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Listen to Edgar Bergen
and Mortimer Snerd!

"Mortimer Snerd talks with Bergen about the new animals on his grandfather's farm in Snerdville."
01/8/56 (0:38)

(mp3 format)

Where do you
want to go?

Ah, yes, the favorite question of
vent figures everywhere.

by Kimn Swenson Gollnick

Think about the last time you heard an emergency vehicle's siren. Could you tell which direction it was coming from? If you're normal, you probably had to look around to see the flashing lights to figure out where it was. Right? That's because the human ear is easily deceived; we depend on visual confirmation when we hear sound.

Ventriloquism is about illusion, misdirection, and sound substitution.

Very advanced ventriloquists can do special techniques, like a telephone voice or a distant voice, which require special breathing and vocal control. But overall, ventriloquism is about illusion and misdirection.

Thus, using a fuzzy puppet or a vent figure creates the visual cue for the SOUND we vents produce. If we do our job by not moving our lips and jaw while speaking (and synchronizing the movement of our puppet's mouth), the sound appears to be coming from the nearest logical source--the vent figure.

What is a ventriloquist, anyway? It's someone who can speak without moving their lips and jaw, while making a puppet or vent figure look alive. The biggest secret to ventriloquism is this: ANYBODY CAN DO IT. The question is, are you willing to PRACTICE so you're GOOD at it? What you answer reveals how serious you are about ventriloquism.

Okay, now that we've got the technical stuff out of the way, let's have some fun!

The Lesson

Did you know that there are only FIVE letters in the alphabet that require your lips to say them? Here they are:

B, F, M, P, and V!

"Hey," you say, "What about W?" Well, you're right. W takes special practice to learn to say, too. But it's not considered an "explosive," meaning it doesn't require lips or teeth coming together to create the sound, like a B or F.

But because there are only 5 letters that require lips to say them, this means ANYBODY can say "Hi, how are you?" without moving their lips. Try it. See? If you keep your jaw steady and your lips from moving, you just said your first sentence ventriloquially!

"So," you ask, "how can you say those 5 letters that need lips?" Well, the name of the game is SOUND SUBSTITUTION. You learn to mimic or substitute the sounds by using your tongue and throat muscles. And that takes PRACTICE.

When I started in ventriloquism in fifth grade, I practiced the following sentences, one each day, for twenty minutes--every day. (I even practiced in the car when my mom had to run errands. My sister and I liked to pretend we were store dummies and couldn't move our mouths.) Try these sentences:

B: "The boy bought a basketball."

Secret: Say "d" instead of "b." Tip: Soften the "d" sound by pressing your tongue up against the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth. You can make it sound like "BOY" and not "DOY" if you really work at it. With daily practice, talking like this will become natural.

F: "If a fellow finds a fortune, he's fine."

Secret: Say a soft "th" instead of "f," like you would for "thistle." Tip: Keep your tongue hidden behind your upper teeth. I also force a little air between my tongue and teeth as I say a word starting with this letter.

M: "Many men make money."

Secret: Say "n" instead of "m." Tip: There are two methods to do this sound: I prefer to press the tip of my tongue against the roof of my mouth to make the "nm" sound. Other vents like to use the back of their tongue near their throat to make a "ng" sound. Try both and use whichever sounds the best to you.

Be careful with words that use both M and N, like "many." It takes concentration and yes, practice to make it sound right. But you can do it!

Beginner P: "Peter and Paul."

Advanced P: "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickeled peppers."

Secret: Say a soft "t" instead of "p." Tip: Soften the "t" sound into almost a "th" by pressing the tip of your tongue against the roof of your mouth or against the back of your top teeth.

V: "Violins and veal are a very good value."

Secret: Say a hard "th" instead of "v," like for the word "there." Tip: Concentrate on making this sound different than for "f." F is soft, V is hard. Mimic their sounds by using only your tongue and throat.

W: "We will win a wagon."

Secret: W is special because it's not considered an explosive letter (it doesn't require your lips to come together to say it). However, it's sometimes tricky to make it sound right while keeping your lips and jaw still. Try saying "oo"in front of the vowel as a substitute for W. For instance, the sentence above would be said like this: "OO-ee oo-ill oo-in a oo-agon." Also try using a "y" if that sounds better to you.

Tip: At first, this will probably sound and feel ridiculous, but with daily practice you will get better at it. With practice, it will feel natural. Believe me!

Final Words: Technique

To me, ventriloquism is a combination of these essential techniques:

1. Perfect lip and jaw control (no moving!).

2. Clear enunciation (no slurring!). After all, what good is learning ventriloquism if no one can understand what your vent figure just said?

3. Life-like manipulation of your puppet or vent figure (make him or her come alive!)

4. Stage presence--an air of confidence that comes from believing in yourself and your skill. This also comes from getting LOTS and LOTS of practice.

5. Delivery--with lots of practice, you should be able to get through your routine in front of an audience, and feel GOOD about it.


With practice, no one's a dummy.

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