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When singing in languages like Italian or Latin (which don't run to diphthongs the way English does), I sometimes find it hard to sing pure vowels, particularly when holding a note for a while. Should I attack this as an "ear" problem (and I need to listen to more music in these languages), or is there some vocal technique I can apply that will help?

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youtube.com/watch?v=FQt-h753jHI&feature=related Is this you?(; –  mrbuxley May 25 '11 at 6:03
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Interesting. It seems so strange that pronouncing only one vowel could be harder than pronouncing two (diphthong), to a non-native english speaker. –  Gauthier May 25 '11 at 8:22
    
@mrbuxley: nope. :-) @Gauthier: I suspect that we tend to imitate the sounds we hear and speak every day, which are probably different for the two of us. –  Monica Cellio May 26 '11 at 1:00
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4 Answers

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Interesting question! The only tip that springs to mind is to think of constantly renewing the vowel, so rather than thinking "I'm singing a long oo, here I go, ooooooooooooooooo" it can be helpful to think of lots of tiny, pure oo's strung together. ("oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo")

You may also want to be aware of what your lips and tongue are doing during a long note, as if they change shape they will necessarily affect the vowel sound.

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Thanks. Paying more attention to what my lips and tongue are doing over the course of a vowel sound was quite informative. :-) –  Monica Cellio Jun 1 '11 at 15:37
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It may be helpful to take out all of the consonants and sing through a song in Latin or Italian with only the vowels. For instance Dona nobis pacem would become oa oi ae. That will allow you to focus more specifically on the vowel sounds without the consonants getting in the way or encouraging you to run to dipthongs.

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My choir director loves to tell us about his voice teacher who made him do this perfectly before dropping in consonants. Luckily, he never made us do that! –  Babu Jun 27 '11 at 3:04
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The easiest way to hold a pure vowel sound is to maintain mouth position. Take, for instance, the 'O' sound of wrote. It is easy to close the jaw slightly to form the 't' and create a diphthong of the 'O' as in the phonetic o-oot. Instead keep the jaw relaxed on the O sound and instead of closing the mouth, reach up with the tongue to softly lick the t sound from the top of the mouth. Most deviations from pure vowel sounds occur when encountering the following consonant sound. Emphasis on consonants can be avoided - even when we should have a diphthong. Try the word wild --- most people triphthong this to ooWah-eeeee-ald because of jaw position. Instead, sing "hhhhWahhhhhhhhh- eeld" with very little movement of the jaw and just a small eeld with the tongue against the roof of the mouth. Start breathing before engaging the vocal chords to prevent a loud start that falls back in volume. We need not have the ooWah begin words that begin with W.

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IMO, this is practice, practice, practice. Go over the song phonetically, and speak each word on a single tone or in a speaking voice, properly pronouncing each vowel. Always remember that note transitions are where your dipthongs and consonants should be placed, and it should happen as fast as still sounds natural.

Now, that said, you imply that "pure" vowels equal "Latin" vowels. This is not necessarily the case; you can sing unelisioned vowels, and be consistent across an entire choir as to the color of each vowel, without the vowels having to be "ah", "eh", "ee", "aw", "ooh". The Latin pronunciation is simply an easy, natural, dialect-neutral set of vowels that works for classical music in most languages.

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