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Choral Distortions in Pursuit of Blend: Part 1

Choral Distortions in Pursuit of Blend: Part 1

“Cover the Sound”

happiness is singing in choir

          When we sing in a choir, the ultimate goal is to sound and move as a single unit; to make music in sync with other people using the most uniform sound possible. I think most of us know this isn’t always the easiest goal to accomplish. There’s a few uninformed characters that always make an appearance in choirs: The Blaster and their counterpart The Whisperer, The Closed Mouth Singer, The Wannabe Opera Singer (with the vibrato you can drive a truck through), The Scooper (who apparently has to ascend to every note with a gradual slide), The Arrhythmic (though this is most singers if we’re being honest with ourselves), and The Gambler (who would rather guess at notes than actually follow what’s written on the page). There are many other personalities, but the point is that a wide variety exists and they affect the overall “blend” or “uniformness” of the sound.

         One of the ways conductors try and achieve a unity of sound is by asking singers to “cover” or “round” their sound.

Considering different positions of the tongue for different vowels

Considering different positions of the tongue for different vowels

         “Cover the sound”definition: create a “darker” quality for each of the vowels. See above for different placements of the tongue for different vowels. Try saying the words and feeling how the position of your tongue and lips change.

         Covering the sound can easily be performed by rounding your lips for every vowel you sing and creating the most amount of space in your mouth by limiting movement of the tongue and keeping it relatively low. What this does is draw all vowels towards the centre. (Note:When we talk about forward, central, or back in the mouth for vowels what we are talking about is the point of contraction in the tongue). Centralizing vowels pulls forward vowels like “ee” (/i/) and “a” (/æ/) back, and pulls back vowels like “oo” (/u/) and “oh” (/o/) forward (symbols in brackets are from the International Phonetic Alphabet). This makes all vowels meet closer to the middle of the mouth and causes there to be less variation in each vowel’s individual production.

This is the vowel chart from the International Phonetic Alphabet. Imagine the base of this chart sitting centrally on your tongue. The different sounds produced represent where in the mouth the vowel is produced in relation to height and front- or back-ness (For example: an "ee" sound marked by /i/ is produced near the roof of the mouth at the front.)

This is the vowel chart from the International Phonetic Alphabet. Imagine the base of this chart sitting centrally on your tongue. The different sounds produced represent where in the mouth the vowel is produced in relation to height and front- or back-ness (For example: an “ee” sound marked by /i/ is produced near the roof of the mouth at the front.)

         Don’t believe me? Try it on your own? Sing the word “seat” in a comfortable range for about three seconds with a bit of a smile. Now sing the word “sit” for the same duration also with a smile. This is focussing the sound forward in the mouth where the pure “ee” (/i/) and “ih” (/ı/) sounds are produced. It is easy to differentiate between the two vowels and consequently, the two words. Now try the same exercise without a smile and instead round your lips like a kiss and keep the tongue relatively low at the front and the back. Notice how now it becomes difficult to differentiate between the two words, but the vowels are closer to the same.

         Is it ideal?

         It can be a useful tool because it actually makes it easier to match vowels between individual singers. Think about it: If all vowels are being produced similarly instead of in different areas of the mouth like when we speak, they are more likely to sound the same. There will also be less difference between an “ee” (/i/)and “ih” (/ı/) sound, an “oo” (/u/) and “oh” (/o/) sound, and an “a” (/æ/) and “aw” (/α/) sound for example. In addition to this benefit, sounds that are more uniform and central in the mouth often cause more space for the sounds to resonate and are therefore sometimes easier to keep in tune. The downfall is that it often becomes hard to differentiate between sounds and therefore hard for a listener to understand.

Different tongue positions for vowels. Notice how the central placement has the most amount of space for the sound to resonate.

Different tongue positions for vowels. Notice how the central placement has the most amount of space for the sound to resonate.

         Rest assured however, that contrary to some of the production techniques we will discuss this month, this kind of production is anatomically not at risk of doing too much damage to your voice. This central vowel state actually often encourages stability of the larynx, especially in an amateur singer whose larynx often shoots up for high vowels like “ee” (/i/) and “oo” (/u/) and will drop for a low vowel like “aw” (/α/). While a little movement is natural, extreme movements cause stress on the vocal folds and can result in damage.
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2 Comments

  1. Nwaozor Emmanuel

    tanks 4 dis. really helpful. but pls can u send me d placement of the tongue wen pronouncing “s” consonant sound like in sick, sip, families, us, say etc. with diagram n images if possible… tanks. i ‘ll seriously do appreciate. keep on doing d good work. hoping to hear 4rm ya. tanks again.

    1. Jordan

      Hi there Nwaozor.

      The placement of the tongue during the “s” sound can vary. There are two familiar options.
      1) the tip of the tongue rests on the hard ridge just behind the top of the teeth. (most popular option)
      2) the tip of the tongue rests behind the bottom teeth and the body of the tongue arches up to the roof of the mouth.

      If I can find or make some good pictures of this, I will follow up with you. Thank you for your question!

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