Using good Diction, part 2: Diphthongs

MicIn my last blog on diction I discussed the three rules for omitting r when singing. If you have been implementing the rules in your singing then you should notice a change in your sound and how clear your words are. In this blog I want to focus on diphthongs. This word is derived from the Greek di – twice and phthongs- sound. A diphthong is a word consisting of two consecutive vowels in the same syllable. An example of a diphthong is the word fight. You have the first vowel sound ah and then I as in it at the end. So the first vowel sound is sustained the second one follows at the end. In reading this keep in mind that we are talking about being understood clearly when you sing. As a singer it is your job to tell a story through your voice. In order for the story to be conveyed is has to be understood.


The chart below shows in phonetic form all of the vowels we use when we sing.

Now I would like to point out the diphthongs in this chart. If you say the word pat slowly you will notice that the a is elongated and the e is pronounced right before the t. Notice all the words that consist of diphthongs they all follow the same pattern. In singing gospel music we tend to utilize rifts and runs, so we have to remember that the first vowel is sung longer and the second one comes right before the consonant. Another thing that is important to remember is that there should not be a break between the two vowels so that the first one can blend with the second. The shifts from one vowel to the next needs to be smooth the same as when you speak the word.

There are two common errors that singers make when singing diphthongs. One is the distortion of one of the vowels, which is done by starting with the wrong vowel. When this happens the singer has made the word unclear (ie. though for thou). The other error is the omission of the second vowel. Normally in speaking we wouldn’t forget the vowel, but singing is done at a different pace and that second vowel is sometimes left out. I know this blog seems a little shorter then normal, but I don’t want to give you too much info and scare you off. However I feel that it is important for singers to know and understand their craft. My goal is to get the average singer to start putting more focus on the way they sing their words. Stay tuned!

Shena Crane is a Classically trained professional vocal coach. She graduated from University Of Texas At Arlington. Shena holds a Bachelors Degree in Music Education as well as an Associates Degree in Music/Performance. Book Shena for private vocal training through The Music Ministry

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