Dr. Ronald Anderson

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by Dr. Ronald Anderson
SFA Director of the SFA School of Music
SFA School of Music
[email protected]


Diction - "If you can't understand it, the message ain't gettin' through!"

How to Handle the "r"
Voiced and Unvoiced Consonants
Rhythmic Diction
Expressive Diction

How to Handle the "r"

  • Only sing "r" before a vowel sound.

  • Don't sing "r" before a consonant sound.

  • Don't sing "r" before a pause.

  • In serious music, flip the "r" between vowel sounds.

(See: Marshall, Madeline, The Singer's Manual of English Diction. New York, G. Schirmer, 1953.)

Voiced and Unvoiced Consonants

  • Learn to sing unvoiced consonants separate from the vowel that follows with varying degrees of intensity.  Examples:  s, k, t, p, f, h, etc.

  • For "musical line" think vowels; for "expression" think consonants.

  • Voiced consonants normally cannot be separated from the vowels that follow.  They can, however, be used expressively by lengthening their duration when appropriate.  (For example, lengthening the "l" in the phrase "I love you!"]

  • The danger in using consonants for expression and clarity is that performers often approach them by punching the consonants AND the vowels that follows them.  That, of course, can completely destroy the sense of "line."  Practice emphasizing and lengthening consonants WITHOUT punching the vowels that follow.  This is part of the work of  developing artistic diction.

Rhythmic Diction

  • Every sound within every word must be placed within a rhythmic context.

  • Be sensitive to consonant releases; often the release is more "delicate" off the beat rather than on the beat.

  • Always give the vowels of a diphthong proportionate rhythmic values; usually the primary vowel sound receives the greater proportion of rhythmic time.

  • Try solving diphthongs in words that come before pauses by singing the primary vowel sound to the release, placing the "whole" diphthong on the actual release point in the rhythm of speech.  Thus, the completion of the diphthong and any consonants that follow it will be heard slightly after the release beat.

  • Don't sing words; sing all of the sounds of the words.

  • Distinguish between strong and weak (unaccented vowel sounds) and avoid making them all equal.

Expressive Diction

  • Look for the emotional words within a phrase; look for the dramatic words; look for the words that "must" be understood if communication with the audience is to take place!

  • Make sure that these words are clearly understood.  To do this may require one to slight or "rob time" from less important words so the important ones will emerge clearly within the context.  Many monosyllable words fall into the category of being "less important."  These include "the," "a" and "an," "and," "as," "of," "than," etc.  When they are followed by an emotional or dramatic word, don't hesitate to use some of the duration of  these words to emphasize the initial consonant of the following word, for example:  Sing the lines yourself to find the best solutions.

  • Make sure that you overlay the singing line with a verbal thought.  This will also help the development of phrase shape and dramatic meaning within the phrase.

  • When words are being sung very quickly, don't try to make each word or syllable equal.  Make the important words stand out.  Our ears will supply much of the rest because of communicative context.


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