Sunday, April 1, 2007

Articulation- need some!

One of my pet peeves is listening to a song and not being able to tell what the heck it's saying.

I know some people will say they are only into the music and don't care about or listen to lyrics. I remember when my son was little, he used that rationale to protest my veto of music with inappropriate lyrics. (No, hehehe, it didn't work.) But in reality, most people are drawn to a song and to a singer whose message is clear.

What is articulation? A simple definition, for the singer or speaker, is: the forming of words. A synonym for articulation is "diction". I really don't like to use these words a lot in my teaching or in my studio vocal production because they can make people think I want them to speak like an English professor... Which of course is not true. (My apologies to all you English professors!) So I say this instead: Communicate so I can understand you!

All kinds of things are involved in articulation: The mouth, tongue, lips, soft palate, yes. But to articulate not just words but the MEANING behind them involves other body parts such as eyes, nose, even spinal alignment (body language!) For instance, if your eyes are "dead" instead of communicative, I could tell you weren't "with me" - even if you were somewhere I couldn't see you. I would know you weren't really communicating with me in mind. See previous posts for more about the importance of eyes and body language .
Sometimes muddy articulation happens on a recording, but more often I notice it in live performance. The artist gets into the music and slurs through the performance, seeming to just assume everybody knows the lyrics. Hey, even if it's a hit and the audience does know the lyrics, you still need to say them clearly. Why?

When you aren't clear, you are "dis-ing" your audience. Whether or not you are aware of it, you are dismissive and disrespectful. I've heard hugely popular entertainers when they spoke so clearly I could understand every word. I've also heard the same entertainers when I could understand nothing. It was as if they could have cared less if the audience was there or not. An audience is a fickle thing, and my suggestion is to remember that without them your public career becomes a private hobby.

A great way to rev up the clarity of your articulation is to imagine you have a deaf contingent in your audience. Articulate so that a deaf person could read your face and know what the words are. Do this in the studio and the clarity of your performance can amaze you; do it on stage and you may find a connection with your audience that may surprise you. Do it in your next public speaking engagement and you may hear a pin drop because people are actually listening.

Toastmasters is a great organization to join to practice articulation, among other vocal skills.

Next post I plan on discussing: when articulation goes wrong......!

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