Jump to content

Summing up vowel modification?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

Many times it's said that vowel modification is one of the most important factors of singing in high range, yet it's not easy to figure that one out or find accurate information. I think it would be nice if someone could sum up vowel modification.

Here's my issues: What I understand so far is that CVT has defined "modes" and their centered vowels. For example curbing has a/o, i/e and something between a narrow OH and oo. Overdrive is EH and OH.

Ken Tamplin has this idea of modifying the back of the throat "A -> O -> OU -> U" as you go up in range (I don't know how to write those vowel sounds in English, someone correct if they're all wrong). The idea is clearly to release more and more into headvoice with these vowel mods. I don't know how exactly how this works together with CVT:s modifications? Also sometimes I hear singers "break" the CVT rules, for example with EH (overdrive vowel) with curbing volume.

Frisell uses five classic italian vowels u (oo), i (ee), e (eh), o (oh) and a (ah). I still don't know exactly how native Italians pronounce them, although Frisell says it's important to pronounce them just like native Italians would. I don't know if that's just a "classical thing" since I haven't heard a modern teacher use that reference so far (Steven Fraser maybe?). Frisell also says that the vowels are capable of modification, but doesn't go to much detail to say when it is necessary and when not. He does say that a (ah) should be rounded with o (oh) vowel in the later development to join it with headvoice muscles.

Also where are the vowels modified? Back of the throat? Tongue? Lips? My understanding is that primarily in the back of the throat, secondary with the tongue and thirdly with lips.

I've also read something about vowel formants (Geno often mentions first and second vowel formants) and I don't know what they are or what they do lol. Do they have something to do with vowel modification?

Is it possible to "sum up" vowel modification rules? A "Vowel modification map" would sure be useful. It would be nice to figure this one out :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Daniel rocks.

The italian vowels have pure sounds. As opposed to american english, which is rife with dipthongs, (changing vowel sounds.) Americans chew their words. So do the brits, to some extent, though not as badly. However brits do close off vowels, I think from the habit of being reticent, to not make too much noise and disturb others. A good example is sometimes, Justin Hawkins. In the song "Growing on Me," you can sometimes hear him end the phrase by closing down the vowel. Maybe it's just his accent.

But what I know and you, opaa, can do this if you are willing to sound goofy for a while is find what vowel sound makes your head ring like a bell. You need to make funny squeely noises until you get one that peels paint off the wall.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Opaa - What I like about this forum is that we've got people coming from different perspectives offering what they know. And you can pick and choose what you take and what you ignore. It is NOT necessary for people to grasp these concepts as you don't need to know this stuff. If you don't like this sort of stuff - please ignore my post. I am not a teacher or a vocal scientist - just a guy trying to learn this stuff so it makes sense to me.

I think Daniel is a fantastic singer - he's made a career out of singing - I haven't. He's got way more experience than me, so you may want to take his advice over mine. I'm just offering things from my own personal discovery. So.....

Here I go with the technical mumbo jumbo again....

From my experience vowel mods are very important but they are really hard to learn without a demonstration or teacher. Vowel mods involve changing the spoken vowel formants, which work fine in a certain range, but don't work well in other parts of the range. (it is the 1st formant that needs adjustment) A lot of us try to force the spoken vowels to all parts of our singing range. This doesn't work in all modes. With lighter singing - CVT Neutral you CAN do it. You DON'T need vowel mods in Neutral. So if you want to avoid Vowel Mods altogether, stick with lighter singing. But with slightly heavier singing you will run into roadblocks. The CVT explanations I think work perfectly with the Bel Canto approach - in the end it gives you the same results - just different ways of categorizing.

I'd love an overall chart, but don't have one. Steven Fraser is the resident expert on this subject and he's got all the answers. Here's a chart I was trying to put together on this:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Geno, could you explain shortly what "formants" are? Or a link that explains it? I'm very interested.

