How have you been articulated so beautifully

Good articulation when singing

What is that, actually? What role does articulation play in pop singing?

A new approach beyond the classic articulation exercises

(Photo credit: Shutterstock, photo by lassedesignen)

Anyone who has already taken singing lessons may still know how we were taught to pronounce all consonants as clearly and strongly articulated as possible and to give the vowels a clear space in the mouth. But is there really a uniform type of correct articulation for all singers - regardless of genre and language? Or is this idea still strongly influenced by the sound ideal of classical vocal technique? Well, you can first think about whether you find a clear articulation in your singing to be appropriate and beautiful, or whether you are consciously going a different way. So is it necessary to discuss good articulation when in the end it is only expression and content that count? Here you will find answers to the questions of what articulation is and how it is best used.

1. What does articulation mean?

In music, articulation refers to both linguistic sound formation and instrumental tone formation. With wind instruments it is the approach, with percussion instruments the attack, with string instruments the bow stroke, etc.

In anatomy, an articulation is understood to be a joint ("articulatio"), a joint connection or structure. Applied to music it means that the tones can be connected to each other in different ways. This can be B. legato (seamlessly close connection), non legato (with sound pauses between the notes), tenuto (held), portato (carried) or staccato (detached).

2. Where exactly does articulation take place?

In singing and speaking, articulation is understood as the modification of the tones generated in the larynx by organs of articulation. This refers to the tongue, palate, lips and teeth, vocal cords, which change the resonance spaces through their position and thus create tonal differences. Depending on the position these speaking tools occupy when singing or speaking, our sounds, syllables and tones sound soft, hard, loud, quiet, etc. Singers consciously create what a cellist creates with his bow on the strings controlled movements and positions in the articulation apparatus.

In general, a distinction is made between the type of articulation and the place of articulation. Listed here only briefly.

Articulation type
The type of articulation describes the way in which the air flow is modified, i.e. hindered, for sound formation. Behind the names are the international phonetic characters. B. can also be found in dictionaries.

  • Plosives (also called plosives): / p t k b d g /
  • Affricates: / tʃ dʒ /
  • Fricatives: / f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ (h) /
  • Nasals: / m n ŋ /
  • Liquid: / l, r /
  • Gliding sounds (half vowels): / j w /
  • Vowels: / i e ɛ æ ɑ ɔ o u /

Place of articulation
The place of articulation refers to the place in the mouth where the sounds are produced.

  • bilabial (with both lips)
  • labiodental (with lips and teeth)
  • alveolar (on the upper front teeth)
  • postalveolar (behind the upper front teeth)
  • palatal (on the hard palate)
  • velar (on the soft palate)
  • uvular (formed with the participation of the uvula)
  • glottal (formed by the glottis)

3. Articulation in classical singing

Articulation exercises for singing were previously only available in classical vocal technique. The reason for this is that for classical singing it is simply important that singers from all over the world articulate in the same way, regardless of the language. After all, there is a clearly defined vocal sound in the world of opera. The articulation of the vowels and consonants were adapted to this sound ideal. Exercises for protruding lips, compressed tongue, loosely hanging jaws and low larynx stand are therefore ideal for singers who want to learn to sing the classical repertoire authentically.

4. What is the meaning of articulation in pop singing?

Until recently, pop singers also adopted singing exercises and articulation exercises from classical music because there were insufficient studies and therefore no instructions on how pop singing works best. Fortunately, people know better these days. And this knowledge gives pop singers the freedom to sound the way they want without having to fear that this could cause them to have voice problems. In non-classical music, it is worthwhile to listen more closely, especially to those who mumble or stutter. Because their indistinct articulation may give their interpretation a special expression. Good examples are Herbert Grönemeyer and legend Bob Dylan.

In pop music in particular, there are many reasons why one should sometimes deliberately articulate indistinctly. The articulation of our language is a powerful means of expression that ensures recognition value and can be an important element for a "unique selling point".

A good example can be found in rap singing. Hip-hop has done a lot in my opinion in getting young people to grapple with their language. Depending on which part of the country (in Germany as well as in other countries) the rapper comes from, he quotes his rhymes in the corresponding dialect. Dialect and slang play a big role here.

Kendrick Lamar - Swimming Pool

As long as an individual articulation is made consciously and reaches the listener in a positive way, regardless of whether it is unclean or indistinct, it gets the green light in pop music.

Joy Denalane - Whatever

Jan Delay - She can't dance

Stefan Gwildis - Where are you right now

5. What are the differences between the various languages?

Although we know that articulations are different in other languages, I experience time and again with my singing students how little they are aware of these differences in articulation when singing. Therefore, I would like to briefly discuss how articulation is optimal in other languages. Because there are differences.

If you try to transfer the type of articulation to another language, it no longer sounds authentic.

