Judging Categories | Resonance | Vocal
Glossary | Vowels | Close Window
Words without vowels are... well, they're just consonants!
We hear about vowels all the time. There are so many aspects to vowels in the barbershop style of singing that this page may grow indefinitely! Here are some important things for you to consider.
We hear about them quite a bit. We use them in every day speech. Webster's dictionary defines it this way: diph-thong (dif'-thong, dip'-thong), n. sound containing two vowels.
Diphthongs are very important to barbershop singing for a number of reasons. Diphthongs help the listener to more clearly recognize and understand the words we are singing. From a technical stand point, diphthongs when used properly help us keep synchronized with each other while singing. But most importantly, diphthongs allow us to spend more time on the all important target vowel - the sound that really makes a chord ring!
The Barbershop Harmony Society currently recommends the use of 12 vowel sounds (target vowel sounds). Technically, two of these are diphthongs, they are indicated by an asterisk.
||as in we
||as in sit
||as in late
||as in let
||as in cat
||as in calm
||as in law
||as in rose
||as in look
||as in moon
||as in learn
||as in love
Vowel Migration and Modification
At the extremes of our vocal range
our vowels tend to "migrate." That is, as we sing lower our vowels tend to migrate to darker tones. Conversely, as we sing higher our vowels tend to migrate to brighter tones. Overcoming this tendency requires using the technique of "modification." Darkening
your vowels as you reach the higher end of your range and brightening them
as you reach the lower end will enable better vowel matching. The figure below
not only shows which direction to go, but it also shows the vowels in relation
to each other. This is not to say that you should go all the way from EE to
EH when going up the scale, but you should adjust only slightly in a few small
increments. Use your ears to hear yourself match your neighbor. Listen 60%
and sing 40%.
Click for larger image.
Think about this relationship as you sing the familiar warm-up exercise "mee,
meh, mah, maw, moh, moo."