Singing Vowels in English - dummies

By Pamelia S. Phillips

If English isn’t your first language, knowing which vowel or syllable to emphasize when you’re singing can be a mystery. In fact, people who speak English as a second language often stand out precisely because they emphasize the wrong syllable in certain words.

Sometimes a composer puts a weak syllable of the word on a very strong beat in the music. What to do? You can look up the words in a dictionary to determine which syllable to emphasize and then practice speaking through the text. If you speak through the text, you practice the shapes of the vowels and can familiarize yourself with the flow of the syllables.

After you speak through the text, sing through the text of your song. Knowing which syllable to emphasize now makes you sound like English is your native language. Practicing vowel singing exercises will not only help you create precise vowel sounds, but also will help you sound like a native English speaker if you emphasize the right syllable.

Even if your English is fabulous, you still want to look up words to make sure your pronunciation is correct for singing. Regional accents are great but you want neutral speech (with no accent) when you sing your classical or musical theater songs.

Composers also have to know which syllable is emphasized in a word so they can put it in the right place in the musical phrase. If the word in your song normally has the accent on the second syllable (direct, resolve), the composer may put the first syllable on a long note and accent the weak syllable.

Instead of singing Die-wreck-t, keep your focus on the second syllable. You’re then closer to the right vowel, which is Dih-rect. Similarly, instead of focusing on Reeee-zolve, keep the musical line moving to the second syllable so that you sing Rih-zolve. You have to know which syllable gets the emphasis, just in case the composer gets carried away and emphasizes the weak syllable on a strong musical beat.