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Singing Tips
Bob Young

In this column I will try to cover topics that will help people improve their vocal skills. This month’s topic is enunciation. Enunciation is undoubtedly the most ignored discipline of the craft of singing. However it is also one of the most important components of voice. Anyone who has studied voice with a professional voice instructor will tell you that more time is spent learning and mastering correct enunciation techniques than any other component. Correct enunciation is necessary for the listener to clearly hear and understand the lyric. More than that it helps you convey the emotion of the song. And it even improves the resonance of your vocal quality when you enunciate correctly and helps to give your voice a unique quality. While there is no one right way to enunciate that fits every occasion, there are some basic rules that work well in nearly all of them. Let’s examine some of them.

The words of a song of course can be broken down into syllables that in turn are composed of consonants and vowels. It is these components that must be focused on to improve our enunciation. In the over all sense we must first realize that we can’t enunciate the same way singing that we enunciate while speaking. Singing is much more difficult for the listener to understand than simple speech because it has so many more and complicated components to it. Things like melody, rhythm, and counter rhythm, harmony. It also usually contains other instruments besides voice. For these reasons we need to exaggerate our enunciation much more while singing. Doing it this way will probably sound wrong to your ear at first if you’re not used to it, but remember it’s what the audience hears that count and it will sound just fine to them.

Consonants are the easiest so we will start with them. The main trick to consonants is simply to make them of short duration. For example you would not sing the word "man" held for a substantial duration as: Mannnnnnnnnnnnnnn. You would sing "maaaaaan. You want the consonant to sound clear and distinct so you should take care to articulate it, even exaggerating it but put it right at the very end of the syllable. Of course you must be careful, when singing with a microphone particularly, not to pop or explode consonants like "P" or "T."

Vowels are the part that seems to give singers the most trouble. There are "long" vowel sounds, "short" vowel sounds, and on and on infinitum. We will concern ourselves today with the "long" vowel sounds. The "long" vowel sounds are :"AA" [as in Train], "EE" [as in Green], "I" [as in Nice], "Oh" [as in Hope], and "Oouw’ [as in You]. We will start with the "EE", "Oh", and "Oouw" as they are only one syllable and therefore much easier to master.

To sing "EE" [Green] you simply raise the back of your tongue. This is the easiest vowel of all. If you are singing "Ahh" for example and you raise the back of your tongue it will instantly turn into "EE." This will happen automatically no matter what vowel you happen to be singing. Remember this trick as I will have more to say about it later.

The "Oh" sound [Hope] is accomplished by making your lips purse into a circle. This is another easy vowel that most people have little problem with.

The "Oouw" sound [You] is often done incorrectly. Try singing the word "YOU" the way most people pronounce the word [Yewh]. Now try singing it as if it were "Yule" [as in Christmas time]. This is much closer to the correct way. Just keep the "L" part to a minimum and you have it. This will sound funny to you the first time you do it, but your audience will hear it the right way. Also "Oouw" is a much more pleasing musical sound than "Ewh’ "Ewh" is what we say when we see something really gross.

Now come the vowel sounds that give singers the most trouble, The "AA" [Train] and "I" [Nice]. That’s because these vowels each have two syllables. That’s right, two. Pronounce the word "MAY" slowly and listen carefully. Now try "Bright." Do you hear Maa-ee? How about Brii-eeght? That is because the "AA" and long "I" sounds end in "EE." Ok so how do we sing them correctly? Well you just treat the second syllable ["EE’} of these vowels the same as you would a consonant. That is you hold the "AA" or long "I" sound for almost the entire duration of the note then add the "EE" right at the very end. So "MAY" held for a long time would be "M-a-a-a-a-ee. Where most singers mess up is not in failing to add the "EE", but in doing it too early in the note. So "MAY" becomes "Maa-ee-ee-ee. Remember if you raise the back of your tongue whatever sound you are singing turns into "EE." One reason singers tend to go the "EE" sound too soon is "EE" is the easiest note to sing when you are at the uppermost reaches of your vocal range. In other words the highest note you can sing will probably be a half step or so higher on "EE" than what you can reach on anther vowel such as "Ooh."




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