Why Vocal Exercises are Centered on Vowels
One of the most important concepts with the singing voice is that singing can only take place on the vowels. We can’t sing on most consonants, and the sound is not as open or resonant on the ones we can sing (nasal consonants, such as m, n, and v), like singing on a vowel would be.
This is why vocal exercises are all centered on the vowels, preparing us to sing through them and then shorten the consonants. Clear articulation can still take place without an abrupt separation of the vowels. We can use the consonants swiftly and efficiently to help us with the placement of our vowels, and to help with the support of our sound. If you prolong consonants, it makes for more exaggerated diction, and though a word or two might call for that, we want to avoid “sticky diction,” where it breaks up the continuous flow of air and tone.
In addition to staying away from pretentious diction, we have to focus on lining up our vowel sounds. Each vowel has a distinct placement in our vocal cavities. For example, we have forward vowels (ex. an “e” sound) and back vowels (ex. an “aw” sound). Notice that these two sounds have a different placement and position of resonance when we say them (an “e” sits right behind your front teeth, vs. an “aw” that sits further back in your mouth).
Our job as singers is to be able to focus the vowels in the same placement, or “line them up,” so the sound isn’t so displaced between vowels, and is instead more connected with one another. Since we strive for a more forward placement in singing, we want to tip the “aw” vowel forward, or in the same focus as the front-most vowel, “e.”
But we’re not just focusing on keeping these vowels connected between one another — we want to sing on the purest vowel possible, not anticipating or changing that sound for an upcoming consonant or another vowel. For example, if we are singing five notes on an “aw,” we want to make sure that the vowel is of the same brightness and specificity as the ones that preceded it. Most of the time, when we don’t focus on the vowel for every pitch, it has a tendency to modify or change as the phrase continues.
It should be clear that clean diction should not be produced by over exaggerated and heavy pronunciation, but by quickly occurring consonants that don’t interrupt the connected flow of the well-defined vowels. Diction and tone work together to create a seamless, connected tone or legato.