Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Articulation: Got too much?

OK, so there's a downside to too much articulation. If you "grab" your words too strongly, you will be perceived as:

  • Angry
  • An amateur
  • Insincere (I think it was Shakespeare who wrote "Me thinks he protesteth too much")

Truly over-pronounced words will also cause tongue and jaw tension. You don't want that because it limits your control, tone and range. That's a good way to know your diction has crossed the line.

Here are some tips to help balance the crispness of your articulation:

  1. Give your jaw some flexibility. A slight sideways or circular chewing motion, if not overdone, can free things up marvelously.
  2. Concentrate on communicating with your eyes. That usually helps keep over-pronouncing under control.
  3. BIG TIP: Try singing only on the vowels. Yes this will feel silly, but I think we covered how "silly" can cause miracles in a post not long ago. Notice how much more resonance and range you can muster without the consonants. Now very lightly use the consonants again. Then, make the words feel more normal in your mouth.
  4. Use the consonants and lose them... quickly let go. Think of a throwing a baseball... if you hold on too long you're in trouble.
  5. Record yourself and see if you believe yourself. Be honest <:
  6. Listen to masterful vocalists (a bit of rhythm & blues or soft jazz wouldn't hurt, Emmy Lou Harris is a great example in the country genre) who are clear but don't sound like they are dictating something. "Mime" a song with such an artist, trying to copy their style.

Here is a link to a performance by Jane Monheit, one of the country's hottest jazz artists. You might find it interesting to study how she uses words but doesn't over use them. Notice the life in her eyes. Note... don't be put off by the jazz genre if that's not what you're into. These concepts will work for ANY kind of music.


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......!