Vocal projection/breathing exercises: considering lung capacity


The ability to project your voice is (obviously) an essential skill for an budding actor – or anyone who ever needs to talking in public (including teachers!).

Voice projection should be stressed throughout all drama lessons and exercises – but it’s sometimes useful to have dedicated sessions to reinforce regular nagging!

This set of exercises encourages students to think about their lungs & breathing – an absolute necessity for proper, sustained projection. The short exercises can be used as warm-ups and/or ongoing exercises that performers should carry out in their own time. The patter songs can be used as a way to mark progress over time – try to go further with each breath.

Before starting these exercises, do tell the group to look after themselves – if they know they have any breathing problems, they shouldn’t push themselves too far (watch younger students for this) and everyone should feel free to take a breath if they’re uncomfortable – we’re trying to encourage people to be better performers not dead ones!


It is useful to have a general physical warm-up game before this exercise: something like Run to It is ideal.

Additionally, you may want to do some facial warm-up exercises: scrunching up then stretching out, “eeee” then “ooo”, chew an imaginary ball of toffee (that’s getting bigger), stretch the tongue out (pointed & flat) and waggle it from side to side and whistle “happy birthday”.

Short introductory exercises

Few people use their full lung capacity for breathing or speaking in day to day life – these exercises should remind the group what it feels like to do so!

If there is room, have everyone lie down on the floor on their backs. We use chest/torso muscles when we stand/sit up – but for these exercises, we want to use every possible muscle for controlled breathing!

Ask everyone to take a deep breath in – remind them that they should use their diaphragm – that their chest/stomach should go out as they fill up, not their shoulders hunch up. Hold the breath for a few seconds then let it go. Repeat.

Next, ask them to take a deep breath in again but ask them to expel it in a different way as below. Repeat each of these exercises at least a few times until you feel the group is making the most of them:

  • HA! – expel all the air out of your lungs in one “pop” by saying “ha!”. This should get louder as it’s repeated and whenever anyone is talking too quietly in the future, remember how loud they got with this!
  • Hiss it out – hiss for as long as possible, until you’re all out of air
  • Ahhh – a variation on the hiss, again held until you’re out of air. This is usually faster than the hiss.
  • Count it out – a steady count as a group for as long as people can on just one breath. Make sure the numbers are strongly projected to use a good amount of air each time.

Patter songs

Depending on the knowledge/experience level of the group, it may be worth giving a short introduction about patter songs before you start this section – about how they’re designed to be fast & tricky but fun because of it.

Stand in a circle and read through the patter song verse together as a group. The first read-through should be slow to let people become familiar with the words – let them breath however they want – demand clear diction at this stage to encourage it to remain for the later, faster rounds! Next, speed it up a bit, and ask people to count how many breaths they need to take to get through it – many people will have to take two breaths in the middle. For the third time through, go a bit faster still and see if people can get through it with just taking one breath in the middle (funnily enough, usually at the word “lung”!). For the last run, go lickety-split fast and ask everyone to stop when their first breath runs out — after so much deep breathing and the speed increase, a fair proportion of the group should be able to get through it or nearly get through it before they run out of air.

Good patter songs to use

  • The Nightmare Song from Iolanthe – From “you’re a regular wreck” to “haven’t been sleeping in clover”
  • The Major General’s Song from The Pirates of Penzance – the first section from “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” to the next “I am the very model of a modern Major-General” inclusive.
  • “My eyes are fully open to my awful situation” from Ruddigore – Robin & Margaret’s verses

What next?

As this exercise has introduced the ideas of choral speaking, a lesson could then progress onto the vocal projection exercises using political speeches or pop song lyrics.

Or if time is short, an exercise like the Shakespearean Insult Generator is good – ask them to try to really spit/force out the insults using as much lung capacity with each insult as possible.

Have you used this game with your class?

  • Did they like it?
  • Did you find it useful?
  • Did you change anything?

We'd love to hear what you think!