Vowels Consonants Articulation

Sound-vibrations generated at the larynx are modified as to their form,

by the size and shape of the resonating cavities of the mouth and

pharynx. Through the movements of the soft-palate, tongue, lower jaw and

lips, the shape and size of the mouth can, within certain limits, be

changed at will. As every vowel-sound requires a peculiar form of the

resonating cavity for its production, it will be easily understood that

ach vowel-sound of which the human voice is capable can be made by a

proper adjustment of the movable parts of the vocal organs. As all

singing-tone is vocal or vowel in its character, the production of the

various vowel-sounds takes precedence in the study of vocal music. Just

how much of this study can be carried on in school music will depend

upon circumstances, the chief of which is the time assigned for music.

It is very easy to suggest that if the time given is not enough, that

longer lesson periods be demanded; but it is quite probable that, owing

to the pressure of elaborate courses of study, the request would be

seldom granted. It remains, then, for those in charge of school music to

expedite their work by means of simple and direct methods.

Each division of the music work must be carried so as to secure unity of

result. The vocal drill, oral or written, will train the eye and ear for

sight-singing, and the sight-singing be a practical application of

correct vocal drill.

The study and practice of the different vowel-sounds must then fit in

with the scheme of study. The practice of singing the vowels by name as,

a, e, i, o, u, is not to be recommended, as only one, namely

e, stands for a single sound-element; nor is it probable that the

results will justify extensive drill upon the more obscure

vowel-elements, if the term may be applied to those sounds which are

differentiated only slightly from the more pronounced vowel-sounds.

There are some twenty vowel-sounds that are used in English speech, but

for various reasons a less number are employed in song. For, while it is

desirable to give to each word and syllable its correct vowel-sound in

singing, those which are unfavorable to good tone are usually

approximated to the sound of those more favorable to good tone.

If too marked distinctions in the vowel-sounds are made by the singer,

the result is disagreeable; while if the voice preserves a similar hue

or tone-color throughout, the effect is pleasing.

The listener is unaware of the slight deviations from the spoken

vowel-sound which the singer makes, that the requirements of tonal

beauty may be met.

It is advisable in vowel-practice to avoid letters or symbols which

represent two sounds, an initial and a vanish; and to use simple vowel

elements instead. The combinations of different elements represented by

certain letters and diphthongs may easily be explained when they appear

in the words of a song, if, indeed, the study of phonics has not already

cleared away all difficulties.

In singing, however, it is necessary to understand which of the two

sounds, the initial or the vanish, is to be sustained. In [-a], for

instance, which is eh+e, if the vanish e is sustained in a word

like day the effect is deh-ee. The first sound should be sustained,

and the vanish e be heard only slightly as the mouth partly closes at

the end of the tone. [-I], again, which is equivalent to ah+e,

is often sung by prolonging the e instead of the initial ah, as

light--li-eet. [-O] is a compound sound [-o]+[-o][-o], but the

tendency to sing the first sound short and prolong the second is very

slight usually. O, then, can be used to represent a simple element.

[-U], which equals e+oo, is best sung by making the initial

sound short and the vanish the longer tone.

It will thus be seen that of the five vowel names, a, e, i, o,

u, e only stands for one sound, though the two sounds of o are so

closely allied that the vanish is often imperceptible. The sound of [-a]

in [)a]t is the most unfavorable sound for song in the language, and

those extremely consistent singers who wish to use it can do so.

The nasal twang of Yankeedom is a plant that needs no nourishing. Its

roots are grown wide and deep; so much so, that those who love it need

not fear that it will pine away and die, if it bears no fruit of song,

but only that of speech.

The sound of [)a] will survive even if it is unused in song. It should

in singing be broadened nearly to the sound of ah.

A number of simple elements are suggested which may be used in various

ways in vocal drill. They are [-e], [)i], [)e], [:a], [a:],

[-o], [)oo]. Or [-e] (as in be), [)i] (as in it), eh,

ah, aw, [-o] (as in go), [)oo]. The vowel-elements remaining

are each so closely allied to some of those indicated that the attempt

to differentiate them from the above in vowel-drill is hardly worth

while. In fact, the use of [)i]-- i as in it-- may be omitted if

pupils have learned to sing [-e] with fair breadth of sound, and oo

may be dropped in grades above the primary. It is the final sound of

[-o], as before said. This leaves five vowel-elements.


This vowel is often badly sung, and its form is none too favorable to

good tone even when made as large as distinctness will allow. The lips

must be drawn a little away from the teeth as in a smile, but don't

overdo it, and the teeth slightly parted. The lips should not be drawn

back, exposing the teeth and gums, nor should they be contracted and

pressed against the teeth. In e and in all vowel singing the lips

should be relaxed, not contracted, and kept about as far from the teeth

as they are in repose. If the opening of the mouth, that is, if the

cavity back of the teeth is kept too small and narrow, the tone will be

nasal and twangy. The mouth must be opened enough to permit purity of

tone and free emission. The sound should verge toward i in it.


