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Articulation: The balance between not enough and too much

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Ok guys & girls, chime in on this: Articulation is a finicky thing. It is to a degree genre specific, but at the same time I would say that in all genres there is common ground.

If you have too much, your contemporary genre singing will sound like musical theater. Even musical theater singing, which I agree demands more articulation, is affected by over-articulation. It causes too much vocal tension in the jaw and throat and limited control, because I find that over-articulating vocalists tend to tighten the chest, too.

If you have too little, it personally bugs the crap out of me - and I believe industry and audience - because I can't understand what the song is about. I think under-articulation is no less than a major factor in the master quality and the commercial potential of the vocal. And before you ask 'but what about Bob Dylan'... I have heard him live where I could understand every word he's saying. And then I've heard him when he didn't care who understood him :<. But you sure can on his records.

To get the right balance, with vowels open in the back and consonants crisp in the front, I have students go through three stages:

Sing on only the vowels (or with knuckle in jaw for those who have trouble)

Sing lightly applying consonants

Sing with crisp consonants.

I have found two simple imagery exercises to help:

1. Sing like you have a deaf contingent in the audience. (Works for live performance AND studio, btw). They need to be able to SEE the shape of your lyrics, and also to detect the meaning of those words in your expression. (This keeps clarity in diction)

2. Don't form the word (articulate) until right before it leaves your face. Don't form it at the jaw. (This keeps formation at front teeth & forward part of tongue, while leaving throat and vowels open).

Anyone have other suggestions?

And... I have a question... is there a difference between "articulation" and "diction" in anyone's understanding?

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Hi Judy...just getting back to the forum slowly but surely! Great debate! I don't believe there is a big difference...we get back here to terminology don't we? One era diction is the buzz word, next era it's articulation! I know Dena has a lot on this...if she's around to contribute?

I find the same as you...the right vowel production...produces the right diction for the consonants...I focus on the sound as the word is produced and if the vowels are produced correctly, the consonants follow easily at the front of the mouth. It is bringing the power through at the same time to enable projection that is the trickier part I think and mic technique to ensure the diction carries. I also use power sounds like "ba , ga, ta, go, and solfege as well as playing with words with differing sounds and breath control.

Genre specific pronunciation does make a difference and you can easily forget the ease when trying to master a "lingo". I used to sing country and was told I sounded like Karen Carpenter, Tammy Wynette or Joan Baez or whoever the song was I was singing.....vocal dexterity to me is as important as the articulation and I agree Theatre does "over produce" and I've watched as singers "stiffen" trying to do that with their voice. You can feel the tension in the singing. However singing for Theatre is difficult and I wouldn't pretend to offer an easy solution to the way it needs to be projected.

Nice set of exercises! :cool: Hilary

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I'm with you, Hilary... how one applies power - support and control - really makes a difference in one's ability to articulate properly. Too much pressure, there will be teeth gritting tension :) Too little, I'll sound drunk! Good point- everything is connected, is is not?

Your power sounds remind me that I also use tongue tanglers a lot to get articulation right. Works for musical theater I've directed as well.

All...I love Hilary's emphasis on freedom of the vowels to sound. I once read that the most resonant human vowel is "uh" as in "duh". When I feel that I keep a semblance of that shape in back no matter what vowel I'm singing, it helps keep articulation from bunching up on me and my clients. Does that ring true to you?

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Interesting. The more I coach my rockers, the more I recognize the intimate relationship between articulation and rhythm. When singing rhythmic genre's like rock, its often preferable to make your cues a little more punchy, "snappy" to accent the rhythmic figures and give a sense of the vocals being very tightly overlay on the bed track. A real snappy cue that is articulated adds more punch.

Strong articulation can also add some drama when crooning lower verse. Leaning more toward staccato interpretations.

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A question: IYO, how important is articulation at the end of a word? Eg.) "just". I like Judy's "deaf contingent" concept and wonder how that applies to this.

A mild digression on the question: I'm a rock singer with what has been called a more "lazy" or "blues-based" approach to most parts of delivery, but I also have a whip-sharp attack that I have to hold back sometimes or heads snap to attention and backs go up against the wall. This all comes naturally to me btw, particularly in live performance and when I "think" excessively about articulation I sound ridiculous- and not in a good way :>). (As testament to the ridiculous, our first 2 CD's mostly sound vocally stiff, like some boring alterego was at the mic instead of me, because I was thinking too much about it. Live and learn...and get a good producer...to remind you of how to be yourself...odd thing, that.)

I have to let the lyric and prosody instinctually inform articulation and wouldn't want to do it any other way.

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Yes interesting....as the rockers need more "grit" in the sound..stronger power sounds are essential for articulation.

This Judy is where I actually use (UUH) it is the sound that stabilises you right through your body IF you are doing it correctly. When you go into high notes...you will notice that it's difficult to get back down to the grit of UUH and it takes practise to combine moving between the higher vowel tones and the bass UUH to stabilise the breath & power in your voice.

Then the power sounds as Robert says bring in the articulation and rhythm!

To answer Salem.....not too much emphasis with articulations at the end of the word because you get mic popping & essing.....as I said the vowels do take you there....it's the vocal art of sounding them! As you have finally discovered...you have to sing "who" you are!


Hilary :cool:

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Hilary... I totally agree ... I tell my people to keep the vowel "UH" as in an open "DUH" sound in the back of EVERYTHING. One has to use a flexible jaw to do it. AND... I find the "UUH" shape needs to be allowed to change flexibly with the melody... and become more vertical on lowest and highest notes.

The vowels "ee" and "oo" are typically the tightest ones I see, and if I get the student open in the back of those two vowels, the volume tends to even out as well. Salem... this would help you not "ping" people upside the head with uncomfortable sudden bursts of volume. How do I know? I used to do it, too :)

Robert, do you notice that if your rockers DON'T articulate clearly, their jaws tend to tighten up? I think that has happened to Sting, quite frankly, the last time I heard him. He used to be the bastion of openthroatedness. Something, maybe physical training, has tightened him up.

Back to Hilary's and Salem's points... I agree- it's in the delivery, the authentic delivery of the message, with the right inflections and passion appropriate to the genre that I think we find the balanced articulation that both moves the audience and results in no vocal strain. But I don't care what it is... if I don't hear the lyrics, as a listener, I move on!

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Hi Judy yes I'm with you here! Interesting on Sting too...He's gone downhill a bit...maybe it's his tantric sex passion? ha ha! (see his page on myspace)

UUH & flexible jaw...yes but the sound is deep and has to be pushed down like the roots of a tree to get it right. Kind of pull the sound up silently with the breath then release the sound and return it down. So many use it at the throat and it's wrongly placed. I wouldn't use it on high notes...OOH,aah, ehh, ee are better on high notes. Yes ee and oo shouldn't be tight...again the sound comes up on the breath (ee is harder as the sound is high cheekbone/temple area but needs to be carefully sounded so as not to be squeaky or choral)....Hopefully I'll get my video's done in the next couple of weeks. I'm planning 3 short ones showing the sound formation etc and how you apply it in modern melody. Just been getting my own voice back and it's been changing too as I've been working on it.

I also notice many rockers with strength and power and good screams but being tuneful and resonant is not so strong in their voices. If the resonance isn't there the articulation will be difficult too. At least that's my angle on it!

Like you..if I can't hear the lyrics I might as well just have the music and forget the singer!

love Hilary :cool:

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