces by reading them closely, seeing where the pauses and emphases naturally fall in my internal voice, then marking up the text appropriately. Really, it's as basic as BIG PAUSE or SHOUT written prominently by phrases as needed. It's crude, but I need to understand and act at once, so it must be kept simple. Then, I test my choices by reading aloud, changing or refining as needed.

It's a really fine line between speaking precisely and overenunciating, emoting intelligently and overdoing it -- really fine. I think the key is developing a good basic rhythm that is slightly slower than normal speaking. If you've ever seen Mystery! on PBS, I think of this as the Diana Rigg method. She's really good: dulcet but not drippy, well enunciated but not pedantic. If you have that good basic clip down you can then filigree it with more dramatic stuff, but you must have it down; it's the anchor for all the rest.

When the overall piece feels good to you, tape yourself and listen. You may be trying to communicate anger, but your voice is only peevish, or perhaps your voice sounds whiny instead of sad -- you won't know until you hear it. It's amazing, the kind of practice and scrutiny it takes to sound natural and convincing!

It helps a lot that you love what you're reading. That will make you more sensitive to the arc of the story and its subtexts, and help you communicate it better. It is really so cool that you want to have this skill just to please yourself and the people who'll be listening. Good luck.
posted by melissa may at 9:38 AM on May 25, 2005

A cheaper solution is to record yourself reading out loud and listen to it. This is a technique you will be encouraged to use in any instructional setting, and it's a good place to start. Also, listen to other people read aloud and try imitating what you like when you are recording yourself. You can see what works and what doesn't.
posted by carmen at 9:39 AM on May 25, 2005

Thanks for the tips thus far. I'm looking more for tips on how to pursue this without great monetary expenditure. I'm happy to put in time, but this is a hobby, not a job - any suggestions on how I can go about improving my skills without paying someone else to help me?

stevyb, I didn't know that the term "voice over" was used for this. Thanks.
posted by louigi at 9:42 AM on May 25, 2005

on post: melissa may and carmen, you snuck in after preview! thanks for your comments.
posted by louigi at 9:46 AM on May 25, 2005

Unsolicited plug: I've worked a bit with Edge Studio, and their classes in NYC are terrific.
posted by o2b at 10:53 AM on May 25, 2005

(I'm assuming that we're talking about stories with characters)

I'm a director (theatre), and I would urge you to approach this the way professional actors approach their work. Actors (since Stanislavsky) are trained to work from character rather than to make mechanical choices. By this, I mean that one shouldn't say "I need a two-second pause here and then I will raise my voice."

Instead, the actor thinks about what his character WANTS. For instance, in this scene, my character wants (say) to seduce a beautiful woman. I will then try different tactics in order to get what I want. The woman (or the circumstances of the story) throw various obstacles at me (if they didn't, there would be no conflict in the scene). When met with a conflict, I change tactics and try again to get what I want.

Eventually I either get what I want, in which case the scene ends (or my needs change and I now want something else) or I'm thwarted.

Actors learn how to go after goals (using tactics) with their voices just-as-much-as with their bodies.

As a reader, you will be playing dozens of characters, so you'll want to break down the text and learn what they all want. And I think you should think of the narrator (even if it's third-person) as an additional character and try to figure out what HE wants (to amuse the listener? to shock? to prove a point?)

This technique has been taught for years and their are dozens of books (classes, etc.) that go deeply into it and explain how to do it.

But I recommend A Practical Handbook for the Actor. It's the Strunk and White of Acting Theory. It's brief and to-the-point.

Recently, I cast an actor who had a lot of natural talent but had never taken an acting class. At times he would recite his lines without putting any emotion behind him. I loaned him my copy of A Practical Handbook for the Actor and in a couple of weeks he was on-par with the rest of the cast (all trained actors).
posted by grumblebee at 11:25 AM on May 25, 2005

You could practice for a cause by volunteering for your local books for the blind & dyslexic program. Maybe they teach you tricks during orientation?
posted by kmel at 11:32 AM on May 25, 2005

I second the RFBD approach kmel mentions. The drawbacks are: 1, they require a small but ongoing level of committment, and 2, they don't appear to have a branch in Canada, although I'd guess there must be a similar organization up north where you are.

But the benefits are:
- you are consistently reading a variety of books out loud
- you are recording on quality equipment and can learn from listening to your own work
- you are helping others as you teach yourself this skill (and you learn to work the recording equipment at the same time, so you actually learn 2 skills)
- the committment and knowledge that your work will be heard by others may cause you to do a better job and have a faster learning curve than if you just record yourself at home.

You are given a set of texts in various genres to read and practice, and if I recall correctly, after a few practice sessions you then make a 'demo' tape to prove that you can work the equipment and have a decent speaking voice. After that, you can read whatever needs to be read when you happen to come in to the studio, or become a specialist in the field(s) of your choice.

the more I search google, the more I find that Canadian resources for the blind seem to rely on RFBD in the US for texts. Perhaps my response will be helpful to someone in the US who wants to learn to read out loud, or perhaps I just haven't searched thoroughly enough. any Canadians know of a similar organization in your country?
posted by hsoltz at 1:25 PM on May 25, 2005

I like reading to people, and I think it all boils down to practice. I used to read aloud very fast, and trip over my words. I've been listening to many audio books over the past few years, and it's influenced how I read aloud. Take your time, make sure there's tone in your voice. When I read aloud I feel that my mouth moves more than when I am speaking, probably to add precision to sounds.

If you're not an actor, and you're not reading a children's book, I would skip the voice acting part of reading aloud. It's worse to hear a bad fake accent than to hear no accent. I also hate it when male readers try too hard to sound female, and speak in a breathy falsetto. Awful.

Reading in your own voice, with some minor modifications, allows the listener to mentally substitute character voices. A badly done character voice detracts from this quite severely.

As mentioned above, recording yourself for critical evaluation can be a cruel but valuable way of learning. Prepare for `Oh god! Do I sound like that?'
posted by tomble at 6:41 PM on May 25, 2005

I second the "read more slowly" suggestion.

Also, read ahead with your eyes of what you're speaking out loud. This takes some getting used to, but it will help you keep from stumbling over tricky words (it's how musicians sight-read music).
posted by joshuaconner at 8:34 PM on May 25, 2005

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