10 Tips for Proper Singing Diction

10 Tips for Proper Singing Diction

The ultimate goal of a singer is to establish a connection with the audience and communicate an idea or feeling. To accomplish this connection, the actual words that are being sung are just as critical as the musical qualities of the voice in capturing the hearts and minds of the audience. This brings us to our topic for this article – how to sing words clearly so that the audience understands the story and/or theme of the song.

Proper pronunciation is often one of the overlooked cornerstones of great singing. It doesn’t matter if you have a great sense of pitch and rhythm – if the actual words you are singing are muffled and incomprehensible, you lose a critical mental connection with the audience. I understand that there are situations where style and genre can call for a singer to add an eccentric twist their annunciation, but for the most part, it’s important that you aim for proper diction when singing. So in today’s article I want to run you through ten tips that have helped me achieve proper singing diction.

1. Keep your body relaxed

You might start wondering what your body has to do with how you pronounce words, but you’d be surprised at just how interconnected our whole physiology is. You see, when you tense up your body during singing, this tension can carry on to your vocal cords and to your diaphragm, both of which can affect the quality and clarity of the tone you produce. You don’t need to maintain perfect posture every time you sing, but maintaining a calm and relaxed physiology will go a long way, for starters.

2. Keep your tongue relaxed

When singing, you should always aim to keep your tongue relaxed and resting against the back of your bottom front teeth. If your tongue is drawn too far back in your mouth during singing, not only will you have trouble annunciating your words, but this unnatural placement will also place undue stress on your vocal cords and larynx which can then cause poor and inconsistent pitching accuracy.

3. Open your mouth the right amount

A common mistake that a lot of beginner singers make is that they don’t open their mouths enough when singing. This often affects their ability to annunciate words properly and also results in a muffled tone. A little tip that I’ve picked up is to open your mouth just enough so that you can put one finger in it without touching your teeth or lips. But remember, when maintaining this position, your face and jaw muscles too should feel as relaxed as possible. So, if you’re mouth feels tense or strained in any way, reduce the amount you’re opening it and focus on relaxing it until you’re able to open it up the ideal amount.

4. Practice proper breath support

When you are a singer, you need to know with absolute confidence that you have enough air in your lungs to complete each phrase without running short of breath. If you run out of air towards the end of a phrase or a note it can often result in poor annunciation and poor tone. So work hard on your diaphragmatic breathing and a consistent release of breath. To learn more about correct breathing for singing, you can also read our article 10 Tips for How to Breathe When Singing.

5. Singing is different from speaking

Any language in the world has sounds that function as vowels and as consonants. Of course, consonants are speech sounds that are not vowels. A mistake that some singers make is that they try to pronounce words when singing the same way as they would when speaking, which in turn results in poor tone quality and a muffled, awkward sound. Remember, when singing, it is the vowel sounds that carry the notes. For example, try singing a consonant like the letter “B” or “T”, and you’ll notice that you cannot really sustain a note on these sounds. 99% of singing occurs on vowels. So it’s very important that singers understand where the vowel sounds are in each word that they sing.

6. Learn how to sing your vowels

Since the vowels are such a huge part of singing, it is important that you need to learn how to sing them properly. Start off with practicing the five basic vowels Ah Eh Ee Oh Oo. Focus on keeping your mouth open with your tongue relaxed and resting against your front lower teeth, while pronouncing these vowel sounds. Next pick words which include these vowels and sing them while focusing on keeping the vowel sound clear.

7. Don’t pronounce R’s before consonants

Another common mistake that singers make is in the pronunciation of the consonant ‘R’. The first rule as far as this goes is to never pronounce ‘R’s which are in front of consonants; for example pronouncing the ‘r’ in ‘farmer’ results in a nasal tone and makes it hard to continue to the next word. Instead, replace the ‘r’ with the preceding vowel sound, as in f’ah’mer. You’ll notice that this makes it much easier to annunciate these words when singing.

8. Don’t pronounce R’s before pauses

The second rule for pronouncing ‘R’s is to never pronounce the ‘R’s which are before pauses. For example, in the line “Sing me a song, you’re a singer…” from Black Sabbath’s ‘Heaven and Hell’, it would sound terribly awkward to pronounce the last ‘r’ in singer.

9. Pronounce R’s before vowel sounds

The only time you should pronounce your ‘R’s when singing is when the ‘R’ precedes a vowel sound. For example, in the line “To really love a woman…” from Bryan Adam’s ‘Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman’ the ‘r’ should be pronounced.

Listen to your favorite singers

Last but not least, make the effort to listen and analyze singers who have both great tone quality and diction. Listen to how they pronounce words and try to make a conscious effort to emulate this annunciation in your own singing.

Correct diction isn’t something that a lot of modern singers pay attention to, but if you are serious about your singing, it’s something that you should devote a significant amount of time and effort into. After all, it’s the little things like this that come together to truly make a great singer.

Quick Singing Tips: The Essential Guide for Guitarists Who Want to Sing
Quick Singing Tips: The Essential Guide for Guitarists Who Want to Sing

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