You might think that the correct production of vowel sounds while singing is unnecessary because you might have heard one or two famous singers who intentionally mispronounced certain vowel sounds and sang as if they were stuttering. And so, you surmise that if they could get by with mispronounced vowel sounds without losing their popularity, you too could get by and become popular like them.
Of course, you can become a famous singer with sheer luck, talent, and good looks, Yet, if you want to hone your singing skills further, you need to deal with the basics of good singing, and you need to know how to sing vowels correctly. The cornerstone of an excellent singing voice is correct vowel sounds. But learning how to enunciate vowel sounds well when singing can be a bit tricky.
The way you pronounce vowels in speech is often not the same as how you pronounce them while singing. The reason is that vowels are pronounced using the front of your face and other articulators like tongue, teeth, and lips when you talk. But when you sing, the vocal tract and the tongue work together to shape the vowel sounds.
How Do Correct Vowel Enunciation Work in Singing?
When you sing a song, you will notice that around 99% of your singing depends on vowel sounds. So, producing the vowel sounds well is crucial to good singing. Moreover, when singing contemporary songs, you usually form your vowels by adequately positioning the articulators to create brighter sounds.
If you listen to pop/rock, you will notice that singers tend to make brighter vowel production, although they make their vowel production according to their stylistic choice. They vary vowel sounds by altering the positions of articulators to achieve better vocal sounds and singing styles.
You can brighten your vowels by not rounding your lips too much, especially if you will enunciate the “o” and the “u.” You also do it with a bit elevated and forward-arching tongue, complemented by a large mouth opening, specifically if you want to say “ah.”
The vowel sounds are formed by adjusting your soft palate, tongue, jaw, and lips. Moreover, all these adjustments do affect the vocal tract’s shape. They also provide every vowel a distinct color and sound.
Vowel Techniques When Singing
To improve your production of vowels, you need to know how to produce vowel sounds properly. It will also help to be cognizant of the following techniques to learn how to create the vowel sounds properly:
Vowels are considered pure vowels if the articulators mentioned above remain in one place when you execute the vowel sound. In classical music, pure vowels play a critical role in the singing of classical pieces. Moreover, they play a crucial role in mainstream and popular music.
With pure vowels, you can make your singing more radiant and brilliant. Pure vowels, of course, are not inherent in the American language. The reason is that the American language does not pronounce most vowels well. In fact, the most commonly used vowel sound in the American language is the schwa sound. You would hardly hear a pure “o” or “a” in that language. Most Americans also talk nasally, and they enunciate vowels as if they are chewing gum.
For this reason, pure vowels are foreign to Americans. Some examples of pure vowels are monophthongs. In music, the five primary pure vowels are “ah, eh, ee, oh, and oo.” The key to the correct production of these five vowels lies in the formation of the articulators. It will also help if you reduce the tension in your lip when you pronounce these primary vowels.
Jaw, Tongue, and Lip Placements
As mentioned above, singers form their vowels by adjusting the articulators like tongue, soft palate, lips, and jaw. These articulators readily adjust whenever we try to enunciate a vowel sound, and their adjustments affect the vocal tract to produce distinct vowel color and sound.
Remember that vocal clarity starts with proper vowel production. We usually listen to a song and get swept by how the singer pronounces the lyrics’ words. But if we fail to understand the lyrics of the song, we become frustrated.
Thus, if you want to sing well, you have the responsibility of pronouncing every vowel and word clearly. Yet, you can’t do this if you don’t know how to produce vowel sounds well.
When you sing, for example, a lyric with the word “Father,” you need to pronounce the syllable “Fa” with a dropping jaw. Otherwise, your listeners will hear “further” instead of father. Always bear in mind that all communication is lost if the audience doesn’t understand the lyrics.
