Who Cares About Vowels in Singing?

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Who cares about vowels in singing? Vocalists who really want to sound good care and here’s why.
The vowels we learn in school – A  E  I  O  U and sometimes Y – are not the same vowels we use in singing. In fact, singing and speaking are are not the same. How are singing and speaking different?
Singing and speaking use the same physiological processes but how they are used is somewhat different.
This process for singing and speaking involves producing air from the lungs which is controlled by the abdominal muscles, an intention to communicate using vowels and consonants, and then vibration of the vocal chords (also known as vocal folds) from that air which then produces sound.
One of the differences in the vocal configuration between speaking and singing are usage of vowels. How a singer uses vowels greatly impacts the quality of their singing.
Next time you participate in karaoke, notice how people who try to speak-sing the lyrics sound differently from those who use other vowels besides the literal vowel that is written in the words of the song. You will likely see a big difference in quality – it just doesn’t sound right when someone is trying to speak-sing.
Singing vowels come from the International Phonetic Alphabet, a catalogue of the sounds used to represent the variety of sounds used in all human languages. Out of those sounds, there are 9 specific ones we focus on as singers.
Sound         English Word
ee                 see
ih                  city
ae                 cat
eh                egg
ah                father
aw               saw
uh               love
oo               who
oe               woman
Each of these vowels produce a certain resonance, and excellent singers know how to use them to sound their best.
For example, when Steve Perry from Journey sings the song Lights, listen closely to how he sings “city” in the line, “When the lights go down in the city.”
He doesn’t sing it like this: sit-ee
He sings it more like this: sit-eh
Now you try singing the line using both vowel configurations. Which sounds best to you?
Steve Perry is a master of singing vowels. Listen to the rest of the song paying attention to his use of singing vowels.
At Peak Music, vowel work is central to our vocal coaching with students. Contact us for a free vocal consultation!
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