Recently a student of mine came to me with a very exciting revelation with her singing. She tells me “Nancy! My singing improves remarkably when I go
“lightning speed” through the consonant to the vowel... I swear, all of sudden I sound like Julie Andrews!”.
As it happens, I have been introducing my children to the Sound of Music, so I have been listening a lot to Julie Andrews lately. We have much to learn from her ability to demonstrate vocal acrobatics, clear diction, amazing pitch accuracy and consistent vocal vibrancy (more on this in Part 3 of our series is on its way!) But right now lets look at her ability to zip at “lightening speed” through consonant sounds-both unvoiced and voiced-and discuss how this technique impacts singing quality and pitch accuracy to helping eliminate the dreaded scooping habit.
What are the advantages to singing quickly through consonants?
1) It helps you to be able to organise and simplify the onset of your vocal sound so your pitch accuracy is perfect and scooping is eliminated. (N.B Preparation of the consonant required for success). Sometimes a particular consonant, such as “K” can complicate the onset of singing because it is formed so far back in the mouth (back of the tongue touches the top of the hard palette and then there is a short and strong puff of air to complete the consonant sound) all before the singing sounds begins! By delaying, even by a millisecond, the onset of the vowel sound by lingering over the formation of the “K” sound, pitch and vowel clarify suffer. Another tricky consonant sound is “M”. If you do not match the pitch of the voiced consonant to the vowel following you’ll most likely scoop up to the pitch and achieve the dreaded "scooping" effect-better left for other musical genres....
2) It makes the vocal sound connect more efficiently with the breath as you are apt to lose (less) air between pronouncing the consonant and the vowel if you do so quickly versus if you do so slowly.
3) Keeps everyone in the ensemble on time. If the consonants are pronounced slowly the singer and/or choir will always be behind the conductors/accompanists beat.
4) You are not as prone to holding your breath at the onset of vocal sound after you inhale if you are pronouncing the consonant quickly. This then prevents you from holding your breath (and then voice) when you start to sing, resulting in a freer singing quality. It helps to organise the onset of sound beautifully and effortlessly with the breath and Voila! You might just hear yourself as Julie Andrews…..
5) Improves diction. Slow and sloppy consonant pronunciation doesn't produce clear articulated sounds.
Remember, we sing on vowels (and to a lesser degree voiced consonant sounds like m and n) so all the other unvoiced consonants in the alphabet (T, P, F etc) are really just “noises” that make up our language. So let the lesson stand that both voiced and unvoiced consonants can have a great impact on improving singing quality, if treated with care, precision and preparation.