Luther Vandross and other great vocalists always ensure they’re heard and understood -says Mark De-Lisser.
When I studied Voice at Central School of Speech and Drama, I remember learning lots of exercises to work up the musculature and abilities of our articulators – the tongue, lips and soft palate.
Even when an actor has a strong accent, you can still understand all of the words he is saying. Learn from musical theatre performers who rely on clarity and diction to tell a story. Every song has a story.
Make Your Articulators Strong With Tongue Twisters
Here’s a great lips workout:
A white witch watched a woe-begone walrus winding white wool
The point is to not create a posh voice, but to create clear pronunciation.
Nobody can understand you if you mumble your way through a song. I don’t want to have to rewind a song to hear the lyrics. You need to be clear and you need to be heard.
I have no problem whatsoever with accents. It doesn’t matter what accent you speak in as long as it is authentic. But, what I do have a problem with is when I cannot understand what you are saying.
I work with some singers who shape their vowels really strangely, but it’s a current pop style. They are influenced by pop singers of the past few years who have interesting articulation patterns.
As their coach I say they can shape their vowels however they like, but they need to make sure they are not going to be misinterpreted. Clarity doesn’t have to compromise style.
Vowel shapes can be tricky.
The closed back vowel can be difficult depending on your accent and language. It can cause tension and limited range.
You can open up the shape at the back of your throat and reshape it at the front. Change the “uh” shape to an “ah” shape to give the larynx space to move
Listen To Luther Vandross’s Diction
He is really specific. It feels as if he is talking to you, like he isn’t even singing at all!
When we talk to each other, we are not thinking about consonants and diction. We are thinking about communication and how best to get our point across. Connecting to the message of the song will naturally improve your diction. Ask yourself “what point I am making?” Then make it!
Janine Le Clair gives feedback on the competition entries this month:
My Reaction to This Week's Singing Competition Entry
Hans Beckmann - Work Song
Hans – You are so suited for this vibe – good for you! Your performance is very enjoyable to watch. I thought you did a great job on the scat. In fact, you use the range of your articulators and resonance more in that section – you could apply some of that technique to other areas of the song. For an example, look for repeated letters, or alliterations, say the word ‘working’. When a word repeats, its often best to pronounce its first letter (‘w’) in a different way the second time we hear it. It will add substance and inadvertently entice the audience and hold their attention stronger. I think you’ll enjoy adding this technique throughout the song.
Mark De-Lisser is a vocal coach, vocal arranger, choir leader and vocal producer who has worked with some of the top vocal talent in contemporary music today including Jessie J, Olly Murs and Beverly Knight. Mark has taught at many recognized music institutions and held several high profile TV roles. Mark leads the renowned ACM Gospel Choir and Singology community choirs across London. Find out more on Mark’s website.
Janine Le Clair is a soulful Country recording artist, an international award winning vocalist and renowned vocal coach. A published writer with SSM Nashville since 2009, she has had many cuts with American Country Artists and several Top 15 hits in Australia including Natalie Howard’s ‘The Girlfriend’, 3rd Wheel’s ‘Gettin’ Hitched’ and her own single, ‘Bulletproof’. Le Clair is a dual citizen of Canada and Australia.
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