This sound is [-e] broadened. The teeth may be a little farther apart

than when [-e] is sung.

[)E] or EH.

This is the sound of e in the word get. It is also the initial sound

of the vowel [-a] or long a. It is true that this sound is not

usually so given, but if [-a] is sung with this sound as its initial

sound, and the one to be prolonged, the very best vocal results can be

obtained. The vowel [)a] is more often poorly sung than otherwise.

This is, perhaps, for the reason that comparatively few singers

recognize that long a stands for two sounds, and that the first, which

may be spelled eh, can be sung with large form and placed well forward

in the mouth, while the second sound [-e] is small in form, and not

adapted to the finest tone-effects. In singing this element, the jaw

should drop much lower than for [)i] and nearly as low as for ah.

[:A] or AH.

This is the tone universally accepted as the best for voice-development;

but in school-singing it is not permissible to use the voice except in

the lightest manner, therefore purity of tone must content our

ambitions; power can come later in life. The mouth opens widely for this

tone and the whole throat is expanded.

[A:] or AW.

This element is formed very much like ah. It is ah broadened a

little. The jaw drops to a lower point and the mouth-cavity deepens,

while at the same time the extension from side to side narrows a little.

[-O] and OO.

These sounds are better adapted to securing the use of the thin voice,

where pupils have been accustomed to the use of the thick voice, than

any other vowel-element. The mouth is well opened back of the lips,

which should not be puckered as if to whistle, but relaxed instead.

In actual practice there may be observed a tendency, more or less

marked, but pretty sure to manifest itself if practice on one sound is

continued too long at a time, to deviate from any one toward some other

vowel-element, as [)i] to [-e], eh to [)i], ah to er or er

or uh, aw to uh, [-o] to oo.

If this tendency to deviate from the right tone be permitted, the most

slovenly habits will be formed, and all distinctions in vowel-sound

disappear. Vowel-practice had better be omitted from class-work unless

carefully and conscientiously taught.

If the course of music embraces drill upon scales, vowel-practice may be

incorporated into the course easily. For instance, the drill outlined

upon p. 70 may one day be given with e for a few moments, then with

o. On another day the drill may be upon ah, followed by eh, and

so on. It is unnecessary to particularize. Every teacher will at once

see how to apply practically vowel-singing to his music course. The

exercises and songs may be sung with vowel-sounds. Nearly all books

advise the use of la, lo, etc., in vocal exercises; but while that

method of singing is unobjectionable, the vocalization of solfeggii, it

may be observed, is established by the sanction of time and the

experience of thousands of voice-trainers the world over.

The advantages which flow from vocalizing exercises and songs on a

single vowel-sound are too many to be described in a word. No supervisor

or teacher of music can afford to use do, re, mi, exclusively.

Another class of exercises is now suggested which may be sung upon one

breath. They will be found especially adapted to develop flexibility and

a ready adjustment of the movable parts of the vocal tube to the

positions suited to the formation of the different vowel-sounds. If

three sounds are used as here given, they must be sung quite slowly, the

change from one sound to the next being made by a quick, easy change of

position of the jaw, tongue, etc., but without interrupting the

continuity of the tone.

Sufficient pause to obtain a new breath must be made at the end of each

group, and the mouth opened properly for the production of the first

sound of the next group before it is attacked. The time should be

[Music: f' f' f' {sung on o, e, o}]

quite slow and as in illustration, or the breath will not be used, and

at each succeeding group of tones the lungs will become too full of air.

The attack will then be explosive, and the tone too loud, if, indeed,

the effort to control the breath does not contract and pinch the throat.

Eight groups are given for ascending a scale and eight for descending:

[-o] [-e] [-o] [-o] [-e] [)i]

[-o] [)i] [-o] [-o] [-e] oo

[-o] ah [-o] o ah e

[-o] eh [-o] [-o] ah eh

[-o] aw [-o] [-o] ah aw

[-o] [-e] eh [-o] ah [)i]

[-o] [-e] ah [-o] ah oo

[-o] [-e] aw [-o] eh [-e]

It will be observed that a certain system of arrangement of the

vowel-elements is followed. First, there are five groups, of which o

is the first and last sound, the others being placed between. Then o

is the first tone with e as the second, the other sounds in turn

ending the group. Next ah is the second sound, then eh, i, oo

and ah might be used as the second vowel-element, making thirty-five

combinations with o as the initial sound of each group. The same

number of combinations can be made with ah as the first tone, and so

on with each of the seven vowel-elements.

