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Why is Diction Important?
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, in vocal music it is the text that provides an explanation for the musical accompaniment. If the words cannot be understood, the song can become meaningless.

This is not the case with all forms of compostitions. Instrumentals and classical music have their own 'spark' that ignites the listeners imagination, however, in most forms of contemporary music, pop, rock, blues, jazz, soul, rap etc., the words are an integral part that need to be expressed clearly by the singer in order for the sentiment or story to be understood.

Now, I know what your 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 the 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 thats 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.

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 singers 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 conjuction 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 vowels 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 it's own characteristic (known as formants) which identify the vowel to the listener i.e., sort, sought.

Vocal Vowels
Exploratorium Exibit. Hollow plastic models of the human vocal tract turn the squawk of a duck call into vowel sounds!

Phonetics Flash Animation Project
A collaborative effort of various departments at The University of Iowa which includes animated libraries of the phonetic sounds of English, German and Spanish with animated articulatory diagrams, step by step descriptions and audio-video of the sound spoken in context aimed at students of phonetics, linguistics and foreign language.

Good diction requires the crisp, clear pronounciation of consonants, without which the audience would be incapable of understanding a word you were singing. Ask your singing teacher or consult a diction textbook for more information on consonants.

Try the following exercises from Vocal Repertoire (German/English) site Japanese versions available on request.

A simple v-exercise
Fast m's
More voiced consonants
The French voiced j
Variation on z and v
Voiced consonants - m -ng

Stirling University's on-line phonology course
Includes useful information, diagrams and exercises to enable readers to learn more about vowel, consonant and speech production.

Speaking of Speaking
by Peter Mapp takes a look at how speech is constructed with spectograph diagrams and a list of consonant phonemes.

For more links to information on vowels and consonants, read Frequencies and Harmonics or download free Spectograph software.

What is the International Phonetic Alphabet?
Some forms of singing like opera, classical and early music require the vocalist to sing in several different languages. It is not always possible for the singer to learn each language fluently, so a form of alphabet based on pronounciation was created to enable them to translate several languages by using The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Texas Sings talks at more depth on this subject providing examples and further information.

Phonetics Dictionaries and Translators
Freeware and Shareware downloadable programs that translate text to the phonetic alphabet for Windows, Mac and Linux available at Brothersoft.

Diction Books & Audio Books
In Association with Amazon.co.uk & Amazon.com

This is just a small selection of books and audio books available in the diction & language books section. For foreign language online dictionaries, resources and translation, visit the languages section. Visit our Books For Singers to see our full book and audio book list which includes exercises, music theory, vocalises, sheet music, audition repertoire, and tuition books for singers of all standards and styles.

A Handbook of Diction for Singers A Handbook of Diction for Singers by David Adams

Written for the student whose native languge is English, this book is designed to serve as the core text for courses in Italian, German, and French diction required of all voice majors. It is also intended for voice teachers, vocal coaches, conductors, and anyone else who deals with the singing of texts in these languages. The book begins with an overview of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), then provides for each language a list of IPA symbols corresponding to its sound and explains the pronunciation of its specific sounds and sound combinations, with detailed discussion of syllabification and word structure, diacritical marks, vowel lengths, double consonants and consonant clusters, and the use of dictionaries. Illustrated with numerous musical examples and exercises, this text concentrates on the pitfalls that most affect singers.
Read More Amazon UK
Read More at Amazon USA

International Phonetic Alphabet for Singers International Phonetic Alphabet for Singers:
A Manual for English and Foreign Language Diction
by Joan Wall

A solid foundation for learning all aspects of the sounds of singing, this manual is highly recommended as an aid for singers and teachers. Widely adopted as an auxillary text, the book is designed specifically so that singers can lead themselves through the text.
Joan Wall is a voice professor at Texas Woman's University, where she has taught diction courses for more than twenty years. She was a member of National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS), presenting seminars and workshops, and has had a celebrated international performing career, singing as a principal with the Metropolitan Opera, the Deutche Opera Berlin, and in concerts, operas, and recitals throughout the United States.
Read More at Amazon USA

Phonetic Readings of Songs and Arias Phonetic Readings of Songs and Arias
by Berton Coffin, Ralph Errolle, Werner Singer, Pierre Delattre

Since 1964 the first edition has served singers, teachers of singing, and students of lyric diction as a guide to the correct pronunciation of songs in foreign languages. Lyrics and phonetic transcriptions are presented together, so that a song may be correctly articulated from the first reading. The 413 songs included have been carefully selected from Coffin's "The Singer's Repertoire" (1960) and are representative of the most frequently performed vocal repertoire, with songs and arias for all voice classifications. This second edition contains revised German transcriptions with diphthongs altered to be of better acoustical and vocal value in singing, correlated with Coffin's "Overtones of Bel Canto" (1980).
Read More at Amazon USA

The Singers Manual of English Diction The Singers' Manual of English Diction
by Madeleine F. Marshall

