Singing Diction Tidbits #1

December 22nd, 2009

Have you ever noticed? Of all the special events and holidays of the year, more singing surrounds Christmas than any other. As a result, we’ve been really busy in the non-cyber world and are still speeding along piu presto (superfast).

Nevertheless, we want to stay in touch with you and reassure our followers of our commitment to maintain an ongoing dialogue about singing. So until we start answering the questions you asked us about, here’s a tiny trick about some word-ending consonants.

The letter D is what’s called a voiced plosive. Plosives have limited duration and require a miniature burst — or explosion — of air to create them; they include: B, D, G, K, P, and T. (Others like J and Q sort of count, but there are reasons they aren’t included. That’s another topic.)

Unvoiced plosives don’t involve vocal cord vibrations at all. There’s no pitch or tone to a K, P, or T. The rest of the group — B, D, and G — are voiced plosives. Add vocal cord activity to P, and you get B. Get the idea?

One of the worst things to do when you’re singing is to force extra air through a plosive to make sure it’s heard. It will explode … literally … out of the texture of the message, and in most cases it will be a huge distraction. If you’re using a microphone, it can sound like the start of World War III.

The professional secret lies in the shape of the vowel — voiced or unvoiced — inside your mouth as you finish the plosive. You need the smaller, narrower space of an “ih” instead of the more cavernous “uh.” Then you can spend less time and air getting the job done, and yet your ending plosives will be heard more clearly, without anyone having a clue why.

Here’s to passionately sung, beautifully and economically enunciated music. May you and yours find new inspiration and joy from the holidays you hold dear!

May we recommend: Andrea Bocelli, Sting, Tori Amos, Dave Koz (not vocal, but noteworthy),  Jessye Norman.

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