Sixteen of these groups, changed from time to time as may be desired,

can be written upon the blackboard and sung by the class in the way set

forth, the teacher meanwhile keeping time for and directing the class.

It may be observed in this connection, that, as the voice ascends in

pitch, there is a tendency to blend the various vowel-sounds into one

sound. As the tones grow higher the sound-waves are focused at higher

points upon the hard-palate, the sounding-board of the resonance

cavities, and more difficulty is experienced in moulding these

sound-waves into the forms characteristic of the different

vowel-elements. As the parts concerned in tone-formation gain in

flexibility, the result appears in the ease with which the alterations

in shape of the resonance tube are made at higher pitches.

Fads and devices which divert attention from the subject and retard

rather than accelerate the progress of pupils are common enough in

schools, but the following simple illustrations of different vowel-forms

may be found useful:

{mouth shapes}

[-e] [)i] eh

{mouth shapes}

ah aw o oo]

The base line represents the floor or base of the mouth-cavity, and the

arch, the height and width of the mouth for each sound; the depth is not

indicated. The width of the mouth from side to side is represented as

greatest in [-e], [)i] and eh, while the height is greater in

ah and aw, o is pictured as nearly round, and oo the same,

only small.

It is not contended that these diagrams picture the actual form assumed

by the resonance cavities very accurately. The various positions which

the tongue and the soft-palate assume are not shown at all, nor,

perhaps, is it necessary; for if the pupil is taught to drop the lower

jaw to the right position for each sound, and to keep the tongue prone

in the mouth, a mental picture of each tone will be formed, and the

thought will regulate the action. When the pupil can think the sound

desired, the conditions for its formation will be met by the vocal

organs. The usefulness of diagrams will then cease.

Consonants and Articulation.

"Consonants are the bones of speech. By means of consonants we

articulate our words; that is, we give them joints. We utter vowels, we

articulate consonants. If we utter a single vowel-sound and interrupt it

by a consonant, we get an articulation. Consonants, then, not only give

speech its articulation or joints, but they help words to stand and have

form, just as a skeleton keeps the animal from falling into a shapeless

mass of flesh; therefore, consonants are the bones of speech. The

consonant is the distinguishing element of human speech. Man has been

defined in various ways according to various attributes, functions and

habits. He might well be called the consonant-using animal. He alone of

all animals uses consonants. It is the consonant which makes the chief

difference between the cries of beasts and the speech of man."

--Richard Grant White.

Consonants are not to be sung. The effort so common among singers to

pronounce, by sustaining consonant sounds, is entirely misdirected.

M, n and ng, which are made by shutting off the escape of the

air-current at either the lips or the hard-palate, and so forcing it

through the nose, are often sustained to the detriment of beauty of tone

and clear pronunciation as well.

Articulation, which is the pronunciation of a consonantal sound, is

accomplished by interrupting the air-current, whether vibratory or not,

at certain points. The interruptions are made by the meeting of the lips

with each other or with the teeth, by the tongue with the teeth or

hard-palate, and the root of the tongue with the soft-palate. The

interruption may be complete, as in p or t, or only partial, as in

th. The sound of the consonant results from the slight explosion or

puff which follows the recoil of the movable parts from the point of


All consonants may for singing purposes be considered as preceding or

following some vowel-sound. If preceding, then after the sound is made

the vocal organs must be adjusted at once for the proper formation of

the succeeding vowel. If the consonant sound follows a vowel-tone, the

movement of the vocal organs to the interrupting point must be quick and

vocalization at once cease; for if the vowel-sound is prolonged after

the production of the consonant, the effect will be an added syllable to

the word as at-at-er, up-up-pah, etc. The movements of the organs of

speech for both contact and recoil must be more rapid in singing to

produce distinct articulation than in spoken language.

Slovenly habits of articulation in speech will reappear in song, and the

converse is also true. The study and practice of phonics, which is now

general in schools, is of the highest practical importance in singing,

as well as in reading or speaking. As consonant sounds cannot be sung,

they are best taught in spoken language. The application of the

knowledge and skill thus gained is readily applied to the pronunciation

of words in singing. If the vowel-elements have been carefully practiced

in vocalizes, there will be little effort required to secure the correct

formation of all the vowel-sounds of words.

The nasal twang must, however, be ruthlessly suppressed. As before

suggested, this will frequently appear in words containing the sound of

a as in at, past, fast, etc. It is recommended that such words be

sung with a as in father, or if not quite as broadly, at least

approaching the sound of ah.

If the movements of the vocal organs are quick, flexible and without

muscular tension or stiffness, and if the mouth opens neither too much

nor too little for each vowel-sound, words may be sung and understood

while beauty of tone is not sacrificed.