If you are a newcomer to a choir, you can be forgiven for not really having considered the importance of diction in your singing. It’s certainly something that I hadn’t really thought about, whether I was listening to others singing or doing it casually myself.
When I became interested in trying to learn more about the art of classical singing, I remember seeing one of the world-class tenor soloists we once performed with, Tom Randle, remark on a YouTube video that diction is everything to singing. That really stuck with me.
So what is diction in singing? Diction is the way that you pronounce the words that you sing so that each word can be clearly heard.
Consonants are crucial to the way words are heard
The way that you use consonants is crucial to the way words are heard, so your consonants should be hard and distinctive. This is absolutely critical in choral singing because voices singing in unison has an extra drowning effect on the sound of the words. In choral singing, you will often find that you have to pronounce words in a super-exagerrated way, by rolling your R’s and using really hard K’s and H’s.
Strong consonants – quiet singing
Another challenge of choral singing in particular is how to combine dynamics with consistently good diction. So, one problem that can be experienced in a choir is that when you have a piano or pianissimo dynamic, the diction can go out of the window. I mean, how can you be soft and exaggerate your consonants at the same time, right? Well, wrong, you can do it. There is a way of singing pianissimo where the tone of your voice is barely heard but the words themselves are projected strongly. You still use exaggerated mouth movements but you are controlling your breath to prevent the voice coming through strongly at the same time.
Vowels are everything to voice production
It is not all about consonants, however. Vowels are also critically important in singing. The funny thing about vowels is that they really colour the tone of your voice and they affect whether the note sounds flat or bright. Vowels are actually the building blocks of good singing, and that is something I have really learned from the singing teacher I like best online: Jeff Rolka. He actually does a series of lessons on all aspects of singing, but he has a whole set of videos on proper vowel placement for singing. Check his videos out, I absolutely love his work.
Are there any other features of the use of diction that you were looking for advice about or that you would like to inform your fellow singers of? Please let me know in the comments section.