Diction is becoming a lost art in the eyes of music professionals thanks to popular genres like mumble rap and whisper rap. Sometimes, the inability to understand the words that the artist is saying on the track can work if they want to give you a sense of getting lost in the beat or under the influence. But most of the time, people want to know what the artist is saying. This is especially true for live performances, where it can be even more difficult to hear a singer over the instrumentation.
Can people hear what you're singing in terms of your lyrics, or are they just hearing your great voice and guessing the rest? You'll want to hook your audience in with your voice and message to get the best chance of them returning for more. Consider some of these tips if you need to make your words clearer for studio and live performances.
It might feel crazy to do, but oversinging ending consonants can really help the audience grasp the words that you're singing, especially in a live setting. As singers, we often focus on hitting the right notes more than ending the notes right. We also assume that people can use context clues to understand where our words are going when we sing, but it's really not the listener's job to do all the work. You have to go the extra mile for clarity.
When you overdo ending consonants in certain styles, it adds more emotional intensity and can boost your performance's passion. On the other hand, if you're singing in a style closer to hip hop, it would be silly to overdo the end of all your consonants. Make sure what you're doing is appropriate for the genre.
Beginner singers that are working on diction often make the mistake of holding on to some consonants for too long. Think of a lingering "s" that a singer might accidentally hold for too long and sound like a snake hissing or a lingering "f" that sounds like they're on the verge of an f-bomb. You want to emphasize your consonants but not hold on to them. Not only will you be less likely to spit on the mic when holding on to a vowel instead, but the vowel is likely to be much prettier when held out instead of the consonant!
Another tip that works well for most genres, except for styles like R&B and hip hop, is to not forget to emphasize consonants in the middle of a word. As an example, singing the word "making" can easily result in the "k" being lost since you wouldn't think you need to make it a bit louder than usual, but you often do need to. This is especially true for songs where the lyrics go by fast, and the listener needs to hear them well to get the full picture of the song.
Speaking of lyrics that go by fast, rappers can benefit from tongue twisters that will help them make their way through phrases fast, but singers shouldn't feel like they don't need this type of help with the way the music industry is headed. It can be a challenge to make sure that your phrases sung or rapped don't just sound like a bunch of gibberish. Tongue twisters like these are a great place to start if you're needing assistance with diction for fast songs.
Singers that are at the beginning of their journey are often uncomfortable with how they will look when they sing in front of others. This can lead them to perform with less facial expression and less mouth movement than what is required of the lyrics.
Good diction often involves your mouth being open long and wide. Not being comfortable with dropping your jaw can lead to a loss in translation when it comes to the words you're singing. A long jaw can help the sound and clarity leave your mouth and reach your audience much easier than a barely opened mouth. Don't be afraid to overdo it as long as you aren't opening with a horizontally wide mouth placement that could bring you an unpleasantly nasally and bright sound.
A lip trill is an act of making your mouth vibrate very fast while making a "brrr" sound. It's often done from the time that we're kids growing up and exploring new sounds with our friends in school. Some like to use it as noise to mimic the sound of a horse or an engine running.
Lip trills help put your body in the proper positioning for healthy singing and speaking. The air that pushes up from your consistent escaping breath enables you to increase your breath support and puts your larynx muscles in a productive and relaxed state. Then the vibrations help relax and activate your face muscles. This will relieve tension and help you easily get that great mouth placement that will help your clarity. Read more about why lip trills are important here.
If you run out of breath, you run out of good diction and possibly the sound of your notes in general. You will find it hard to practice good diction without good breath support. This rings especially true for my first tip of overdoing your ending consonants for clarity and added emotion. If you're barely getting enough breath to make it to the end of your phrases, you will definitely not be thinking about overdoing the consonants. Remember that a full and rich breath for singers involves filling your midsection with expanding air, not sucking in your gut or lifting your shoulders.
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As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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