Vowel Centering and Narrowing

Weekly Teaching Tip – Nov. 26, 2012
Question: When I hear “a consistent, ‘centered’ vowel” I always wonder about the “narrowing the vowel” concept. How does this relate? We are still thinking of narrowing (or tuning) the vowels to get through the bridges correct? So the vowel is not the same, or consistent, but instead is altered and tuned to affect resonance (formants, harmonics).

Answer: Yes! Exactly! You are right on! Narrowing and centering (or covering) are the same thing. But the vowel change we are mostly concerned with (especially with more beginning singers) is a passive one. It subtly changes, but the singer thinks of keeping it the same. The vowel wants to spread, but by thinking of narrowing we keep it more consistent. What we perceive and what actually happens are often different.

If the singer will try and keep the vowel consistent and (not let it spread like it usually wants to), and keep the feeling of consistent air flow and consistent resistance on the vocal folds (not squeezing the abs or forcing too much air as they often want to), the singer will be able to move through the bridges (or transitions) smoothly. They will feel a resonance shift, but the audience will hear a consistent, even sound. If the singer has a tendency to “spread the vowel” as they try and move through the transitions (as they often do), encouraging them to “narrow the vowel” or to keep it more “centered” in the mouth will help them move through the transition more easily. Once the singer is mixing and bridging well, the advanced singer can then employ some “vowel tuning” or slight vowel modification to accentuate different harmonics to get different colors and sounds. But the first (and most important step) is to get through the vocal transitions smoothly and easily by “centering” or “narrowing” the vowels so they become a bit more “the same” and resist the urge to spread the vowel or add extra air blow or increased abdominal muscle as they ascend and descend the vocal range.

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