In this column I will try to
cover topics that will help people improve their vocal skills. This
months 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. Lets examine some
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
cant 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 youre not used to it, but remember
its 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]. Thats because these vowels each have two
syllables. Thats 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."