English Can be a Difficult Language to Sing

Choir Concert

English can be a difficult language to sing. We have many words that sound the same but have different meanings. Also the vowels, for instance, there is an O in the word love, but is pronounced more like an AH.  Because of this, there are often pitch problems, variances in the choir's sound, and distinctly hearing individual voices.

Through many years of vocal coaching and choir directing, I struggled with this problem. Then one day, as I was working with a student, I tried a couple of ideas and it worked, and it continues to work with individuals as well as with church and civic choirs.

Now, as you try this method, you might get a few strange looks from members of the choir, but they will soon find it works. For example, the word I. We have three different sounding Is. There is the personal I, Eye, and Aye. If you say the word I to yourself, notice where it is placed. It sounds from the back of the mouth and has a 'glottis' sound. This pronunciation is difficult because it tends to tighten the throat, gives an unflattering sound and also makes it difficult to freely sing the next few words.

Now try the word eye. Notice it comes more to the middle of the mouth, but still has a little glottis sound.  Now say the word aye as if you are saluting. Say the repeat of the word aye, aye.
Notice the looseness of the tongue and the sound is out in front of the mouth. There is also a lift with the air, - a free sound with a lift.

When I am working with a choir, and they come upon the word I or eye, I ask them to write in, with pencil, the word aye. It helps them remember and really makes a difference.

Another word is Him. Again, say the word to yourself and notice where it is pronounced and what happens to the air. In place of the word him, have the choir pronounce hymn as in hymn book. Again notice the free feeling and the air column continues out in front of the mouth.

Pain is another difficult word. Such as I am in pain. Consider substituting this word with pane as in window pane. Notice it lifts. Often, when there is a problem with a variance of sound or pitch, you will find using another "sounding the same word" will help the choral sound come together and also the singers will have better breath support.

This method has really worked for a number of students and choirs. If you have any questions or comments, just give a call or send an email.

Good luck and we look forward to hearing from you.

Alice Beebe