Enunciation and Consonants

A lot of pop singing displays poor enunciation, that is, the words are
not clearly articulated and the poem or text is lost, It often takes
many hearings to determine the words being sung. Obviously this is
being done as a stylistic choice in many cases; in others it is simply
inadequate technique and the desire to sing overcomes the need to
communicate a textual message.

But in any kind of singing, whether it emphasize text or not, the
greatest enunciation difficulties center around the articulation of
consonants. Most well articulated consonants divide the sung vocal
line into segments. The sung vocal line is created by connecting
vowels together in as continuous a pattern as possible.

The secret of keeping a legato or continuous vocal line is to
articulate the consonants carefully but not give them sufficient
length such that they segment the vowel line into individual, separate
tones. Obviously voiced consonants produce less separating of the
vowel line than do unvoiced consonants because the vocal tone can
continue through the articulation of voiced consonants such as /m/, /
n/, /ng/, and even /d/, sometimes /b/ etc. etc.

Unvoiced consonants are a more difficult matter because their very
nature is to stop the continuous vowel tone and this causes the sung
line to lose some of its legato quality. The general rule for
articulation of unvoiced consonants is clarity, but with short duration.
The loudness of unvoiced consonants should not greatly exceed the
loudness of the sung vowel before and after the consonant and the
amount of time the unvoiced consonant occupies should be short enough
so the vowel line sounds as continuous as possible.

To put it another way, if the sung vowel line is sufficiently
segmented the listener’s mind must make the desired connections of
these segments in order to hear what is the obvious legato intent of
the song. This is more subconscious mind work than most listeners
want and the negative effect is that the listener becomes distracted
or bored and the effect of the song is lost.

As a voice teacher and opera director there have been many occasions
when I have suggested that a singer be less concerned with the
consonants and emphasize the vowel line. It always surprises the
singer when fellow singers say they can now understand the words even
though the singer feels he/she is emphasizing the words less.

It is all a matter of a well defined technique of articulation that
recognizes the causes and effects of singing enunciation.

2 Responses to “Enunciation and Consonants”

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  1. Valerio Vanni says:

    >The general rule for articulation of unvoiced consonants is clarity, but with short duration.

    This can be a problem in languages where consonantic length is distinctive (i.e. Italian).
    The singer will likely always produce a single consonant if he/she points toward shortness.

    • lloyd says:

      I know of no unvoiced consonants in Italian that require an extended duration. Voice consonants, yes, but no unvoiced ones that I know of. Can you steer me toward some unvoiced consonants that require extension of duration?

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