Movement Psychology in Voice

“Based on the work of the late Yat Malmgren, one of the great solo artists of European modern dance and the creator of the Laban-Malmgren System of Character Analysis. His unique contribution developed the theoretical work on the psychology of movement initiated by Rudolph Laban, the visionary innovator in the field of choreography and movement theory.”

The paragraph above introduces prospective students of the Drama Centre to the work that is at the core of its proposition; the work of the late Yat Malmgren who, by interpreting and channelling the pioneering work of Rudolph Laban, created a step-by-step guide (literally a framework) through which performance can be analysed through its constituent parts, and recreated at will. I studied this work between 1992 and 1995 and, at the time, it was not published. Since Malmgren’s death in 2002 the work has been the subject of two theses, and therefore much of it is in the public domain.

I use many aspects of this work in Specific Heat Capacity, a voice course originally commissioned by the University of St Andrews for their postgraduate researchers. To create some context around this work and why it might be useful when it comes to how we use our voice, consider the two images below:


It is possible to look at the images of the two people above and draw likely conclusions about their inner state. Whilst the man on the left clearly appears to be suffering some pain or grief, it seems obvious that the man on the right appears untroubled in the same way, and possibly even in a happier state than normal. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the outer appearance of these two is in some way connected to their inner feelings and thoughts.

However, the work argues that this connection is even more subtle and varied than simply happy or sad. Take the grief-stricken example above, and now compare it with three more images below. Each, it could be said, are unhappy in their own right, but it might be possible to imagine the varying kinds of grief being suffered. Perhaps the death of a family member, the ending of a relationship, a sense of betrayal or regret might more accurately describe each of them.


Whilst we cannot know what each of these people is thinking or feeling with any precision, their expressions do appear to tell different stories. If our appearances can influence other people’s perceptions of us, then it might be beneficial to exercise a degree of control over them. Where this work differs from many others is that by exploring the links between inner state and outer appearance, it is possible to create a methodology.

It is possible to say that what we mean and the way we say it will be perceived to be connected, so therefore we can influence how we are perceived by how we use our voice. There are many voice workshops that will help you discover what makes a good voice; Specific Heat Capacity uses the work of Yat Malmgren to help you discover how to do it consistently.

Take a moment and imagine yourself in any of these situations:

·      Telling your child a bedtime story

·      Sharing intimate thoughts with your lover

·      Hailing a taxi

·      Complaining about poor service to a waiter

·      Shouting support to your favourite team at a sporting event

In each of these scenarios you will be using your true authentic voice, but not only would it be staggeringly different in each situation, it would feel awkward and unauthentic if you didn’t use these voices. If you don’t believe me, try complaining to a waiter about cold soup using the same voice you used to read a bedtime story to your three year old daughter.

A study of biology shows that your body will be doing different things in order to produce different qualities of voice. Movement Psychology in Voice is nothing more than a process of modelling in order to create a framework of reverse engineering, so that you can control your voice at will. You may well feel that this is akin to manipulation or falseness, but I would suggest that it is the same as wearing your best suit to an interview.

Specific Heat Capacity is a course that offers you the detailed knowledge and specific exercises you’ll need to build your personalised framework. This will allow you a greater sense and awareness of what is happening inside your body during voice production, and therefore a greater ability to control it. Like walking, driving or riding a bicycle, it may feel contrived and difficult at first; but as familiarity increases, so will your skill.