Diphthongs and Triphthongs
You will find many diphthongs and triphthongs in the English language. When singing these diphthongs and triphthongs, you need to treat each vowel separately. You can sing the first vowel most of the time and only add the second and third vowels at the ending of the vowel sounds. Make sure that your mouth stays in a single position when you enunciate these vowel sounds.
In the English language, there are around nine diphthongs. You can check out these nine diphthongs to familiarize yourself with them. On the other hand, there are six triphthongs in the English language. So, make sure you are familiar with them if you want to produce them well.
Shaping Vowels When Singing
When you sing, you will find three vowel shapes that you need to know. First, there is the tongue up, wherein you pronounce the vowel at the back while your tongue is up. There is also the tongue down where in your tongue is low and forms a concave shape such as when you say Ah. There is also the tongue back with your lips positioned forward as producing the OO sound. You can create other sounds like AY ER and OO with a bit of variation in your tongue’s placement.
The way you shape your vowel sounds is crucial to keeping your throat open when you sing. As mentioned above, an open throat is vital to singing because, with an open throat, you can hit the high notes without straining your vocal cords.
Short and Long Vowels
If you are going to sing songs in the English language, it will help to know the different vowel sounds of that language. If you are singing in Spanish, of course, you will only have five vowel sounds. But in English, there are much more vowel sounds. Moreover, there are long and short vowel sounds.
You need to be familiar with these vowel sounds if you want to sound good when singing an English song. There are around five long vowel sounds in the English language: the ei as in fate, i as in meet, ai as in kite, ou as in rose, and ju as in cute. The short vowel sounds, of course, are the following: (æ) as in mat, (ɛ) as in met, (ɪ) as in mitt, (ɒ) as in lot, and (ʌ) as in shut.
When singing, you usually resonate your voice differently. Sometimes you resonate your voice at your head’s back where your vocal tract goes into the pharynx. The tongue’s root moves forward and releases the jaw’s base while your soft palate spreads during your first vocal break. Your soft palate then narrows down and rises onto the high range.
If you want to create a resonant space, you need to control your soft palate well. The soft palate, of course, comes with many functions when you sing. It can alter and manage your resonant space. It can also moderate nasal airflow.
Through practice, you can learn how to use your soft palate well to breathe in via your nose then breathe out via your mouth. When you breathe in through your nose, you will feel an open feeling at the back. Then, you also experience a closed feeling as you breathe out via your mouth. The soft palate can also move sideward or upward and alter the resonant space of your voice.
To gain access to your soft palate, you can start to yawn at your mouth’s back. When you yawn, you lower your larynx likewise while allowing your diaphragm to engage. The imitation of the yawning mode is a great way to achieve resonant space.
Producing pure vowels will give you optimal results. Yet, there will be times when you need to alter the pure vowel sounds to make you sound better. You can lower your jaw a bit or close it a bit to change some vowel sounds. You can also unround or round your lips or move your tongue a bit forward or backward when you sing. You will notice too that singers who want to belt high notes usually lower their jaw when singing high notes.
Understanding the Vowel Diagram and Terminology
One of the best diagrams that you can check out is the Daniel Jones vowel diagram. Jones charted the tongue’s position during the production of different vowels and came up with this diagram. For example, in that diagram, it is indicated that the tongue is at the back when you say “cool” and in the forward position when you say “treat” (i). This diagram, therefore, indicates whether your tongue should be back, forward, closed, unrounded, or rounded.
Daniel Jones’ chart will help you figure out where to situate your tongue whenever you produce certain vowels. As such, you will benefit from learning this diagram.
Correctly singing the vowels is tricky for most singers. Yet, the way you sing them can determine the outcome of your rendition of a song. Therefore, it will be best before performing a music piece to study with care the vowel sounds in the lyrics. Figure out how you can improve your vowel sound.
As mentioned above, the cornerstone of quality singing also depends on how you produce those vowels. So, it will help to learn the abovementioned techniques to create the right vowel sounds. Being cognizant of the correct vowel production will indeed improve how you sing and bring out your best when singing.