How to sing consonant sounds
Learning how to sing consonants is an advanced skill in singing, and each singer often requires a tailored approach that considers their natural voice type, their accent and many other variables that affect the way we enunciate our consonant sounds in speech. The key to singing consonants is to understand that SPEECH and SINGING are unrelated in any form – if you use your speaking accent, and your speech approach to consonant sounds, then you’ll likely run into all manner of problems trying to sing your favourite songs.
A great way to approach singing consonants is to break them down into group and type, for example, grouping your plosive consonants together, or your resonant consonant sounds, then learn how to sing better consonants by type. Obviously, every singer is different, so it you’re thinking “I can’t sing but I want to be a singer“, then it’s likely you simply haven’t yet found an approach that is tailored to your unique voice type – so, this very general consonant sound chart will help you learn how to sing better consonants and show you that beginning consonant sounds doesn’t have to be difficult, you just need the right approach.
The BEST Consonant Sound Chart for Singing
Using this consonant sound chart, we’re going to work out which of your consonant sounds might be holding you back, and then form an approach to them that will make you sing better.
Open resonants – Sounds like M, N and NG are all what I consider open resonants, they resonate while your soft palate is ‘open’. Learning how to control your soft palate is an intrinsic skill that requires proper training, and people often mistake ‘lifting’ the soft palate for ‘opening’ the soft palate. You can learn how to control your soft palate fairly easily by toggling your breathing between your nose and your mouth (without using your fingers to block your nose!) – it really is that easy to control your soft palate, so make sure you practice this important skill each time you sing. Most singers can sing open resonants easily as they are similar to a ‘hum’ sound.
Closed resonants – Now, closed resonant sounds like L, W, R, Y all require you to CLOSE your soft palate, hence the reason I call them “closed” resonants. A great way to learn how to sing closed resonants is by replacing these consonants with a vowel – such as “OO” for “W”, and “EE” for “Y” – ie: a word like “Wow” would become “OO-AH-OO”, and a word like “Yeah” would become “EE-EH”. These are often difficult for singers who naturally speak with a deeper accent, such as Eastern European and some parts of America – this is due to improper use of the soft palate, and an overly deep vocal placement.
Glottal – Again, Glottal consonant sounds are killer for Eastern Europeans and also us Aussies, due in part to a deep placement and also a harsh release of sounds like K and G from the larynx. A much better way to sing glottal consonants is to simply ‘click’ the back of your tongue as you sing a pure vowel. It’s probably easier for me to just show you this one:
Plosives – Sounds like P and B are interchangeable, and simply require you to moderate your airflow properly. Have you ever practised a lip trill before, or lip bubbles? This exercise teaches you how to moderate your airflow, so try to treat your plosives in the same manner – you shouldn’t blow out air, you need to hold your breath.
Sibilants – Now, most singers do struggle with sibilant consonant sounds because they are singing with actual SIBILANCE, such as a harsh, extended SSSSSS sound. The key to singing sibilant consonants, or sibilants, is again to hold your breath – it’s more like a Snake “Ssss” or a leaky tyre rather than a PUSH of air as you sing.
Now with the above consonant sound chart, beginning consonant sounds will be MUCH easier, allowing you to sing actual words and songs instead of just scales, and will also make you sing better by training you to control aspects of your singing voice like your soft palate, your onset and your airflow that you may have previously taken for granted/not been aware of.
I can’t sing but I want to be a singer
Before you get started on singing consonants, I’d suggest that you set up your foundation first, as I always say – a singing voice is only as strong as the foundation it is built upon. Your foundation starts with posture, breathing and resonance, so make sure you’re setting up the proper singing posture first to allow you breathe correctly and create a RESONANT singing voice.
