The Importance of the Vowel

As we talked about in our February Teacher Training, perhaps the most important thing we as voice teachers can focus on is the vowel the singer is producing. And most importantly that this vowel is not changing as they ascend the scale. Air follows the path of least resistance, and whatever shape the mouth is in the air will travel. Most students are worried about getting the sound behind the soft palate and up into the head voice (even if they don’t know what a ‘palate’ is yet) so they will try in various ways to try and “help” the sound move there. The irony of this is that whatever they do will actually make it more difficult for the air (sound) to go where it needs to as it alters the shape of the mouth and the spaces where air can travel and as a result the sound has a much more difficult time going where it needs to go.

The way to insure that the sound (resonation) goes where it needs to is to focus on the vowel. If the student is “true to the word” and sings the word where they speak it (in the lips and teeth in the front of the mouth), an opening is created in the back of the mouth which allows a portion of the resonance to travel behind the soft palate and into the head voice. This way the singer can get the higher pitch they are seeking, yet the sound quality stays the same as when they are singing lower in their more comfortable range. Thus, they get a higher pitch, but maintain the same quality of sound throughout the range.

I tell my students to think “Round, Open and Down” (round vowel, drop jaw and don’t reach up). These are easy things for a teacher to watch for and something easy and positive for the singer to focus on. They need to pay attention to speaking and sending the words out to the audience instead of focusing on the feeling of the pitch going up and down their body. It is difficult to affect ‘sound’, but it is easy to focus on saying the word properly, maintaining a constant resistance on the vocal cords and not reaching up. If singers think of the word and not the pitch they will have much more success in getting to the higher pitches and maintaining a good and even sound throughout their range.

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