10 Ways that Speech and Singing are Totally Different
With the rise in popularity of speech-singing and pop singers who sing in a speaking style, it became very hard to find a good singing approach that really shows you how to sing well. Speaking and singing words is not the same. Singing in a speaking style is actually very bad for your vocal health and may damage your voice. You have probably heard at least one that a famous pop singer has damaged their voice or even cancelled an entire tour due to a vocal strain. That vocal strain probably occurred because they sing in a speaking style. A vocal strain can occur due to many different reasons, but typically, it occurs because a singer has incorrectly applied a specific vocal technique. Although we are using the same mechanism both to speak and to sing, the mechanism is utilised in a completely different way. To put things simply – if singing and speech are the same, why everyone can’t sing? Everyone can speak, but learning to sing is not easy and requires a lot of time, dedication and professional guidance.
Learn how singing and speech are different, and how important proper vocal technique is for your vocal health.
#1 – You breathe differently
In speech, your breathing is shallow and controlled by expanding and contracting your ribs. When you speak, you don’t think about breathing, and you use your intercostal muscles naturally. In singing, intercostal breathing must be avoided. To sing well, you have to breathe only through the extension of your diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing in singing is called Appoggio, and it means support.
#2 – Your vowels are different
You may have noticed that singers lose their speech accent when they sing. This is completely normal and actually occurs because vowels do not sound the same when you speak and when you sing. In speech, you create vowels by articulating aspirated air into words. To create vowels, you have to use your lips, teeth, and the tip of the tongue – also known as articulators. When it comes to singing a vowel, you have to EQ your resonance into a vowel sound. To sing a vowel, you need to form a specific tongue shape and match it with a corresponding vocal tract width. This probably sounds a bit complicated, but once you understand it, it’s very easy and comes naturally while singing. Let’s try shaping the first two vowels. To do this, try alternating between an “EE” vowel like in the word speech, and an “AH” vowel like in the word “Love”. On the EE, the back of your tongue should be rising, and on the AH, the back of your tongue should lower.
To sing a vowel, apart from forming a specific tongue shape, you also need to match it with a corresponding vocal tract width. Using the same example, you should feel the difference in how open your throat is on each of these vowels. This change in width is not always easy to achieve, but it’s necessary if you want to ensure your vowels resonate throughout your full range.
#3 – Singing involves very little aspiration of air
Hold your hand in front of your mouth and speak. You will feel a certain amount of air flowing out, especially on your consonant sounds. When singing, you should actually feel very little aspiration of air because, in good singing, the airflow you feel in speech is traded for air pressure and resonance. If you breathe through your diaphragm and form your vowels properly, you will feel very little aspiration of air that is actually a by-product of singing (and not its cause).
#4 – There is no accent in singing
Even if you have a very broad accent and thick articulation, you will lose it in singing. If you hear someone singing with their speech accent, it means they are not forming their vowels properly, but rather using their articulators as in speech. Singing this way is not natural and puts your vocal health at risk. Also, it is important to know that singing in a speaking style has nothing to do with retaining the uniqueness of your voice. The only way you can actually preserve the natural character of your voice is with proper vowel formation. There is no excuse to sing without appropriate vocal technique. If you want to become a great singer, proper vocal technique should always be more important than stylistic delivery.
#5 – Consonants don’t exist in singing
Consonants in speech are created by articulating aspirated air, or sometimes through a glottal stop. Singing consonants in this manner is not good for your singing voice, especially when brought over in an uncontrolled manner. In singing, to create a particular consonant group, you need to develop an approach that will enable continuous and free resonance without any excess airflow or force. That is the only way to sign consonants properly and not to put your vocal health at risk. In a technical sense, we can conclude that speech consonant sounds don’t exist in singing.
#6 – Speech doesn’t require coordination
We speak naturally, with ease and without thinking much about it. However, to sing naturally and with ease is not that simple, because it requires coordination and proper vocal control. In order to sing well, we need to train our voice and learn how to control it. When we say someone has a talent for signing, it actually means that person has a natural aptitude towards the coordination required for quality singing. In order to sing naturally and with ease, it is essential to learn how to coordinate between your breathing, muscles, vocal folds and resonance.
#7 – Singing is often closed
If you are a beginner singer, you have probably heard famous singing gurus saying that The Open Throat Singing Technique is the secret of great singing or the only way to sing great. However, these famous singing gurus don’t bother to explain what open throat singing actually means in a practical manner. Open throat singing has nothing to do with physically opening your throat but actually requires closing your vocal cord and soft palate, and also narrowing your vowels towards closure. In speech, you don’t have to close your soft palate, vocal cords or think about your vocal tract width.
The Open Throat Singing Technique is a translation of a classical singing term La Gola Aperta, and it’s just a figure of speech, and not a singing instruction that should be taken literally. Singing with an open throat actually means singing without muscular force in your throat. Rather than singing from your throat, La Gola Aperta means singing with low support and high resonance. If you are a beginner singer, it is very important not to take classical signing terms such as this one literally because unnatural widening of your vocal tract will lead to straining your throat. Also, it’s very important to keep in mind that these classical singing terms and techniques won’t help you become a better singer if you don’t understand their meaning or incorrectly apply them in your singing. A good voice coach should always explain these confusing terms in a practical manner and also explain how a particular singing technique benefits your singing voice.
#8 – Speech is mostly consonants, singing is mainly vowels
Speech mostly requires articulating consonant sounds with added airflow and minimal resonance, while singing is mostly made of vowels. Speech only involves articulation of vowels and consonants, while singing requires articulating resonance.
#9 – Singing uses different muscles
As previously mentioned, singing is an act of coordination and balance between different muscles and elements of your vocal mechanism. In order to sing well, you need to coordinate between vocal fold weight and vocal fold tension. Vocal fold weight is controlled by the engagement of the thyroarytenoid muscles, and vocal fold tension is controlled by cricothyroid engagement. Only by coordinating between vocal fold weight and tension, you will be able to retain the depth and rich tone of your chest voice and access the extensive range of your head register. In speech, vocal fold tension is minimal while vocal fold weight is significantly higher than in singing. Due to this, compared to a fully developed vocal range, it will feel like your speaking voice is situated at the bottom of your range. Apart from the mentioned muscles, for proper vocal control, it is also essential to use your diaphragm for breathing and intercostals to set up a correct posture.
#10 – Speech is often partly sung, great singing is never partly spoken
Unlike speech, singing is an intentional, balanced and controlled act. Quality vocal training will not only help you singing voice but also your speaking voice. However, it is important to remember that although singing may be useful for you speech, singing in a speaking style is never good for your voice. We can conclude that although speech and singing use the same mechanism, and seem like similar processes, they are unrelated. While speaking comes naturally, in order to sing with ease, you need a lot of time, effort and training to perfect this delicate act of coordination and balance.
As you can see, there are many important differences between singing and speech, and it’s important that the two aren’t confused as you train to become a great singer. Sure, some accents might lean naturally towards the right vowels in singing, but it’s still important to develop proper control over your voice rather than leaving anything up to chance – or worse, putting your voice at risk of strain through poor vocal technique.
Singing is actually a very simple act of coordination, not one of muscular force or contortion. If something doesn’t feel right when you’re practicing singing, then you’re not practicing correctly, or you’re using your speaking voice.
If you have any questions about how speech and singing differ, 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.