It’s not what you say, It’s how you say it...

A diction paper by Dorian Edwards
I have a pet subject. Or to be accurate, as many of you reading this will know, I have a number of pet subjects. Anyway, I have one particular pet subject, namely; I get quite exercised when I listen to a song and cannot understand all the words they are saying. My dad had the same problem with Rolling Stones records in the 60’s, which didn’t bother me, as I seemed to know exactly what they were saying. To be fair to dad however, I had had a lot more exposure to their records than he had, so by some process of auditory osmosis I had eventually absorbed all the words into my brain. I was thinking about this last week when listening to some new songs I was considering for the choir and it seemed to me that I could do worse than put some thoughts together for all choir members to consider. Let’s go back to the Rolling Stones then. They were and still are one of the best Blues/Rock bands of my generation, so their emphasis was on the beat. Would their music make me dance and wave my hands about?  The tune and the words therefore were playing second fiddle to the beat. Listening to a song should be an emotional experience. The writer(s) of the words and music are trying to create an image, feeling or emotion to which you can relate. If you listen to the song over and over again (as I did with Jagger et al) then that familiarity can bring greater understanding of the sentiments of the piece to help encourage an emotion .In short, your emotional response makes you want to do something, dance, sing along, cry, cheer etc., or in my dad’s case, he simply walked into my bedroom and pulled the plug out. The text therefore, is important to the listener. Our job as a choir is to be as clear as possible and help the writer to convey what they are saying. The music is also important, as it is the carrier for the words. Together, we have the job of making the writers point through the efforts of both the music composer and the writer of the text. Remember we are just talking about choral works here. Instrumental compositions have their own emotional triggers and you never know I may write about them another time. There are, of course, singers whose vocals are barely understood. This could be due to bad recording and mixing, or if it is a live concert the amplification is poor, or the venue acoustics are not so great. Old Churches are usually great venue because the natural sound can soar and that helps the listener to pick up much more than in a modern building (unless specific acoustic provision in the build has been sorted out). I’m sure you get the gist of what I am saying. It simply boils down to how well we pronounce the words we sing. It’s exactly the same as when we speak, but for most of us we don’t think about how our lips, tongue and teeth play their part in achieving good diction. The following exercises can help you individually with practising your diction. Remember, a choir has an advantage if we all try and pronounce our words the same way, even while taking account of accent and regional variations. All we can do is practise and have fun when doing it. You will find as you do some of these exercises that you have to shape your mouth and position your tongue in a certain ways in order for clarity of diction to be achieved. This is quite normal and if you look in a mirror while you do them, then it can be quite entertaining. Don’t however; try it in the middle of Tesco’s – it’s distracting! Joking aside however, good diction coupled with breath control will help your vocal tone (all the things we practise every week in warm up).  Try and imagine you have a ping-pong ball in your mouth when you do these exercises. So let’s try some simple exercises.


As singers we spend more time singing vowels than consonants For this reason a lot of importance is placed on them. When we sound a vowel we use parts like the tongue, lips and nose. Now the combination of where your tongue is placed, coupled with your mouth shape will givegives the vowel it’s own character. The best way to show this is to say:

sort and sought

To build strength in your sound try these exercises singing the following combination. Once again,use a mirror to look at the shape your mouth makes when you get the different sounds clearly:

ee – ea – aa – oo – ou

Now try the exercise again but taking the sounds in the opposite direction:

oo – au – ah – ae ee

Think about the differences the vowels make when you say:

had – hard and hoard

You should be able to hear the vowels clearly when you say:

why and yo


If you want the audience to understand the words you were singing then you need crisp, clear pronunciation of consonants. Let’s try singing these words in a rhythmic pattern:

pen – be – tenkate – feel – very – thin just – beige – cheeseme – sing – live so – zoo – show -go

Now some well known tongue twisters that require you to think carefully before you try and speed them up to the standard of Danny Kaye (that’s a reference to those, like, who are a certain age. If you don’t who he is look for him on YouTube) Sing the following twisters, going up a note each time. Don’t attempt speed till you have clarity.It’s quality we need right now.

Red lorry, yellow lorry Mr Mick’s mixed biscuits lips tongue tip of the teeth Cricket wicket critic Popacatapetal copper-plated kettle Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers (It had to be in there…)

One more for luck. This twister is great for getting your s articulated:

She sells seashells on the seashore, the shells she sells are seashells I’m sure

Just a couple more tips here as you have more than enough for this paper.

Papa’s got a head like a ping-pong ball? (To the tune of the William TellOverture). We have done it at rehearsal a few times, so try it at home; it’s a good exercise.

Try the ta – da and ka – ga sounds. Sing bagada, bagada then takada takada

Try the ba sound. Sing baba, baba, baba then bababa, bababa, bababa

Unique New York, New York Unique Peggy Babcock Leave the lazy lion alone Six thick thistle sticks Mixed biscuits Wild winds and wet weather Frothy coffee Any noise annoys an oyster but a noisy noise annoys an oyster most Will Willie wedge the window with the white wooden window wedge? Or will Willie wedge the window with the white rubber window wedge? Why worry with which window wedge Willie wedges the window? Whether Willie wedges the window with the white wooden window wedge or Willie wedges the window with the white rubber window wedge, the window will be wedged.

Hope this helps….!