By Keene Benson
I’m going to share with you three essential skills you can easily use to be well understood when you sing. Most importantly, these skills can help you improve the sound of your voice and give you a broader range of artistic choices.
1. What’s a dipthong, and what do I do with it?
Nope, a dipthong is not something you wear. A dipthong is a sound created by two vowels in the same word or syllable.
I’m going to use vowel symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to demonstrate. Sound out the dipthongs in these words:
boy – bɔɪ - “oh” followed by “ee”
pipe - paɪp – “ah” followed by “ee”
down - daʊn – “ah” followed by “oo”
mountain – maʊntən – “ah” followed by “oo”
side - saɪd – “ah” followed by “ee”
For the first syllable of the word “mountain”, you could sing “aaaaaah-oo,” “ah-oooooooo”, or a single vowel somewhere in the middle. How you choose to sing dipthongs is your artistic choice.
To sing a sustained note with the a free vocal tone and be well understood, sing the first vowel longer than the second.
For “mountain”, you would sing “aaaaaah-oo.” Sustaining the vowel on “ah” let’s your natural singing voice flow out and when you add the “oo” just before the next consonant, the audience understands the word clearly.
I’ve presented one of the many artistic choices you can make dipthongs. Play around with this technique in your favorite songs.
International Phonetic Alphabet gives you precise pronunciation guides for vowels and consonants. My students find this terrific audio/visual useful.
2. Why do those consonants keep getting in the way?
Singing words can be so different from regular speech. You're sustaining the sound on a vowel much longer than in normal speech. Here’s one skill that can have a big impact on your singing.
Pronounce the last consonant of the first word or syllable with the first consonant of the following word.
This allows you to constantly sing on the vowels and prevents the consonants from clipping the tone of your voice. For example, with the words “glen to”; if you let the “n” come too early, it closes off your voice, but if you combine the “n” of “glen” with the “t” of “to”, your voice stays open and free and the natural tone of your voice comes through. “Gleeeh-nto”
Sound out the example below in sustained speech to hear how this works (IPA symbols for dipthongs):
O Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are callin'
From glen to glen, and down the mountainside
Now you have a new skill to help you sing with a freer tone and be distinctly understood. Again, giving you more artistic choices.
3. What was that last word?
To make sure the last word of a phrase is clear, you can use one of these three techniques:
1. Hum consonants like “m” and “n” and add ever so little of an “uh” sound after the consonant.
Blossom - Bloo-soooommm”u
2. For “d” or “b” add a little “uh” sound after the consonant.
Flowered – Floo-weeee-rd”uh”
3. And for “p” or “t”, spit (blow plenty of air).
Fragrant – Fraaa-graaant (blow plenty of air)
This is just some of the many consonants we use.
I hope I’ve given you some skills you can use to be well understood, improve your tone and expand your range of artistic choices. Try these out in your songs and see how they work for you!
I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Music, Vocal Pedagogy before I moved to New York City to pursue a career as a Professional Singer. I teach my students a classical technique to discover and develop their unique singing voice.
Check out my profile on Savvy for more info and feel free to reach out!