The vowels in the German language z. B. sound definitely different than in other languages. Even if we use the same letters. The same goes for the consonants. We read the same letters, but have to shape them differently in our mouth so that they correspond to the language.

So it is very important to be very familiar with the pronunciation of the language in which we want to sing. Only then can we even begin to think about a suitable articulation.

I also experience time and again with my students that, for example, they articulate the "L" at the end of an English word lighter when you ask for a better, clearer articulation. Many mumble their English because they think it sounds more authentic that way. That might sound cool, but it's pointless if you don't understand the content of the text.

Although I have to say that there are also clear differences between British and American English.

Example 1:

matter (british) madder (american)

Here the double t in British is pronounced like the German "t", while in America it is pronounced as a "d".

Example 2:

love / bell (British = light, light l; American = dark, thick l)

So for good articulation you shouldn't switch from an American to a British pronunciation or vice versa all at once.

It is also worth taking a look at other factors that support or influence articulation.

6. Manual articulation - important not only for the deaf

People who rely on sign language for their communication use facial expressions and gestures to articulate. This type of articulation is also called manual articulation. But manual articulation is not only good for the deaf.
Body language is very important for good, natural communication, as it supports our expression and signals to our counterpart what emotional state we are in. So we can communicate without verbal expression - sometimes our posture, facial expressions and gestures even say a lot more than our verbal communication.

Applied to singing, this means that we have more opportunities to communicate. And that's exactly what we singers do, mostly live on stage. Because there our audience can both hear and see us, and thus get a multidimensional picture of us. Even if you don't understand every word exactly, you can find out what the song you are sung is about. That's the beauty of performing live.
It is different when you record music in the studio. There are no spectators here. So the linguistic articulation alone has to be enough to later convince the audience of his performance.

7. What does articulation have to do with phrasing? One should not confuse articulation with phrasing. However, there is a connection between both elements. To get creative in our singing, we use both the type of pronunciation and the type of phrasing to achieve an individual expression. Often articulation and phrasing depend on each other, for example when we play around a note (also called "riff"), then the articulation adapts to our improvised melody line. An otherwise harshly articulated word can sound softer because the vowels are in the foreground here and are used for phrasing. The consonants of the word then only represent the frame. Of course, care should be taken to ensure that this frame remains stable, otherwise the intelligibility could suffer. In other cases, the consonants are used to make rhythmic phrases even more percussive. The vowels are shorter and the consonants are articulated precisely and powerfully.

I have seen myself how thin the line between pronunciation and phrasing can be. On my only German-language album, I decided with my then producer Frank Ramond (e.g. Annett Lousian, Ina Müller, Roger Cicero) to articulate in such a way that the rhythm and phrasing are in the foreground. My music was based on world music rhythms and the emphasis is often off-beat (syncopated). This made my singing sound more authentic in my opinion. Nevertheless, I received feedback from some Germans that it was difficult to understand the text because I was articulating it in such a "non-German" way. Still, I wouldn't have done it any differently today because the phrasing was more important to me.

8. What influence does articulation have on vocal technique?

With current vocal technique methods such as the CVT (Complete Vocal Technique), the type of pronunciation of the vowels plays a very important role. Depending on which mode you want to sing in, this technique changes the sound of the vowels of a word. The setting of the articulation organs ensures that changes also take place in the larynx and pharynx, which produce a special vocal sound and also enable the singer to reach high notes without any problems.

9. How can I practice articulation without classic articulation exercises?

  • Get to know your articulators!
  • Say all consonants slowly and make it clear to you which areas in your mouth become active.
  • You should pay particular attention to the tongue, because it is a very flexible muscle. Feel the tip of the tongue, the edges of the tongue, the back of the tongue. Get an idea of ​​where exactly the tongue touches the roof of the mouth when you say consonants like "k" or "g" or "ch" or "r", or what your tongue is doing when you say an "s" or "l" " speak.
  • The setting of the vowels is a little more complex. Because here you can use the tongue, lips, jaw and larynx to color the sound lighter or darker, and change the resonance space from nasal to oral by pulling up or lowering the soft palate.
  • Listen to singers whose pronunciation you like. Analyze how they articulate and imitate it. But always make sure that the language you are singing in sounds authentic. The way you would speak, you should also sing first. Then you can turn many small screws to customize your singing. And that goes through articulation, phrasing, dynamics and vocal use (timbre, sound effects, etc.)
  • Record yourself and try different things. You will find out very quickly for yourself what sounds good or what suits you.

Conclusion

Before we get into the topic of articulation, we should think about the pronunciation of the language in which we are going to sing. It may be necessary to first work on the pronunciation in general. Either you look for a language teacher or you listen more carefully when native speakers speak or sing. Watch films in the original z. B. helps to get the sound of speech even better in the ear.