This well written book on the phonetics of English diction contains the rules and pronounciations of words in the English language. The book guides performers in singing clearly without the use of regional accents and incorrect pronunciations and whilst seemingly incongrous by todays standards, in the hands of a singer using correct vocal technique it is an essential resource.
Read More Amazon UK
Read More at Amazon USA

Vowel Chart
Berton Coffin
UK Price: £9.50
US Price: $10.00
This vowel chart defines the vowel colour changes in chromatic progressions for all voices. (also included free in 'Coffin's Overtones of Bel Canto' and 'Coffin's Sounds of Singing' which are both available in the diction & language book section.)
Read more at Amazon UK
Read More at Amazon USA

Diction Related Links

These are just a small example of the extensive links to online exercises and lessons we have available in the Singers Articles section, which contains complete listings of lessons, exercises or articles available on each site with direct links to the page (when not a framed site) plus answers to pretty much everything a beginner, intermediate, advanced singer or teacher needs to know! (All links open in a new window).

About Diction
Tom Schilling's informative newsletters provide a variety of tutorials

An introduction to the sounds of languages
based on Peter Ladefoged, Vowels and Consonants.

Are the Corner Vowels Like Primary Colors?
an insight into vowels with diagrams and explanations of ongue positions provided in .pdf format by the National Center for Voice & Speech.

Articulation of clear vowels, Phrasing
Anthony Winter's Voice Studio, Sydney, Australia provides various online lessons and exercises.

Articulation of the consonants and intelligibility
by Lloyd W. Hanson available at L'Atelier du Chanteur

Ask A Linquist
is a service provided by the Linguist List an internet network for professional linguists. Anyone interested in language or linguistics can ask a question and get the response of a panel of professional linguists.

Baroque Performance Practice
A Study in Articulation by Michael Black.

Diction Domain Homepage
An interesting resource for speech and song specialists who want to know how to pronounce absolutely everything in practically any language. Includes a very useful, specially devised IPS (International Phonetic Symbols) ASCII Equivalents Table that enables you to discuss pronunciations via your computer screen and the Internet.

Diction for Singing
Article in .pdf format by David Jones, D.M.A SFA Regents Professor of Music, Voice which includes IPA Charts, definitions, rhythmic diction and articulators. Click Here for the html version from Google.

Diction Helper
exists to be in service to young singers and their teachers, providing downloadable recordings of foreign-language texts for use in preparing classical solo songs for auditions, competitions, or ongoing vocal study. Site now includes downloadable podcasts on practicing and some free sample downloads of songs in their database.

How to Apply Technique to Repertoire
A constant question for singers by David Jones

International Phonetic Alphabet:
free downloadable scalable outline fonts for both Macintosh and Windows systems. They contain every base character, diacritic, and suprasegmental mark currently prescribed by the International Phonetic Association.

International Phonetic Association
Reproduction of The International Phonetic Alphabet chart, covers Consonants (Pulmonic and Non-Pulmonic), Diacritics, Other Symbols, Suprasegmentals, Tones & Word Accents, and Vowels.

IPA fonts
thread suppling information on where to find ipa fonts from Ask a Linguist - handy messageboard/listserver to find answers to language queries.

IPA chart in Acrobat (.pdf) format
One page, consise chart, developed by the International Phonetic Association for linguists.

On-Line Phonology Course
Centre for English Language Teaching Stirling University

SIL Home Page
includes information about styles of language learning software such as IPA fonts

The Singers Resource Site
Contains an online version of the International Phonetic Alphabet, a description of the larynx with diagrams, vocal tips, example practice schedule and warm ups.

Sounds from Additional Languages
many languages are included, including Akan, Arabic, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, and Yoruba - includes audio files.

Speaking Vowels Versus Singing Vowels
National Center for Voice & Speech (.pdf format)

Texas Sings
has some insights into learning repertoire plus online vocalise, articles on vocal care and diction complete with graphs showing correct tongue placement for each vowel.

The i Vowels
Interesting and informative article on tongue positioning and the i vowel posted to The Vocalist.org International Discussion Group by Lloyd W. Hanson.

The sounds of Ladefoged, A Course in Phonetics
A complete pronuciation guide to the IPA alphabet. Most of the materials are directed towards English sounds, but there are also samples of French vowels and uvulars, German vowels, Greek, Hausa consonants, Italian, Vietnamese, Xhosa and other languages - includes audio files.

Vocal Points
Article by singing teacher to the stars 'Tona de Brett'.

Vowel Chart
Very useful chart which aids in learning dialects by showing how parts of the mouth move to make various vowel sounds. Provided by Dialect Coach Joel Goldes.

Vowels & Diphthongs
This tutorial from Championship Men's A Cappella Multi-Part Harmony Chorus 'The Alliance' contains guidance, vowel examples, modification and a warm up exercise.

Vowels: The Troublesome Trio
Vocal Point of View, tips and techniques for reducing range inhibiting tension by Dede Wyland at iBluegrass.com