Absolutely anyone can learn how to sing well – it simply depends on how well you understand the mechanism of the singing voice, and how well your approach is designed for your individual voice. If you think “I can’t sing but I want to be a singer”, then make sure you are setting up your foundation the right way so that you can learn how to improve your singing voice and build a powerful range using these great tips:
What is the proper singing posture – Correct singing posture allows you to be in full control of your breathing via extension of the diaphragm rather than contraction of the ribs. A healthy singing posture looks a little something like this:
- Head up
- Shoulders back
- Chin parallel with the floor
- Ribs ‘out’
Learning to sing with a ‘ribs out’ singing posture is extremely important for your breathing, and is often called appoggio singing technique. If you need some help setting up your foundation, make sure you book a Skype session with me today so I can show you the right way to sing with Appoggio.
How to sing using your diaphragm – Engaging the diaphragm is an important skill that every singer needs to learn. Starting with the healthy posture we just developed, we’re going to engage the diaphragm by using one of the following approaches:
- Breathe low and sharp like your’e breathing through a drinking straw
- Toggle your breathing between your nose (in) and mouth (out)
- Lie on the floor with a mug/book on your navel – try to make the book move with your breathing
- Pant like a dog, getting slower and slower until you can breathe this way normally
The main key to learning how to sing from your diaphragm is setting up your posture and then learning to engage the right muscles.
Singing with resonance – Singing with resonance is the difference between speaking, and truly SINGING. Your sound should buzz up in the resonant chambers of your head rather than flow out of your mouth like it does in speech. A great way to power up your resonance is to learn vocal placement and hone in the right frequencies that buzz in the most efficient manner. Here’s a great tutorial I’ve put together for you to show you how to sing with vocal placement:
How to improve your onset – Learning how to START your resonance requires an understanding of the three types of onsets our voices can create.
- Breathy onset – Airflow starts before your vocal chords come together
- Glottal onset – Your vocal chords are slammed shut BEFORE airflow starts
- Balanced onset – Air pressure is released at the very moment your vocal chords meet (the only healthy onset!)
Learning to coordinate your onset and sing “balanced” is very important, not only for your vocal health and the quality of your vowels, but also for your consonant sounds. Behind each of the consonant sounds in the consonant sound chart above is a balanced onset and a pure vowel – remember, your consonant sound and your onset are not related, you need to develop control over both your onset and your consonants separately before you can coordinate them together properly
How can I learn how to sing better
Each singer requires a different set of keys to improve singing voice and really POWER UP their singing range, so make sure you build on the foundation of posture, diaphragmatic breathing and resonance by learning how to tune your vowels, place your voice, learn how to sing consonant sounds like I’ve shown you above, and most of all develop an approach to encompasses EVERY aspect of singing, from vowels through to songs through to consonants and beyond.
Soft palate singing
Learning to control your soft palate is not only key to creating your consonant sounds, but it’s also an important part of creating your vowels and ascending into your higher range with ease. Learning how to shape your vowel sounds while using the soft palate in the right manner is an important skill in singing, so make sure you’re SHAPING your vowels rather than pronouncing them in your speaking accent. Here’s a general guide to the shapes your tongue should take on each of your vowel sounds:
- AH – Tongue low and concave
- AA – Similar, but tongue forward
- EE – Tongue up at the back
- EH/AY – Similar but with your mouth ajar
- OO – There’s two different OO vowels depending on what you want to achieve with your singing voice
With these vowel sounds, your voice will resonate freely up in your nasal resonators while avoiding nasal singing without any actual airflow escaping through your nose – this will make you stop sounding nasally when singing and give you greater control over your resonance, allowing you to sing higher without straining and improve singing tone with ease.
If you’re ready to nail your consonant sounds, you can book a session with me now and I’ll show you the most efficient way of keeping your voice open and resonant during consonants!
Feel free to leave any feedback or questions below!
Kegan DeBoheme is Bohemian Vocal Studio’s resident vocal coach and voice expert. He teaches professional singing and voice technique to students all around the world and enjoys providing tutorials like this one on how to improve your voice.