And thanks for the answers as always! Daniel impressive singing on your website.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Opaa - Formants are "Reasonance Centers" that identify a particular vowel. And each vowel has like 3 main formants - the first two the most important. Basically you form your mouth and throat to amplify these frequencies and the vowel is formed. For example - the "ee" vowel has a low 1st formant (F1) at 320hz (you can see what note that translates to on my chart). It also has a really high F2. So "oo" and "ee" have the same F1, but totally different F2's.

The first formant (F1) is the lowest and is formed in the back of your throat while F2 if formed in the front of your mouth. If you sing an "oo" and slide to an "ee" you'll notice that for the "ee" the tongue moves forward creating less space for F2 - that smaller space translates to higher frequency. (Think of a flute being small and high pitched while a tuba is huge for a low pitches)

Here's a chart of how you form vowels in your mouth that might be helpful:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Geno, could you explain shortly what "formants" are? Or a link that explains it? I'm very interested.

And thanks for the answers as always! Daniel impressive singing on your website.

Opaa, Geno... I'll jump in here to field this question.

Without getting too technical, a formant is a peak in the frequency spectrum, a place where the harmonics are emphasized because of resonance. Many instruments have these, including the voice.

If the vocal tract were a constant-diameter tube, all the formants would be equally-spaced, and the schwa vowel would be sung. However, the vocal tract is not constant-diameter. Moving the jaw, shaping the lips (rounded or smile), and positioning the tongue (among other things) change the acoustics of the vocal tract, moving the resonances to various locations. We interpret these changes as changes in vowel.

To 'see' formants, I use a spectragram. Here is an article on my page about it:


There is also a longer article about the relationship of formants and perceived vowels:


Those should get you started, and will likely prompt some follow-on questions.

I hope this is helpful.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

opaa, don't feel lost or confused. i still have a hard time with this particular subject and terminology to the point where i let go of trying. vowels, yes.....formants, harmonics, not gonna work for me.

i tend to be more of a touchy/feelly type and i like to reduce things to lowest terms.

maybe this will help you a bit. i gained a much better understanding of vowels when i stopped looking at them as we learned them in school (long e, short e, long a, short a, and all of that) and disassociated them from anything to do with speech.

they are simply sounds.....sounds which enable breath flow.

i regard them now as nothing more than throat shapes. in fact the more you attempt to sing these 5 italian vowels in this order "oo" "ee" "eh" "oh" "ah" the more you begin to release how tonally close and related they are. frisell taught me to sing those vowels while keeping the mouth from moving, making the throat rather that the mouth the primary articulator of the vowel sound.

this vowel sequence also represents vowels which naturally engage more head voice musculature ("oo" and "ee") down to the vowels which do the least "oh" and "ah."

so naturally if you're moving up in the voice then the narrower the vowel, the more head voice musculature is engaged, the easier the ascent.

use an "ah" to go up a scale you'll never make it. you must narrow the vowel.

every vowel, and every note of a vowel has a particular throat socket and a particular, i think frisell calls it an impingement point or a resonating pocket where when the breath stream is directed to this pocket makes the voice ring or ping along with an accompaning sense of release. this is the goal. to figure out for yourself where the voice needs to go to get into that perfect resonating pocket (per your particular voice).

when you hit this pocket, believe me you will know it, and will likely hear it as it is a sound you just know instinctively is "right."

as the voice rises in pitch slight adjustments need to be made to these throat shapes to narrow the voice into a smaller space.

the trick is to know which vowel sounds assist in this narrowing (for your particular voice):

generally, the narrower the vowel, the better for acsending to these resonating spots.

hope this helps.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...

Videohere, that sounds like a great idea (thinking of vowels as simply sounds).

Yet when you said "use an "ah" to go up a scale you'll never make it. you must narrow the vowel" I got puzzled. I though Eh, ah and uh were the vowels that you could go up the scale on without it sounding "girly". Other vowel sounds like ee and were impossible to go past a point without sounding "hooty",and when practicing these sounds that seems to be the case for me.

Did I misunderstand something here ? If so, please clarify.

Thanks, Zed.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...