Lessons from the balloon: The Voice

For this exploration you’ll need a sound system and a balloon—a regular rubber balloon like you see at children’s parties, round and plain, blown to about the size of your head.

On your sound system, play a CD of something lively, vibrant, and variable in dynamics and tone. I love doing this exercise to the Golden Gate Quartet—four guys with very different but well-blended voices, singing tunes of a Biblical bent with tremendous rhythmic vitality. But anything sonorous will do. While the CD is playing, hold the balloon in your hands, as lightly as possible. Walk over your sound system’s speaker; stand right next to it; and place the balloon against the speaker.

The balloon captures the vibrations from the sound system and magnifies them. And the vibrations make the balloon come alive, all sounds, all voices, all musical elements making their own individual vibrations. Sound becomes tangible, something you can hold in your hands. You have to do it to believe it. And even when you do it, you won’t believe it.

After doing this for a while, turn the music off and do another exercise. Hold the balloon (always with a light touch) close to your mouth and speak into the balloon. Yep—the balloon also captures your voice and makes it tangible. Try speaking high, low, soft, and loud. Lengthen your vowels to enhance the vibrations: “Leeeeengthen your vooooooowels.” Do the exercise with a friend: ask him or her to stand facing you, the balloon between your mouths. Take turns talking. You’ll hear and feel the differences between your voices.

While talking into the balloon, push your head back and down into your neck, shortening the neck and spine. Your voice will change considerably, and so will its vibrations. I bet you’ll like your vibrations better when the neck is lengthening and the head well-poised.

Moral of the story: Each sound has its vibration, and the sounds of a well-coordinated musician have the liveliest vibrations. Become attuned to this phenomenon and you’ll develop your field of perception, your coordination, your aesthetics, and more besides.