[edited and expanded December 28th, 2022, by Brett Manning]
If you were to quickly fly through a playlist of your favorite singers, you’d notice how each voice has specific colors that distinguish it.
Whether your diction is lazy, energetic, or percussive – or you pronounce every consonant, vowel and syllable with perfect enunciation and clarity, you will notice that certain influences– peers, family and artists will influence your pronunciation of every word you speak.
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Each culture has noticeable traits – the tongue shape, the mouth, and how they emphasize certain consonants and even syllables.
Alanis Morrisette [above] was known for strange diction and placing the emPHAsis on the wrong syLLAbles.
As a result of these quirky styles, a singer may have a specific word that carries more tension in the lips or jaw than other words. Some singers even hide their teeth out of self-consciousness (perhaps they are yellow, gray, or crooked).
A singer must communicate music in entire sentences. If we get hung up on reading individual letters rather than connecting consonants, turning language into an actual phrase, when people hear us, they don’t listen.
Even if each of your favorite singers sings the same song, no two songs sound the same, especially if they aren’t singing in their native language.
Understanding Articulation and Vocal StyleVocal Articulation is how we create sounds in speech — it relates to how different parts of speech sound. Variation in these speech sounds influences the characteristic style and tone of your singing. This is especially distinct with the lowering or lifting of the soft palate and shape of a vowel.
Vowel SoundsDiphthongs, vowel partials and phonetics require comprehensive understanding. We have a YouTube video covering this. Because every vowel sound has distinction, you’ll be elated with the content we have to share.
ConsonantsMy international best-selling program, Singing Success 360, goes into great detail. HOWEVER, I’ll be doing a related blog in the future. This blog will provide a brief overview. To be sure, attempting to rap can be a revelation on articulation. Eminem’s percussive consonants draw circles of how two artists could do the same song and sound so differently.
Vocal cordsStrengthen your chest voice to strengthen your cords. Weak chest register equals poor enunciation.
Offset/OnsetOnset is the closure and compression of your vocal cords and should be mastered with a coach. I’d recommend mine, of course. Offset is the stopping of tone—the release of vocal cord tensions. Weak offset communicates timidity. Learn precision!
How to Practice Singing Articulation
Clearly ArticulateArticulation is a challenge many singers face that can ultimately become a defining strength or vital part of their signature sound. BMA vocal coach, and lead singer of Sixpence None the Richer, Leigh Nash, known for her clear, breathy, almost innocently articulated vocals, understands how articulation effectively delivers a song’s message. And she has some sound advice for addressing issues with articulation to ensure you perform confidently! “Singers get used to the way they sing,” Leigh said. “Hearing themselves sound a certain way, with no one else listening, leaves little room for self-correction. This is particularly true with articulation.” My advice to someone would be to try and record yourself–listen back as critically as you can, but not too critically. Can you clearly understand the music in every vowel you’re singing???
Ditch DistortionSome singers get caught up in emotions, slur or jumble the words, burying them beneath angst, tears or yelling tones that distort and distract. Italy’s BMA vocal coach Giuseppe Lopizzo sees articulation when singing as the same issue that creates miscommunication due to improper articulation when carrying on a simple conversation.
Singing ConversationGiuseppe adds, “the main problem about articulation in singing is that the student tries to do something different when he or she sings from when they talk,” he said. “For example, they start doing strange things like big movements with their mouths, thinking this can help them articulate and sing… especially in their high range.” “They try to push out or punch the words. But, if they stop to understand that they can articulate freely when they sing like everyday speaking, vowels stay pure, there’s little throat tension and most of those problems disappear.” Brett has often stated that the foundation of His method is Seth Rigg’s Speech Level Singing and that articulation of clear speech can show up winsomely in songs.
Don’t Overthink ItLeigh agrees with Giuseppe, noting that singers sometimes overthink how they need to sound rather than trusting their natural instincts that come from a desire to simply communicate, rather than over-emphasizing a certain vowel while under emphasizing other vowels. “I also find myself telling students to sing the words just as they would speak them,” she said. “I think it connects to the listener effectively if they can hear words that come from your heart, versus too much thinking or any affectations.”
Open After Closed Vowel SoundsGiuseppe has noted some issues that may arise even when a student is engaged in singing, like speaking, especially for people who may be more naturally animated. “Big movements and wide openings of the mouth can cause problems,” he said. “Often, singers open their mouth a lot for vowels like A, creating tensions and pushing the chest voice higher and higher.” Giuseppe adds, “I have an answer to this problem. Try to position open vowels after closed vowels. For instance, just before the vowel A, say OO.”
Tone It To Own ItIssues with tone can also be challenging and even problematic for some singers, singer-songwriters, singing musicians, and performers. Nasality can be a big issue for some. But don’t panic. Leigh has some suggestions for addressing this challenge. [The is a strong reasoning for effective voice lessons] “When a singer has trouble with technique or tone – in particular, a nasal tone, it’s vital to give them a visual of what’s happening when they are singing,” she said. “So when there is too much nasality, the back of the tongue is being pushed back against the soft pallet, resulting in tongue tension.” Also, consider that some folks might enjoy your nasal sound. Really! The great multi-Grammy-winning Stevie Wonder has had notoriously nasal qualities in his tone – at times and for a certain effect.
Don’t Hold Your BreathGiuseppe often finds students having issues with over breathy tone, especially on an open vowel. But he has suggestions to help with working through that issue. “I often meet students that think they can help their singing voice by modifying their tone,” he said. “For instance, they think they can help their going very high or very low by adding breathiness to their tone. This has the opposite effect. It becomes more difficult.” He adds, “a quick tip to use in avoiding breathiness is to do exercises by putting the consonant G sound just before the vowel, like G-OO, for instance. The G sound makes your cords come together. So, when the vocal cords come together, it fights breathiness.” “To avoid excessive nasal resonance, you can do low larynx exercises, like lip rolls, or by singing, mum-mum-mum-mum—or Brett’s favorite denasal exercise on bub, bub. You can exaggerate the low larynx tone if you have excessive nasality so that in the end, you can find the right balance between the two.” Brett Manning reminds us again, “Some pop singers develop a charm in their nasality. Pop is extraordinarily diverse. There’s liberty in that!”
Clips For TipsSeveral video clips on our Singing Success YouTube page can help with articulation and tonality. Be sure to contact us with your most difficult questions! Jesse Nemitz offers a clip called “Get Out Of Your Own Way” that’s especially beneficial in helping you approach your training in the most productive manner.
Share Your CaresShare your challenges with articulation and tonality via a private Facebook page on our VIP program and compare results generated through tips and practices engaged through the Mastering Mix and Singing Success programs. Remember that practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice and commitment are keys to developing perfection. The stronger your commitment to perfect practice, the greater your potential for achieving true singing success!
Learn and repeat Vocal ExercisesWhether your learning style is:
- one on one with a coach or
- you prefer to exercise your vocals privately with one of the Singing Success courses