By Pauline Midwinter of Midwinter Tuition
Elocution is the study of the spoken word. It is the skill of clear and distinct pronunciation. In an Elocution lesson, it is likely that you will practice breathing, warming up techniques, articulation and intonation work.
Did you know that one of the reasons that we breathe in through our nose is millions of years old? As a primitive man, at rest, we would breathe through our nose. The breath inhaled in this way is deeper and more relaxed, so the effect on the body is very positive. When chasing down prey we moved to gulping through our mouth – Elocution teachers don’t advise it to students for their initial breath; the first breath you take before your first line on stage, the first note in the song, the first word shouted out, the first line in the presentation, audition or interview. Get this breath deep and gently inhaled through your nose and your body will help you relax.
An Elocution warm-up is probably very similar to that which you do as singers. You might try a gentle hum, then increased volume in the hum. With this exercise, you are trying to make your lips buzz and tingle with the force of your voice passing your lips. This helps you understand ‘forward voice’ – essential to the production of most English sounds. Once the lips (and nose!) are tingling you open the lips and set the voice free. Then you would just make a nice open ‘Aaaahhhh’ sound (as at the dentist) – keeping the tongue flat inside the mouth. This practices the forward voice without the humming. Then you would alternate humming and ahhh-ing. These exercises can be carried out in the shower, while making your morning cuppa or even in the car. They are not so advisable on public transport though…
- Blow through your lips, keeping them as relaxed as possible, to make a sound like a car engine. It’s very silly and great fun.
- Next add sound behind it, to make a sound like a telephone! The rapid movement of the lips provides resistance to the airflow, so this exercise is like weight-lifting for your voice.
- Practice scales, short tunes and time how long you can flutter for.
Articulation in singing is so important; to make sure people understand you and your lyrics correctly. My six-year-old daughter thought that the chorus in Cats’ ‘Mr Mistoffelees’ said “a castle clever” – instead of “a cat so clever”. YouTube has some very funny examples of misheard lyrics check out this 90s compilation here (slightly NSFW), but I am sure we would all prefer to be heard and understood. Practice like this:
- Vowel sounds alone: Ooooh … Aw/Or… Ah/Ar… Ay…Ee
- Add consonants before e.g. tooohh… tor… tar …. tay … tee
- Add consonants after e.g. ooht… ought… art… ate… eat…
- Consonants before and after e.g. boot… bought … bart … bait … beat …
Keep the consonants really strong and use your tongue firmly inside your mouth. Make sure voiceless consonants and voiced consonants are not muddled up – check online which is which. Use the full range of your voice to practice these sounds, stretch how high and how low you go with vowel sounds to ensure your strength in articulation is not just in the most frequently used part of your voice.
Try minimal pairs as a way of stretching long vowels vs shortened vowel sounds.
- Ship vs sheep,
- Mad vs made,
- Bet vs beat,
- Rot vs wrote,
- Sun vs soon.
Ted Power has some great lists of these pairs.
Use tongue twisters and poems to enhance your articulation – they are easy to find and so much fun to use. Take them slowly at first, then speed them up. Here are five of my favourites but you can find more at here:
- The pert pedlar prated proudly to the petty prince about his pretty prints. (fantastic for plosive consonant practice)
- What a to do, to die today, at a minute or two to two. (Listen to those lovely long vowel sounds)
- Seth at Sainsbury’s sells thick socks (Brilliant for ironing out s/th confusion)
- Who would talk of parks must learn and tend his trees (Diphthongal vowel practice here – listen for the two ‘parts’ of each vowel sound)
- Chicken tikka chicken tikka chicken tikka starter with naan and pilau rice (Speed and accuracy whilst using rhythm).
Use classic poetry as well as contemporary to practice as many different styles of sentence construction as you can.
Top 5 Poems for articulation practice, all available at poemhunter.com:
- If by Rudyard Kipling
- Remember by Cristina Rossetti
- Cargoes by John Masefield
- From A Railway Carriage by R.L.Stevenson
- Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold
Practice your articulation exercises regularly in order to maintain good clarity in your singing voice.
Remember, your audience deserves to hear every word you sing!
Would you like to learn more? Check out some of our V-Team videos:
Vocal Technique – Vowel Tuning Part 1
Vocal Health – Prevention Better Than Cure
Nutrition and Lifestyle – Start With The Basics
Vocal Style – Vocal Health, Durability and Longevity
Vocal Technique – Vowel Tuning Part 2
Vocal Health – Four Easy Tips For A Healthy Voice
Pauline Midwinter is an Elocution tutor who primarily teaches over Skype. She has been working with students for the past seven years to assist in Accent Reduction, Elocution, Intonation, Interview Technique and more besides. She publishes a regular Elocution podcast, YouTube videos, an eBook and various downloads on Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Find her at www.midwintertuition.co.uk
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