“Master your vowels... Master your voice!”
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? I mean we all know our vowels right? A-E-I-O-U? Well, not quite.
There are probably about 200 vowels contained within the languages of the world, and the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) details the different symbols that are regularly used to detail these different sounds. As you can see, there are so many more than A-E-I-O-U!
So, what do I mean by “master them”?
I have actively sought out the best teachers, laryngologists, different pedagogies, vocal health specialists, physicists, and other mentors and discovered that many of our vocal ills can be fixed by making sure that we “master the vowel”.
Let’s take the issue of laryngeal height for a moment. Is my larynx “too high”? Is it “too low”? Do I sing with a “stable larynx”? These are terminologies that get thrown around quite a lot and come complete with a whole set of anxieties (laryngophobia – joke, but maybe not….) and negative connotations when in actuality the vowel will more often or not dictate laryngeal height for us. We can choose to open or close (brighten or darken) a particular vowel sound to affect the height of the larynx, but ultimately, directing a student to “lower their larynx” is quite an abstract concept and can be avoided completely if you know how to successfully modify a vowel in order to achieve the desired sound.
Let’s look at vocal fold/cord closure as well. If you have a breathy tone, and assuming for a moment that you don’t suffer from a vocal pathology such as nodules, you probably have something called “weak medial compression”, which is a fancy way of saying that your vocal folds/cords don’t meet with enough contact to efficiently resist the air pressure/flow from the lungs.
Many teachers would be inclined to get you lying on your back and breathing in and out with a breeze block or stack of books on your stomach, however, by selecting the correct vowel sound (like “a” as in “cat”) the vocal folds/cords can be gently coerced into meeting more effectively. Similarly, the reverse is true, if there is too much medial compression, an appropriate vowel sound (like “ee” or “oo”) can help to maintain a healthier level of vocal fold/cord closure.
Making lighter work of your break/bridge/crack/passaggio. Again, vowel sounds can be the saving grace to help to smooth out this particularly troublesome area of the voice helping you to glide through it like greased lightning. A finely and precisely tuned vowel on a “belt” can be the difference between a yell that sounds like it’s on the edge and about to crack, and a sublime sound that literally gets the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.
Vowels. They’re the golden ticket to singing. Why vowels are the golden ticket is a subject for another day (the science can make your eyes bleed haha!), however, it suffices to say that whether you are a singing teacher/vocal coach or a vocalist yourself, learning to master your vowels is the best thing you can do for your voice. Become obsessed. I am and I haven’t looked back.
Get some vocal training! I'm available for in-person and online lessons. Just contact me at this link to book your lesson with me. My lesson rate is normally $100 an hour or $75 for 1/2 hr but for a limited time, NEW students get a huge discount! Or purchase a packaged course here. No matter what your budget or time constraints, where there’s a will, there’s a way to get all these signs pointing in the right direction!
Your Vocal Coach,