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Tools for Singers

Exploring the Front Vowels (from Singing for Dummies)

Exploring the Front Vowels in Singing

By Pamelia S. Phillips

Your tongue arches in the front of your mouth to sing front vowels. Your tongue does most of the work shaping front vowel sounds, but make sure that both your lips and tongue are released and free of tension. The front vowels don’t require as much lip action as the back vowels.

The front vowels are much less open than the back vowels. These vowels aren’t as wide open as the back vowels. It may sound odd, but it’s true.

The vowels in the table below are called front vowels because the tongue arches in the front of the mouth to make these sounds. Keeping the tip of your tongue touching your bottom front teeth, say the vowel ee. Notice how your tongue arches in the front of your mouth when you make the sound. You also feel the sides of your tongue go up.

Another difference between back and front vowels is that, when the tongue arches in the front, the sides of the tongue also raise and touch the upper teeth. As you speak through the vowels, you feel your

  • Jaw drop slightly for the ee vowel and gradually move down more as you move from ee toward a.
  • Lips slightly open for the ee vowel, and open more as your jaw drops when you move to the most open vowel, a.
  • Tongue arching in the front, the highest on the ee vowel and the lowest on the a vowel, and the tip of the tongue resting against your bottom front teeth.

The following illustration shows the arch of the tongue for front vowels.

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Exploring Front Vowels
ee ih ay eh a
me kiss ate bed asked
eagle myth gain head passed
flee wig day heaven master
ski busy they guess danced

Some words in the table have two vowels, but only consider the vowel sound in the first syllable.

Speaking the front vowels

Now it’s time for you to put all the front vowels in sentences to practice speaking. Using these vowels gives you an opportunity to return to the correct arched position of your tongue after moving through the consonants.

  • ee
    • We meet lean, mean fiends.
    • He greased Phoebe’s knees.
    • Greedy eels eat cream.
    • Leave me peas teased, Eve.
  • ih
    • Hip chicks knit big mitts.
    • Cliff fixed its clipped wick.
    • Tim’s busy with his chips.
    • Dig Phillip’s little sister Lilly.
  • ay
    • Great Dane saves whale.
    • They say Abe gained weight.
    • Kate saves pale ale.
    • James blames Dave’s fame.
  • eh
    • Deb’s pet pecked every peg.
    • Ed shed wet red.
    • Edge any hedge, says Ned.
    • Kelly’s mellow fellow fell dead.
  • a
    • Lance can’t glance last.
    • Ask half after Fran.
    • Vast masks pass fast.
    • Prance aghast past grassy path.

Singing the front vowels

You want to make precise vowel sounds as you sing. Singing a song requires you to move quickly from one vowel sound to the other; you must quickly change the arch of your tongue to accommodate the different vowel sounds.

You have to make the shape happen at the speed of the music. If you practice singing the vowels alone, you give yourself the chance to really get them solid before you add consonants in words.

You may not be able to tell the difference between each vowel sound as you’re singing the pattern in the illustration below. So record yourself singing and then listen to the recording. Pretend that you’ve never seen the pattern and try to distinguish which vowel you’re singing.

Notice which vowels aren’t as precise as others, and you can make those a priority in your next practice session. If they aren’t clear, go back and practice making the shape, saying the words with the vowels, and then singing again.

Work the vowel sequence in the following illustration to get that tongue arched quickly to get the right vowel sound. If your tongue doesn’t move fast enough, you may sing a different vowel. No problem — just keep trying. When you’re able to clearly distinguish each vowel sound, insert some words into the pattern for variety and spice in your practice routine.

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Singing Consonants (from Singing for Dummies)

Singing Consonants: Working out with D, T, L, N, S, and Z

By Pamelia S. Phillips

To shape and sing the tip consonant sounds in the table below, the tip of your tongue touches the alveolar ridge. The voiced consonants are D, L, N, and Z. The T and S don’t require any voice, so they’re unvoiced consonants. While shaping these tip consonants, make sure that your

  • Tongue’s tip is moving from your bottom front teeth to the alveolar ridge behind your front teeth. The tip of your tongue curves for the D and T and flattens more on the alveolar ridge for the L andN.
  • Lips are released and free of tension. As you move from the consonant to the vowel, your lips may be shaped for the vowel sound as the tongue’s tip touches the alveolar ridge.

The consonants in the table may be pronounced differently in other languages. For American English, you want the tip of the tongue to touch the alveolar ridge for the tip consonants. For other languages, the consonants may be made with the tip of the tongue touching the teeth.

For this exercise, practice curving the tip of the tongue slightly so it touches the alveolar ridge for the Dand T, and flattening on the alveolar ridge for the L and N.

Practicing D, T, L, N, S, and Z
D T L N S Z
do to Lou new sip zip
doe toe low no sap zap
dab tab lab nab sing zing

If you have a lisp, make your S with the tip of the tongue against the roof of your mouth (not your teeth) while the sides of your tongue touch your teeth. If your S sounds too similar to a leaky tire, release the grip on the tip of your tongue.

Practice saying the word its. You say ih and then place the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge for the t. Then the tip of the tongue releases in the center for a tiny stream of air. Release the air slowly to feel and hear the s. Hold out the s to feel the movement of the airflow.

When singing the words don’t you, can’t you, and could you, or any other combination that has a orT next to a Y, make sure that you say, “Could you?” and “Don’t you?” and not, “Could jew” or “Don’t chew.” You can get a laugh in a song in the wrong place if you chew too much on the wrong consonant combination.

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