Defining Diction for Singers + 7 Pronunciation Exercises & Rules When Singing

You need to pronounce your words effectively to make sure that the audience can connect with the lyrics of your songs. Pronunciation can vary from singer to singer because of regional differences in accents. However, clear pronunciation can be achieved whatever your accent is, which is why you need to work on your diction.

Diction music definition: Diction can be simply defined as the pronunciation or enunciation of your vocal expression. In regards to singing, it is the clarity or particular way words are pronounced in a song.

Clear diction and pronunciation in singing is important for a number of reasons and should be practised on alongside developing your voice. In this guide we cover the definition of diction for singers, the rules for diction when singing, and some techniques which you can use today to improve your singing diction.

What does diction mean?

Diction is the distinctiveness of speech. It is the art of speaking so that each word is clearly heard. In music, this is very important as without it songs may lose their meaning to the listener. However, some artists may sing with less clarity but have a distinct style of diction that they become associated with. So what is diction for singers?

What is diction in singing and music?

diction in music definition

When singing, you are often telling a story or sharing thoughts with your audience through your lyrics. Therefore, it’s vital that the lyrics can be distinguished in order for your listener to understand the meaning of the song. The clarity in the pronunciation of your lyrics is referred to as ‘singing diction’ or diction in singing. If the lyrics to a song aren’t clear, then the song may be meaningless to your audience.

Much of the success of some of the biggest artists can be attributed to the meaning found in the lyrics of their songs. Through this, the artist was able to make a personal connection to their listeners.

For some singers, words can become slurred, mumbled and lazy sounding. The most common causes of poor singing diction can be any or all of the following;

  • Mouth shape while singing
  • Tongue placement
  • Poor control of breathing
  • Strong accents and dialects
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Pronunciation in singing

Working on improving the clarity of vowels and consonants to improves the pronunciation of syllables. This can have a major impact on how easy singing can be. A great tip is to relate back to how you speak, so you stay truer to your own voice and improve diction.

When you talk you seldom squeeze or strain your vocal cords or become overly slurred and breathy. This is because you’re using your voice in a way that is most natural to you without trying to manipulate muscles to search for certain notes or add a vocal style that takes your voice way out of balance.

If you have a tendency to rush and mumble your speech you will find by working on your diction for singing that your speech will also improve.

How to pronounce singing vowels

We all know the vowels of the alphabet, A, E, I, O and U. However when we are singing, we pronounce these vowels in a distinct way because of the position of where they are formed in the mouth. We can now order these vowels based on these positions, from front to back.

I – Pronounced EEE – Pronounced at the very front of the mouth

E – Pronounced AY – Pronounced in the front half of the mouth 

A – Pronounced AH – Pronounced in the back half of the mouth

O – Pronounced OH – Pronounced in the back of the mouth

U- Pronounced OOO – Pronounced at the very back of the mouth

Try pronouncing these vowels in order and you will feel the sound moving towards the back of your mouth. This should demonstrate how important pronunciation is for singers and why you should focus on improving diction.

How to improve diction for singers

Improve Singing Diction: Clear diction is very important when singing for a number of reasons, so it should be focused on when developing your voice. The two main areas to consider when you improve diction are performance and technique.

diction in music

Here are some very simple diction exercises for singers that you can try yourself to help improve your technique.

#1 Practise your consonants

Work on improving the clarity consonants. Tong-twisters are an excellent tool to help you become a master of consonants and avoid slip-ups when singing.

#2 Practise your vowels

A poor pronunciation of vowels, while singing, can cause your listeners to miss your lyrics. To improve your pronunciation of vowel sounds, practice each vowel: ah, ee, ay, oh, oo.

#3 Combine consonants and vowels

Once you have mastered both consonants and vowels, combine the two: mah, meh, me, mo, moo. Followed by, vah, veh, ve, vo, voo.

#4 Do lip trills

Lip trills allow you to control your breathing, master the movement of the tongue and warm up your voice.

Video: How to do a lip trill by Vocal Coach Dylan

#5 Practise better breath control

Once you have mastered the singing diction techniques above, practise breath control. Pick your favourite tongue-twister and aim to say it all in one breath. This will help you to control how much air your expel when you speak and sing.

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#6 Clarify your lyrics

From a performance point of view, when singing a song you are, in most cases, telling a story or sharing thoughts with your audience. Therefore it’s vital that you can distinguish the lyrics in order for your listener to understand what the song is about and what the message is – to improve diction.

If the lyrics to a song aren’t clear, then the song becomes meaningless and forgettable and you will lose the audience.

#7 Get a vocal coach 

Vocal coaches can help you to develop better singing diction by incorporating exercises into your voice training that will undo bad habits and start building new ones. Elements of diction that can be worked on with vocal coaches by using appropriate exercises. This will undo bad habits and start building new ones with the correct technique.

Although this may feel difficult at first, with practice you’ll be surprised how quickly the new techniques become second nature to you and therefore vastly improve diction. You’ll find the tone, clarity, range and control also improves as a result of clearer diction.

If you are working with a vocal coach, do make sure you’re clear on the style of singing that is right for you. Good diction is important across all styles. However, for some styles, it is much crisper, for example, Classical and Musical Theatre, whereas in other genres you can get away with less crisp and pronounced diction.

Rules for diction when singing

From the technique side, for some singers words can be slurred, mumbled and very lazy sounding. Here are some golden rules for diction when singing to help you avoid this.

  1. Warm up and include diction exercises. This will train you to get in the habit of shaping your mouth and placing your tongue properly. It will also help warm up all of your muscles needed for singing.
  2. Watch what you eat and drink before singing. Some food and drink can be good for your voice but there are many that can affect your larynx and your mouth, which will change the way you pronounce your words.
  3. Always record your performances and if you continue to have issues with diction then a good vocal coach should be able to assist in resolving any issues and improve diction.
  4. Avoid tobacco and alcohol, not just for your general health, but for also your singing. They are bad for your voice and tobacco is especially bad for your lungs and breathing.
  5. Practice your lyrics relentlessly. The more intuitive your lyrics are, the less you’ll be focusing on remembering the words. This means you can spend more time focusing on your pronunciation.

The most common causes of poor diction can be all of or any of the following: mouth shape, tongue placement, external muscles around the jaw or internally in the larynx, breathing or style choice.

Singing diction and the way you speak

Improving your singing diction can help you out a lot in real life. Many people have a tendency to rush and mumble their speech. You will find that working on your diction for singing that your speech will also improve. This is great for public speaking and presenting as singing will also give you the confidence to express yourself in front of a crowd.

All of this may feel challenging at first. However, with practice, you’ll be surprised how quickly singing diction will become second nature to you. You’ll find the tone, clarity, range and control also improves as a result of clearer diction.

If you’re working with a vocal coach, make sure you’re clear on the style of singing that’s right for you. Good diction is important across all styles.

Do you struggle with singing diction? What diction techniques do you find most beneficial? Let us know in the comments below.

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Diane Lusk
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Diane Lusk

Adele has a peculiar way of pronouncing her lyrics in her songs,like for instance the word said…she sings it like weird and it sounds like she is saying sayed. Roo Saville sings Can’t stand the rain and its like she is singing cowds instead of clouds..what the hell are these female singers being taught if they are using any kind of vocal coaching?

Alison Weir
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Why do singers in musicals ignore the good advice above and pronounce ‘oo’ as ‘iew’? It’s wrong and it’s distracting.

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