Rebecca Sherburn - voice expert

Vocal Articulation, part 1

Learn how to articulate correctly

In this first video about vocal articulation, Dr. Sherburn the basics of articulation with practical vocal exercises.

Released on April 3, 2019

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, I am Dr. Rebecca Sherburn the director of vocal studies at Chapman University in Southern California. This video is a part of a series presented by Virtual Sheet Music called "How the Voice Works". Today we are going to talk about articulation, to speak, or in our case to sing with text.

Our articulators are the soft palate, lips, tongue, and jaw. In this video we will look at some exercises for the soft palate and the lips. In the next one we will look at the tongue and jaw.
The primary function of our articulators is to assist in chewing, swallowing, and breathing. Speaking and singing are actually secondary functions.
If we are well aligned, breathe well, exhale with flow phonation and have the vocal track perfectly shaped for each note and vowel, we will have beautiful, even singing... on vowels. This is a great way to train a singer, take out the consonants and just sing on vowels. However, at some point we need to put them back in and this can make singing difficult.
As we exhale slowly for singing, the articulators want to contract to try to help us control the air flow, and that can make the sound brittle or harsh. So, we have to train the soft palate, lips, tongue and jaw to allow clear diction without interfering with a beautiful free tone.
So, we are going to talk about some ways to relax the articulators as we sing.
Let's start with the soft palate. It is the back of the roof of the mouth, right here on this model.
With your mouth open look in a mirror and you will see the uvula, the little punching bag which hangs down from the back of the soft palate. That little lump of flesh moves up and back to block the nasal passage when we swallow, yawn, and sneeze. Generally, we want the nasal passage blocked when we sing on vowels so that the sound comes out of the mouth, not out of the nose.


As we ascend the scale the soft palate goes up changing the space in the mouth and as we descend the scale it goes back down. If the uvula is not against the back wall of the throat as we move the soft palate up and down, some of the air comes out the nose and it sounds nasal...


not exactly what we want.
Record yourself singing and listen back carefully. If the sound is nasal here are ways to adjust the soft palate.
If you hold your nose and sing. You can hear that the sound must come out of the mouth and that it is no longer nasal. That is a pretty easy fix.
If it is still nasal in quality, here is another idea. We want all the air, all the sound coming out of the mouth, not the nose. One way to do this is to be sure the vibrations you are feeling as you sing are low, in the mouth. If they are up here, in the nose, it is likely that some of the air/sound is going out nose. So, use your imagination to shift the sensation down. Not up here, but down here.
Or try straw phonation. When the air is coming out of these little straws, the sound will stop if I cover the end, like this


That will only happen if the air is moving through the straws not through the nose. Then take the straws away and try to use the same feeling, all the air coming out of the mouth.


So on to the lips. They are wrapped by circular muscles, the buccal muscles. You can see them on the model here. We use them for rounding on [o] and [u] and for lateral motion on [e] and [i]. For clear articulation, lips need to be flexible and strong but we don't want them tight.
Here are a few exercises for the lips.
A lip trill is good to relax the lips, the jaw and the tongue. Let's do three reps of these alternating with ah.


Moving through vowels helps to exercise the lips. Let's do a few repetitions of this one.

[i e i a i o i u]
[i e i a i o i u]
[i e i a i o i u]

Finally, the best method to relax the articulators is to sing the melody on a single vowel, then on the vowels of the text only, then add in the consonants. So on the first loone of "Caro mio ben" that would look like this:

Aaaa oooo iii oo ee, ee ii iii aa eee
Caro mio ben, credi mi almen

In the next video we will work on ideas to help the tongue and jaw as we articulate.

It is my hope that you can use these exercises to find clear articulation of text while staying as relaxed and flexible as possible. As always, I am happy to hear from you, and thanks for joining me.

Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Beth * VSM MEMBER * on April 5, 2019 @1:53 pm PST
Another GREAT lesson! Thanks so much for sharing these exercises that we can use at home to increase our vocal abilities. You are a wonderful and inspiring teacher! Looking forward to your next lesson!
Rebecca Sherburn - host, on April 6, 2019 @8:27 am PST
Thank you Beth. I am so glad this information is helpful. VSM will post the second half of this talk soon.
Beth * VSM MEMBER * on April 7, 2019 @10:01 am PST
Thank you! I’ll be looking forward to it.
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