The #1 Problem With Singing Vowels [And How To Fix It]
In singing, your vowels are created by the shape of your tongue along with altering the resonant space available along the vocal tract. This of course makes singing much easier, more resonant and much more consistent, but also comes with a big problem – what about sounds and words which aren’t contained within the five main vowel sounds that you shape while singing?
The main vowel sounds/tongue shapes in singing are AH, AA, OO, AY, EE and OH, and as you ascend in range each of these vowels changes in their character. If you are singing with a completely open throat for peak resonance, you’ll notice that your EE sound becomes a rather wide AY, and your OO vowel becomes a wide AH instead – but what about words like FREE, especially in songs like The Star Spangled Banner where articulation of the words is paramount? You don’t want to sing The Land of The Fray, now do you? Fortunately, there is a super easy solution to the #1 problem with singing vowels and is has nothing to do with mangling your vowel sounds and ruining the clarity of your words.
Are you ready to solve the #1 problem with singing vowels?
The big vowel issue
Literally, big vowels are the issue. Many times we sort of become addicted to large vowel sounds like AY and AH that resonate like crazy and can be pushed around a little to get a fuller and more intense resonance – this leads us into the trap of replacing smaller vowel sounds like EE with AY’s instead, and it becomes painfully aware to the listener that there is something just not right about this singer’s vowels.
Remember, the character of your vowel is actually created by the shape of your tongue and the opening of the mouth, resonant space in the pharynx is simply that, resonant space – don’t confuse the two. You can create sufficient, and even powerful resonance on an EE sound with proper vocal fold closure, the release of your registers and of course resonant space, but this resonant space must occur without a wide embouchure, or mouth opening.
The big problem with the big vowel sounds is big resonance, and the solution, you may ask? Is to not sing so big. There, I said it. All the belting and bellowing in the world isn’t going to make you an articulate, controlled singer with clarity in their diction, so dial it back a touch until you hit the perfect spot of resonance with these ‘closed’ vowel sounds. If you listen to any accomplished singer who isn’t just pushing and straining to hit their high notes, you’ll notice that they DO make use of these smaller vowel sounds, and do so with ease.
Singing is ultimately a game of balance, not a feat of muscular strength. If you balance the shape of your tongue with appropriate resonant space, then you’ll find yourself with a much more balanced tone, better control over your volume and intensity, and most importantly develop the ability to sing with clarity and dynamics where needed.
A great place to start is the free foundations short courses available here at Bohemian Vocal Studio which will set you up with the strongest base to set up your vowel sounds and resonant space. When you’re ready to get some more help with your vowel sounds while learning to extend your range and sing with clarity and consistency every time you sing, you can book a Skype Session with me in the online booking calendar and we’ll get started fixing those vowels!
If you have any questions about singing vowel sounds, 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.