Opera singers learn to do it. Choirs learn to do it. However, most grass roots rock, country and folk performers contend that it is only for the operatic and academic purists.
Vowel sounds are the power chords of singing.
Almost all of the great divas of pop (and their male divo counterparts) pay a great deal of attention to their vowel sounds. For the simple reason that it allows them to deliver the most power at any time in any song.
All the power in singing comes from the vowels. Yes, many of the great pop singers will break the rules, but not before learning them. When it comes time to belt out those big notes, you can bet they fall back on the big-five-O.
A - E - I - O - U
Thinks of the 5 power vowels as being like power chords on an electric guitar. They have power, sustain, energy, resonance and they impress.
But wait, it’s not what you think first up.
These are not the vowel sounds you learned at school. The pronunciation of these vowels is critical. And all singing professionals and coaches maintain that all vowel sounds can be recreated using one or a combination of these fundamental power vowels.
Pronounced long and deep as in father. That is f-AH-ther.
Pronounced open and wide as in egg. That is EH-gg.
Pronounced open and full as in evil. That is EE-vil.
Pronounced long and open. That is AW as in orange or olive or awful. Be careful with this one. Don’t fall into the trap of singing OH as in open or OMG. You’ll be on about one third power singing it this way. That’s why opera singers are taught to sing AW as in AW-range. Lots of power.
Another tricky one. For the same reason of lacking power, this is not pronounced YEW as in the word you. Instead it is pronounced OO as in sch-OO-l. But be careful not to let your OOOOOOO sound slip into a puckered kiss. Once again, no power. Open the lips.
One Simple Exercise
Some people recommend using two fingers for this - your index and middle fingers. But I don’t. Simply because as the exercise gets harder you will cheat and bite into your fingers. You may even do your fingers a damage.
Instead use a plastic key fob or the plastic screw top from a soft drink bottle. Both of these are about the size of two of your fingers. Keep the keys or the bottle attached so you have something to hold onto – you don’t want to swallow that plastic spacer.
- Stand when doing the exercise. Feet about a foot apart (30cm).
- Shoulders back, down and relaxed.
- Tongue down in your mouth and relaxed. Tuck the tip of it behind your bottom front teeth to give you the largest cavity in your mouth for generating the most volume.
- Place the plastic spacer between your teeth to keep your mouth open by about two fingers (or use your fingers).
- Sing through each of your vowel sounds, slowly.
- Breathe back in through the nose between each vowel. Slowly, controlled.
- Use a recorder and/or decibel meter to measure your progress.
As a variation of this exercise you can go through each of the 5 vowel sounds in one breath attempting to match the resonance of each. You’ll sound a bit like a monk chanting, but hey it’s all for a good cause.
The chances are you will make a pretty good, solid, resonant sound singing the A and O vowels. The challenge is to bring the other vowels up to the same volume and resonance.
If you find yourself choking, gagging or dry-reaching STOP. Have some water, take a rest and try again. But this time, use a smaller object as a spacer and use less force to sing with.
By singing these vowels you will be exercising your mouth, face and throat muscles. You will be developing power, resonance and control. Just like any kind of exercise it needs to be done carefully, with respect to your body, and it needs to be done repeatedly to get the results you desire.
Using your new skill
Now before you launch into a great debate with yourself about how you don’t want to sing like Pavarotti but more like Taylor Swift or Neil Young, consider this.
All the great singers of popular music got to where they were by hard work. The ones that survive with the longest careers are the ones with the best vocal chops – the power singers. Whether they sing rock, ballads or rap, they have power and know how to unleash it when it is required.
No matter what style or genre you sing. Even if you talk your lyrics, you will have a tool at your disposal that you can bring out in any part of any song, when the time is right. When the song itself dictates.
And as for singing harmonies, well you’re going to get the surprise of your life.