Diction for Singers
When the listener hears a song, the words and music create an image, feeling or emotion to which they can relate. When the song is heard repeatedly this creates familiarity and the listener starts to understand the sentiments further, picking up words, even non-sensical ones that encourage participation.
Although both music and lyrics are important, if the words cannot be understood, the song can become meaningless. Now, I know what you’re going to say! There are singers whose vocals are barely understood or mixed low in the track, and in some cases the effect is intentional to fit the type of song that is being performed, but in most cases, the singer needs to pronounce and project their words clearly.
Probably the best example of this is a local live music venue. How many times have you attended a live gig, only to be frustrated that you cannot hear the singer. Sometimes that’s caused by a lack of professional sound engineering, or a problem with the volume of the band, but often it is caused by the singer slurring or muffling the words due to bad diction (or possibly bad mic technique).
Listen closely to the majority of singers and bands who attain acclaim within their field of music, the one connecting factor is the ability to distinguish the lyrics. The words that form the story or identifying feeling of the song can be understood, even if the call backs, shouts and odd screeches cannot. They are successful not just for the quality of their music, but also because they recognise that their fans want to understand the song and it is the singer’s job to make it look and sound as easy as possible.
Another important aspect of practicing pronounciation is the way the shape of the mouth and placement of the tongue for each vowel and consonant effects the tone and brightness of the notes produced. Learning how to manipulate these shapes and positions in conjunction with correct breath control can aid in improving tone, range and clarity. Part of developing a good vocal technique involves improving vowel and consonant production so sound those E’s & T’s!
Singers spend more time singing vowel sounds in comparison to the consonants which is why so much importance is placed on them when practicing. Vowels are formed by the shape of a combination of parts that form the vocal tract including the tongue, lips and nose. Each tongue placement and mouth shape gives the vowel its own characteristic (known as formants) which identify the vowel to the listener i.e., sort, sought.
Good diction requires the crisp, clear pronounciation of consonants, whether they start or end the word, without which the audience would be incapable of understanding a word you were singing. A common fault with singers is that they don’t end the word properly, eg Don’t go breaking my hah, instead of heart. So don’T forget to end your words with crisp consonants also.