Morgan Freeman has a deep, soothing, and authoritative voice that could turn anything into a reputed source. This voice has earned Freeman some of the wisest roles in film history and a plethora of documentary narration jobs, especially touching upon the mysterious and unknown.
Doing a Morgan Freeman impression is not an easy task. Stick around as we dissect some of the main techniques you ought to follow for a “perfect Morgan”.
Find Your “Vocal Fry”
Morgan Freeman’s voice is known for being slightly cracky. Hence, in order to emulate this effect, you must “find your vocal fry,” which is the opposite of clearing your voice.
The idea is to explore the natural ways to crack your voice throughout all notes in your normal talking range. You should not concentrate too much on delivering accurate notes. Rather, for this exercise, you should attempt to bend the pitch while retaining the “crackles”.
It goes without saying that these “crackles” would come out more effortlessly during the earliest morning hours, for the vocal cords at that stage are recovering mobility after a long period of idleness. Add to this the accumulation of fluids around the throat area.
You’d want to get to that idleness, or something close to it. To achieve this, you should stick to a specific note, somewhere in the middle of your range. Endeavor to deliver the softest chest voice possible until you find the fry. Once you’ve found it, strive to remain in that specific tone for a few minutes so that you can spot the focal resonance point of that fry.
Then, slowly slide the pitch up and down without losing the fry. It should not sound forced or “manufactured”. You don’t want to force the “Morgan Freeman feel”; rather, it should stem naturally from your own voice as much as possible.
Find the “Color”
The next step is to seek after the correct voice “color” or tone, without losing the fry you’ve just found. You can try out the following exercises:
- Move your tongue back and forth as you speak. By doing so, you’ll be capable of getting different frequencies in your voice. You’ll also notice that you can get a more accurate Freeman sound by tucking your tongue backward, though you shouldn’t strain it. Your mouth and tongue ought to remain relaxed at all times.
- Next, try to block airflow intake through the nose as you talk. Pay attention to the vibrations and ensure that the resonance is fixed between the nose’s rear and the back of your mouth.
- Freeman’s voice also carries a slight grumpiness, Think of how the voice of Squidward Tentacles (Spongebob Squarepants‘ character) fluctuates as he speaks. Attain that general flair, toning down the outlandishness proper to Squidward’s presentation while always being mindful of the fry as you do this.
- Freeman would typically let some air out as he ends a sentence or statement, especially when expressing deep and soulful thoughts.
- You can tilt your head down to tighten the throat area and squeeze the lower notes. These notes don’t have to sound whole (as when you sing) so feel free to restrain as much air as needed from your chest and throat.
- Finally, follow Freeman’s own advice and “yawn a lot”.
Use the Southern Accent
Morgan Freeman comes from Memphis, Tennessee. This means he’s bound to talk with a Southern American accent, albeit with its mild twists and turns. Nonetheless, he tends to be very articulate and uses consonants with more precision than the regular Southerner, owing to his extensive voice training.
The Southern accent is known for its two main variants:
- The “southern drawl” is very soft to the ears and tends to drag out the words.
- The “southern twang” is more nasal and sounds faster and sharper.
As you might imagine, Freeman is prone to render a drawl more often than a twang. His speech is noticeably slow and drags out his sounds, especially his vowels though, occasionally, both variants may coalesce.
Southerners, such as Freeman, are also very known for:
- Syllable stress
- Vowel switching
- Abridged sounds when pronouncing “I”, “my”, or the “-llow” suffix.
Diphthongs are syllables formed by a combination of two vowels. In American English, diphthongs are graphically and audibly conveyed in words like “sound”, or “mount”.
However, several diphthongs can be discerned audibly in the Southern accent without them being obviously laid out in the written text. To illustrate, in words like “hat” or “pet”, you’d find that the main vowel is followed by an offglide “schwa”, which is a very subtle “uh” sound.
Other words with more prominent diphthongs are “dog” or log”, which would be pronounced “dawg” or “lawg”.
Freeman is known for emphasizing and prolonging stress syllables, particularly in words with two or more syllables. Additionally, Southerners like him are wont to switch the stress syllables to the first syllable of a word. For example:
- Guitar = “GUI-tar”
- Thanksgiving = “THANKS-gi-ving”
The “eh” sounding “e” in some words would be switched with an “i” (pronounced midway between “eh” and “ee”). Thus:
- Get = “git”
- Pet = “pit”
- Pen = “pin”
Abridged “I” and “-llow”
Whereas Southerners add diphthongs in certain words, they also remove them from others. This happens regularly with specific long “I” sounds, which they would replace with “ah”. To give some examples:
- I = “Ah”
- My = “Mah”
- Lullaby = “Lullabah”
Finally, “-llow” suffixes are oftentimes substituted with “uh”. To illustrate:
- Pillow = “Pilluh”
- Fellow = “Felluh”
- Mellow = “Melluh”
Practice with Keywords and Phrases
To practice your Morgan Freeman impression, it’s always a good idea to stick with one keyword and slowly introduce more words and keyphrases as you advance, following all the tips provided above. This should help you build up confidence. With time, you may start reading any text with a Morgan Freeman voice and end up saying virtually anything with it.
Lastly, master the majorly stern Freeman look as you speak. While this will not show in voiceover work, it should help get you into character.